How to Ship a Vintage or Collectible Doll

Today let's talk about how to ship a doll.

Anyone who collects dolls knows that this is a much-needed topic of discussion.  I've been buying and selling dolls online for over 20 years, and I've seen a lot of improperly shipped dolls.  Frankly, there are a lot of non-doll people selling dolls, and they don't always know how to ship dolls properly.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who has received a doll in a padded envelope.  Sometimes they survive it, but sometimes they don't, and it's not worth the risk.

Even if you think you know how to ship a doll, though, keep reading, as you might learn something.  Just the other day, I received a doll from a fellow doll person that was shipped unwrapped in an overstuffed box with her face pressed up against the box.  Naturally she had a huge shine on her cheek, right in the blush area.  In fact, as I started trying to fix it, I realized the shine was so bad that the box had actually flat-spotted her cheek right there.  I've still got a little more work to fix it, which is disappointing when you've bought a doll that was supposed to be in new condition.

There are a few different subjects that we need to discuss in an article about shipping a doll properly:

  • How to pack a doll properly
  • How to choose a box to minimize shipping costs
  • When to insure
I want to give each section due consideration, so this article may be a little on the long side.

How to Pack a Doll Properly

Packing the doll so that it will arrive safely is your responsibility.  With fragile dolls, you'll want at least two inches of packing material (peanuts, air pillows, etc.) around them.  Modern vinyl dolls don't need as much depth of packing material around them, but you do need to make sure that every inch of box is packed solid.  Packages are stacked on pallets to move them from one place to another, so the weight of the boxes above will crush your box if you've left any empty space.

This bears repeating: Fill your box completely with packing material.  You should be able to push down on the box when it's closed and taped up, and not see it collapse very much even if you lean on it heavily.

To pack a doll properly, first wrap the doll.  I like to wrap in a plastic bag to ensure that even if the box gets left on someone's doorstep outside in the pouring rain, the doll will arrive safely.  You can also wrap first in bubble wrap or tissue paper to add an extra layer of protection, and then place the wrapped doll in a sealed bag before packing her in her box.  Note that if you wrap the doll in tissue paper first, it must be white tissue.  Never wrap a doll in colored ANYTHING when shipping, as the color can transfer onto the doll in transit.

Never put a doll in a box without wrapping it first, as you can cause shines like the one in my picture.

Once the doll is wrapped, you'll need to pack the box.  Remember that the box needs to be completely filled, and choose your box size accordingly.  For fragile dolls, try to maintain at least two inches on all sides of the doll.  For less fragile dolls, a tight fit is fine as long as the doll is well-wrapped and you fill all the corners of the box completely so that it doesn't get crushed.  I often put down a bed of packing peanuts, lay the doll in the box, and then fill in around the doll with packing pillows or more peanuts.  Fill the box tightly enough that you have to push down to close it and tape it up.  If it's easy to close, it's not full enough and could be crushed in transit.

How to Choose a Box to Minimize Shipping Costs

Shipping dolls can be expensive if you don't know how to keep your costs down.  This is because the post office charges for dimensional weight once your box size passes a cubic foot.  A cubic foot is determined as follows:

12 x 12 x 12 = 1,728

Note that you don't have to keep your dimensions under 12 inches.  Rather, you have to keep your total volume under 1,728 cubic inches.  And because math is weird, not all changes you make to the dimensions affect the volume equally.

American Girl dolls are tall and easily get into dimensional weight territory if you don't choose (or build) a long, narrow box to put them in.  Once you go over a cubic foot, the costs go up dramatically, so it's in your best interests to do a little math and box construction to keep your costs down.

The max size that you can ship an 18"-19" doll in without getting into increased costs is about 20" by 10" by 8".

20 x 10 x 8 = 1,600

That's about as close as you can go to the threshold without going over.  Remember, the post office may round up if you're at, say, 20.5", so try not to go over those dimensions.

A popular hack with AG and similar dolls is to get two Priority Mail shoe boxes from the post office, cut one in half, and make it into a cap for the other box.  Then you can make the box longer to accommodate a taller doll.

Please do not ship strung dolls in a sitting or bent position unless your buyer approves it.  It may make finding a box easier, but putting a doll in a bent position puts a lot of stress on their stringing.  When it's stretched like that for a trip cross-country with many temperature and humidity changes and being bounced around, the doll is likely to arrive at its new home with its stringing permanently loosened.  If the new owner is planning on restringing anyway, they may not mind, but it's important to make sure before shipping the doll in a sitting position.

When to Insure

Let's say you're confident that you've packed the doll well, and are reasonably sure it'll arrive safely at its destination.  Should you insure?


You are fully responsible for refunding your buyer's purchase costs if the doll does not arrive or arrives damaged, and the post office has been a little more prone to delays, damages, and lost packages the last couple of years.  My policy is to insure anything that I don't want to pay for out of pocket, which is generally anything over about $40.  You can and should roll that cost into what you're charging your buyer.  I typically price things as "shipped" or "shipped and insured" so that it's not the buyer's choice whether I insure.  I'm the one taking the risk, so I'm the one who decides whether insurance is needed.

Do note that if you're shipping Priority Mail, you're already covered for $50 of insurance.  You can add insurance over that amount if the $50 doesn't cover the cost of the doll.

Other Tips

These are a few other miscellaneous tips I feel are worth noting:

  • Write "fragile" on the box when needed.  The post office crew may scoff at you, pointing out that machines can't read it.  However, the mail carriers can.  I've seen mail carriers toss and drop boxes before, so it doesn't hurt to write "fragile" on a box in order to hopefully prevent that.
  • Put other things in plastic bags, too.  I pack virtually everything in sealed plastic bags to keep it safe from wet weather.  If you live in a humid area, be sure to include a desiccant packet to prevent it from getting musty while being trapped in a sealed bag.  You can save desiccant packets from other things you order and reuse them.
  • Reuse packing material when you can!  I'm a big believer in saving and reusing packing materials.  It saves you money, plus it keeps them out of landfills.  In fact, if you don't ship a lot, I still recommend saving your packing materials and offering them to others with shipping businesses in your local buy nothing groups.
Let me know if you have anything to add, or any questions to ask.  Happy travels to your dolls!



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