So far this year, I've had two pots broken during shipment, out of over 100 that have been shipped. I guess I can live with that, but I hope there aren't any more. Here are my tips for shipping pottery smartly, after years of learning what works and what doesn't:
1. Don't skimp on the bubble wrap. I try to make the bubble wrap two layers thick around each pot, with extra layers around vulnerable appendages like handles and spouts.
2. Rubber bands keep the bubble wrap securely wrapped. They're easy for me to apply, and easy to unwrap by the person at the receiving end. I started out using stretch wrap, which also removes cleanly for the recipient, but was a horrible inconvenience for me! Then I switched to cold seal bubble wrap, which sticks to itself without fasteners. This was very convenient for me, but I've learned it is a pain to unwrap. I've never used masking tape, scotch tape, or packing tape ... that's just plain rude towards the person who has to wrestle the tape off, and often makes the bubble wrap un-reusable.
3. Peanut pressure. I put three inches of peanuts at the bottom of a box, but otherwise I try to pack as many pots per box as possible. I shove peanuts tightly into all the void spaces. Then I let the box sit overnight at the least. The pots and peanuts will settle during that time. Then I'll add a mound of peanuts to the top of the load, and squeeze the box tops down. The top of the box should be slightly domed. If I shake the box it should be silent. If I drop the box it should make a dull, pillowy thud. The most common cause of breakage is when your pots shift around and hit each other. Peanut pressure holds them still. The second most common cause of breakage is when the box is dented or crushed, and peanut pressure helps to prevent that too.
Two more notes about peanut pressure ... if a packed box sits for a week before shipping, I will unpack it and pack it again. During that time the peanuts will settle too much, and the load will become loose. And whenever possible I have my pickups made on a Monday, to prevent my boxes from sitting in the UPS system over a weekend, which gives the peanuts time to settle.
4. Understand the UPS Dimensional Weight rules. This is why I try to pack my boxes densely. And since I began packing within these guidelines, my shipping costs have gone down by about one-third. In this business, shipping costs are bourn by the recipients, so why do I care? Because I care about making my work a good value for my gallery partners, even more than I don't want to make someone pull tape off of bubble wrap.
Wishing safe travels for all the pots out there on the brown trucks!