Stuff Gets Around: An interview with a shipping magnate

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kathy flood warman jewelry figuralsWhen you walk into a shipping store and see an enormous head that once belonged to a living, breathing buffalo, it might be worth a story. What was left of the magnificent beast, horns to neck, sat on the floor awaiting crating. (It was so big, I knew I’d never want a home where the buffalo roam.) Next to the awesome noggin was a kiln. Next to that, a truck transmission. All going — somewhere. 

I asked the head guy about the things he ships. Lots of stuff from auction sites? “All day long,” he replied, bored out of his gourd. 
Dolls? I asked. He looked at me as if he’d seen so many dolls, they weren’t even worth mentioning. “All kinds of dolls, lots of expensive china dolls,” he said, trying to work up enthusiasm.

What about, let’s see … vintage clothing? 
 
“I ship lots of torn old clothes to Japan,” he recounted. “There’s a huge market in that. The Japanese love old clothes worn by Americans. They have to be old, they have to have been worn by Americans. If an English person wore it, they don’t want it.”  That gave me an idea for a company called American Body Oils. Or maybe our sisters in Osaka believe our discarded rags are possessed with “American spirit.”

I asked the shipping magnate to name something he bundled up that did interest him. “Ten 18th-century war weapons,” he replied, brightening. Exactly what is such a weapon? “Poles with balls on the ends,” he said. “They were war weapons used in China. We shipped them to the Netherlands and they cost several thousand dollars to ship.”

Antique wardrobes and armoires fly across the country. Fragile porcelain place settings set off for England. A rare cherry-wood loom left for the East Coast … 

Stuff gets around. 

A huge custom tabletop made by a retired carpenter for his son was a bear to ship. So was a fantastic leaded mirror bound for Deutschland, and an industrial oven off to Texas. This shipping company does glass vases, slimy reptiles (no snakes), broken bats, golf clubs. “That’s right,” our expert explained, “Louisville Sluggers and Big Berthas are guaranteed not to break, so when they do, the companies will replace them.” (Golfers must be an ill-tempered lot. Or maybe these were the faux “Berthas,” cheaply manufactured bootleg copies once exposed on “60 Minutes.”)

I wanted to ask if he could ship our son and all his stuff to college but the guy got a telephone call. When he hung up I asked if he was shipping a lot to Afghanistan and Iraq. 

“Oh, yeah,” he replied, “APO care packages going out all day long.” What are the most popular items in a soldier’s goodie bag from home? (A Guardsman we knew said soldiers most wanted flea-and-tick collars.) “Ramen noodles, Hershey’s Kisses and baby wipes,” he said. “Sometimes a soldier doesn’t get a shower for 15 days, so the baby wipes really come in handy to clean off.”

Because I paid rapt attention during my semesters at the Baba Wawa School of Interviewing, I knew how to wind up our tête-à-tête.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever shipped? I asked.

“A set of parents.”

“Parrots?” I asked.

 “Par-ents. Parents. A mother and father. Both of them. In urns.”

Wawa woulda been ashamed because I was momentarily speechless. I hesitated on the follow-up question, but recovered. “Recently … deceased?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “The woman who brought them in to ship to her sister was still very upset.” 

 “So you …” I started.

 “Ship dead people?” he responded. “Sure. But no drugs or alcohol.”

Things: You Can't Take Them With You ... But They're Fun While You're Here
Kathy Flood is a journalist who writes about jewelry for Antique Trader and is the author of Warman’s Jewelry 4th edition and the Warman’s Jewelry Field Guide. This article is an excerpt from her book, “Things: You can’t take them with you, but they’re fun while you’re here“.

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