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MMD > Archives > October 1996 > 1996.10.27 > 01Prev  Next

Packing and Shipping Music Boxes
By Nancy Fratti

[ Editor's Note:
[ In a private correspondence one of our subscribers recently pointed
[ out a message which was posted to rec.antiques by a U.S. music box
[ buyer. The buyer purchased a music box from a reputable antique
[ dealer from overseas, sight unseen. The insured package arrived
[ in very poor external condition and was left by the air carrier
[ without a signature. He's "working that issue" with the carrier
[ right now.
[ I corresponded with the buyer on this subject privately and learned
[ that the music box had been disassembled for shipping, which seemed
[ strange to me. However many things in the music box world are not
[ intuitive so I wrote to Nancy Fratti about the problem. I also wrote
[ to the buyer suggesting that he ought to meet Nancy. Well, its a small
[ world. He knows Nancy because he's a graduate of her class. Here's
[ what the buyer said about the shipment:
[ > Hi Jody,
[ >
[ > No, It was a 15.5" polyphone. Rather than leaving the inside alone,
[ > he unscrewed the bed plate, left the dual combs on it with no protction
[ > for the combs, took the motor off the bed plate and wrapped both in a
[ > thin wrap of plastic bubble wrap. He put both of these inside the case
[ > and just tossed in styrofoam for fill. The motor bounced around like a
[ > cannon ball and destroyed the case, the combs, and broke the iron
[ > casting of the motor!
[ Nancy has been "lurking" here for a while now, but found this problem
[ irresistable to write about. She wrote the messages to me using my
[ "private address", so I asked her if I could share them with the
[ group:
[ Jody Wrote:
[ >Subject: Re: packing and shipping music boxes
[ >
[ >Nancy,
[ > You've just sent me two very interesting messages about Music
[ >Boxes, shipping, etc. May I publish these to the group ? <snip>
[ Nancy Replied:
[ > Jody....
[ >
[ > SURE! If we save one more music box from damage, it'd be worth it!
[ >
[ > Nancy
[ So, here's Nancy's first article to our group. I hope you find
[ it as interesting as I did.


Your suggestion for an 'article' is a good one! I will work on expanding this idea for an article for the MBSI journal. I have no idea why ANYONE would take a box apart to ship it! It is its own best protection!!

In the cited case, the fault for damage lies (morally) with the shipper. It also should not have been left un-signed for at the recipient's home. As stated above, there is NO reason to disassemble any box before shipping. [snip]

Had the box been left together, it might have survived the journey intact.

Most of packing and shipping is common sense! The fewer parts moving around in a package, the fewer can be damaged.

When I prepare a box for shipping ANYWHERE (overseas or in the States) the first thing to be done is to prepare the mechanism.

DISC BOXES: (table top)

1) wind down the spring...either by hand (if possible) or by
letting the box wind down by itself (without a disc on it).

2) put a piece of Scotch tape on the comb(s) to prevent vibration
in transport. Teeth can be broken by the vibration brought on
by a sharp drop.

3) Do not ship with a disc in place on the movement.

4) Do not put discs OR crank inside the box...wrap separately and
pack outside the box.

5) Do not disassemble ANY part of the mechanism.

6) If there is glass in the door (as on some of the upright
machines, I will usually put an "X" of masking tape on the
front side of the glass, remove the door and pack it separately
OR cut a piece of corrugated cardboard to fit the shape of the
glass, then cut a piece of insulation board (3/4" thickness,
minimum) and 'sandwich' the glass in-between. Wrap masking tape
around the 'sandwich' being sure NOT to get any on the wood (it
can take the finish off when removed, or might stick to the

Insulation board is available in 1/2" -2" thickness. Insulation
board, cut to fit various openings, is the best type of 'medium'
for packing both inside and outside the case. Some upright disc
boxes have glass covers over the mechanisms. If you want to
leave it in place, then put an "X" of tape on the glass(es) and
wedge the frame in place by carefully cutting appropriate pieces
of board and fitting it tightly into the case.


1) Follow steps 1 & 2 above.

2) NEVER let the box stop in mid-tune! If necessary, apply
pressure to the spring barrel or the cylinder to 'help' the box
to the end of the tune. If you leave it in mid-tune, you leave
tooth tips hanging in mid-pluck on some cylinder pins. Should
the box suffer a sharp drop, those tooth tips would probably

3) Wedge the cylinder into place with a cork or piece of rigid
insulation board cut to the appropriate size. The cylinder on
fixed- cylinder boxes (non-interchangeable cylinder boxes) can
usually be wedged on the left, or spring barrel side.

4) The glass lid inside the case presents some interesting packing
challenges. Put an "X" of masking tape on it. To try to
protect both the mechanism and the glass, you can take a piece
of cardboard and cut it to fit the length of the cylinder. Take
that cardboard and place it on top of the cylinder/comb. Then
'stuff' the space between the cardboard and the glass with
crumpled newspaper.


5) for boxes with interchangeable cylinders follow all the steps
above, then remove the cylinder from the mechanism and then wrap
each cylinder separately in MANY layers of bubble wrap. Do this
even if there is a storage drawer to put them in under the box.
DO NOT leave them in the drawer! DO NOT leave a cylinder in the
mechanism! The cylinders, heavily wrapped, can be placed on top
of the box inside the packing case (not underneath or on


If you are packing in cardboard boxes there are a number of methods to use, depending upon the size and weight of the music box.


1) You can purchase packing boxes from a wide variety of sources.
For our size items, sometimes U-Haul is the best source of
assorted sized boxes. Near larger cities there are usually
places that sell boxes (see "BOXES" in the yellow pages of your
phone book) bubble wrap, 'peanuts' and tapes. Some sell
tri-wall boxes (triple wall corregated cardboard boxes that are
ideal for our use. Determine the size of a box that will be
about 1-2" (on each side)larger than the piece you are packing,
and then another box about 2" on each side bigger than the first

2) Wrap the music box in a soft cloth (especially if the box has
been refinished), then make a 'girdle' around the body of the
box with 2" rigid insulation board (available in any lumber
yard). Have the board extend out farther than any of the
molding or lid of the box. In the case of a cylinder box, you
would be girdling the main box, not the lid or bottom molding;
for a table top disc box, the same. The objective is to keep
the insulation board dimension larger than the largest dimension
of the that if it takes a hit, the insulation board
will absorb it and take the pressure off the case. Fit the
wrapped case inside the first box.

3) Take the second box and put a layer of 2" insulation board, or
two layers off 1" styrofoam (white beaded) board all around the
sides and bottom. Insert the first box...then put another 2"
layer of board on top of the first box. Close and tape the

With disc boxes, or interchangeable boxes, you need to get a box big enough to put the discs, crank, or extra cylinders on top of the first box. Discs should be wired together with tie-wraps or something similar so they won't move against each other. They should then be wrapped in 2 layers of cardboard. With extra cylinders, wrap as described above and put in another box on top of the first box.

If weight or size of the final carton is a factor, then you might consider shipping the unit in 2 separate cartons.

You can also construct a wooden crate for any particular box. Crates can be made from 2 x 3's and 3/8" plywood for heavier music boxes, and from 3/4" shelving material and luan sheets for lighter boxes. Follow the steps above for getting the music box into the first packing box, and then construct the crate.

Some smaller pieces can be brought to a good Ship-it or Mail store. The better ones have a foam injection system that can't be beat! They put your music box into a box that contains a plastic bag and then inject foam into the bag. The foam expands and molds itself to the outside shape of whatever is on it. They then put another plastic bag above the piece and inject the foam into that. The result is a custom fit! This method requires only ONE box...the foam is such a good shock insulator that a second box is not required.

Styrofoam peanuts are not good first-box packing material as they tend to compress and shift with the weight of the contents and the shock of 'drops'. They are definitely not to be used inside any mechanism, as they tend to shred on cylinder pins and get caught in gears!

Obviously, there are many variations on this packing procedure, depending upon the individual box. What I've outlined should be followed as a basic packing method, with the individual needs of each box taken into account.

Questions? I'll be happy to answer any!

Nancy Fratti

(Message sent Sun 20 Oct 1996, 23:48:16 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  Boxes, Music, Packing, Shipping

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