Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2005 Issue

Package Insurance: Managing Shipping Risk in the Bookselling Business

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Single item insurance rates from U-pic. Lower group rates available.


by Renee Magriel Roberts

I've never been overly fond of the insurance business. Insurance is an ethereal, intangible commodity that frequently appears more connected to a state of mind than a real product. The insurance transaction is essentially a two-part gamble: the insurance company is gambling that collectively it will reap profits despite the certainty that bad events happen; you are gambling that if something bad happens you will have paid less into the insurance "product" than the loss that occurs. I know from the crazy profits made by insurance companies that their bet is better than mine, and yet I buy insurance that is mandated (like car and house insurance), essential (like health insurance) and optional (like package insurance). Despite my admitted anti-insurance bias, I find package insurance extremely useful in our bookselling enterprise.

Now, not every bookseller insures her shipments. I've run into many who do not insure parcels at all; their shipping is at the customer's risk. Some engage in what I would call "poor man's insurance"; they feel that shipping with a proof of putting something in the post office mail stream covers them (for example, saving a receipt for postage, using Delivery Confirmation, or getting the post office to date-stamp a copy of the manifest) in the sense that they are no longer responsible for the shipment if the customer claims it is lost.

The problem with this methodology is that it puts the transit risk for the value of purchase entirely on the customer - a burden which the customer may in fact be shouldering unknowingly if he hasn't read the fine print. And, there is an added assumption that if a customer claims she hasn't received a package it is either somebody else's fault (e.g. the postal system, which will take no ultimate fiscal responsibility for uninsured merchandise) or the customer is simply being dishonest.

We know that this ultimately does not work if the customer has purchased through a site like Amazon, which will essentially force the bookseller to make good unless tracking is used, or through a credit card which will refund the customer and take the funds directly from your bank account. Moreover, fighting with the customer is a losing proposition. The ill-will created is generally a major negative in future sales.

The problem is only exacerbated by overseas shipping. Since you are dealing with at least two postal systems, packages are often delayed and may occasionally be lost. I feel like I should visit my local house of worship, for example, whenever we post something to Italy, a country whose employees not only frequently strike but have been known to burn piles of letters and packages to demonstrate their dissatisfaction. Since overseas shipping appears to be more risky than domestic shipping, and is certainly more expensive, sellers may be very uncomfortable providing services to overseas customers. Moreover, even if one wants to purchase insurance from the United States post office, this is not available for many types of shipments, and it is expensive.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,<br><i>The Chap Book</i>, 1896.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,<br><i>Troupe de Mlle Églantine</i>, 1896.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Philippe Henri Noyer, <br><i>Limonade Brault</i>, 1938. <br>$4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b> <br><i>The Great Men of the World</i>,<br>designer unknown, circa 1945-46. <br>$7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>James Montgomery Flagg,<br><i>Wake Up, America!</i>, 1917.<br>$4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Alfred F. Burke, <i>Share / Jewish <br>Relief Campaign</i>, circa 1915.<br>$3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Ludwig Hohlwein, <i>Marke Pkz / <br>Burger - Kehl & Co.</i>, circa 1911. <br>$8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b> <br>Gian Emilio Malerba,<i> E.A. Mele / Modo e Novita per Signora</i>, circa 1900. $7,000 to $10,000.
  • <b>19th Century Shop.</b> KEY, FRANCIS SCOTT. <i>A Celebrated Patriotic Song, the Star Spangled Banner.</i> 1814.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> [COLUMBUS, CHRISTOPHER, Amerigo Vespucci ..] Bernardus Albingaunensis .. Dialogo nuperrime edito Genue in 1512.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the true originall copies,</i> 1632.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (WATKINS, TABER &c.). <i>An album of 32 photographs of the Yosemite and American West Various places</i>, c. 1890s
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (BATTLE OF CONCORD.) <i>Powder horn used by Minuteman Oliver Buttrick at the Battle of Concord</i>, April 19, 1775.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (CIVIL WAR.) <i>An Extraordinary Confederate Photograph and Autograph Album of Dr. R. L. C. White</i>, 125 original mounted salt prints. 1859-61.
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    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Full scale vintage <i>Sputnik-1</i> EMC/EMI Lab Model, with live transmitter. US$ 10,000-15,000
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    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Flown on SOYUZ 9<br>An exhaustive manuscript on life in space. [Trans: On-Board Flight Journal for Spacecraft Soyuz-9, 1970]. US$ 6,000-9,000
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    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> FFlown Apollo 11 Flight Plan Sheetmission Day One. Some of the first words and data values written by Neil Armstrong. US$ 18,000-25,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Apollo 12 - Alan Bean in the Ocean of Storms. Signed and inscribed by Bean. <br>US$ 2,000-3,000
  • <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Leaves from<br>George Washington's Own Draft <br>of His first Inaugural Address. An Extraordinary Rarity!
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Declaration of Independence: Benjamin Tyler 1818 - First Print with Facsimile Signatures.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Thomas Jefferson Signed Act of Contress Authorizing Alexander Hamilton to Complete Famous Portland Maine Lighthouse.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Emanuel Leutze. Silk Flag Banner designed by Leutze, created by Tiffany & Co., and presented to Gen. John A. Dix, 1864.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> The "greatest of early American maps … a masterpiece" (Corcoran). Thomas Holme.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Lincoln Summons His Cabinet for a Historic Meeting to Discuss Compensated Emancipation.
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    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Robert E. Lee. Autograph Letter Signed, June 11, 1782. Hours after the Battle of Culpeper Court House, Lee Escapes Again.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> George Washington. Letter Signed, as Commander-in-Chief, Continental Army, to Elias Dayton, Headquarters, [Newburgh, N.Y.], June 11, 1782.

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