The Dreaded Plain White Envelope (PWE) — When is it Suitable for Shipping Cards?

Using a PWE for shipping baseball cards isn’t always a great idea, but it does work for some situations

The rise of shipping costs has led more and more collectors to use plain white envelopes for shipping cards. The benefits of a PWE, the abbreviated form, are easy to see. They are inexpensive, easy, save a trip to the post office, and mostly pain-free. The U.S. Postal Service may not be perfect but if you send something via a PWE, chances are that it will arrive, unharmed.

Sounds easy enough, right? Mostly. A PWE is great for a lot of instances but it’s not best for everything. If you need help in determining PWE protocol, here are my own personal guidelines that I follow.

I apologize in advance. This article is going to be a little convoluted because it’s primarily just a collection of thoughts. But hopefully there are some tips here you can use.

The Card’s Value

Willie Keeler E90-1 ThrowingThis is pretty simple to understand. If I’m sending something that’s relatively inexpensive, I use a PWE.

My personal rule for this is about $20. If I am sending something worth under $20, I’m generally fine with using a PWE.

If you’re sending as part of a sale, a good rule of thumb is to not ship anything via PWE where you’d be uncomfortable with having to reimburse the value of the card to a buyer. If I’ve got to refund a buyer $15 for a lost card, that’s not a huge deal. $50 or $100? That’s a bit more significant.

Same rules apply to if you’re trading. If I’m doing a low-dollar trade, I’m generally fine with a PWE. But if the value is more considerable, I send a bubble.

Graded Cards

No. Other than saying grading cards should never be sent via a PWE, the words ‘Plain white envelope’ and ‘graded cards’ do not belong in the same sentence. Ever.

RAOKs

A RAOK is a Random Act of Kindness. These are instances where you’re sending free cards to someone out of the goodness of your heart and not because they were sold. If I’m sending an RAOK to someone or one of the Twitter giveaways, I’m generally using a PWE.

An exception to that is if the card is a little more valuable. If it’s like a $50 card or something, I want some protection and will just fork over money for shipping a bubble envelope.

Cigar Box with CardsAmount of Cards

Regardless of the value of the cards, you always want to be aware of how many cards you are shipping.

A PWE can generally accommodate a handful of cards. Be sure to space them out evenly across the envelope. Otherwise, they can jam in the USPS sorting machines and tear or cause damage.

Sure, people have shipped dozens of cards in PWEs before. I’ve gotten PWEs with as many as 50 tobacco cards, if you can believe it. But even with paying the added shipping, it’s not a great idea if the cards have any value at all. Use a recycled bubble envelope (keep those from when people send you cards) and play it safe.

Are You Charging for Shipping?

If you happen to be selling a card, always factor in what you are charging a buyer for shipping as a determinant for how you ship the card. Many buyers (including this one) are irked if they pay $4 in shipping only to receive a card in a PWE.

Yes, the card may have technically gotten there. And yes, a buyer may have agreed to pay that amount up front. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an excessive charge and you can bet that someone paying $4 in shipping when you ship it via means that cost less than a dollar will be irked. While I won’t leave a negative or neutral eBay comment for a seller that does this, I guarantee others would.

If you’re charging someone a few bucks in shipping, don’t use a PWE. It’s bad form.

Who’s the Buyer?

Bob Suitcase Seeds 1940 Play BallMaybe you’re shipping to someone for the first time through eBay or elsewhere. If you are, beware the dreaded, ‘I never received your package.’

Based on the success rate of the USPS, odds are that they did indeed receive your package. But if you didn’t send it with tracking, you can’t prove that. This goes back to shipping cards via a PWE that you’re comfortable with if you need to provide a refund.

Like anyone else, I’m generally more comfortable with sending cards to people I know. If I don’t know you and the card is worth more than $20, you’re generally going to get it in a bubble envelope with tracking.

Even beyond trusting the person, there’s the matter of protecting the card. I fully trust sending a $500 card to someone via a PWE and understand that it probably will get there. But PWE’s don’t offer much protection and a damaged envelope, one that gets rained on, etc., is quite possible.

Speaking of that, let’s talk about protecting a card.

Protection

Finally, a few thoughts with regards to your particular protection needs for shipping cards.

Many of the cards I buy are low-grade – same with ones I ship out. Typically, if a card’s value is relatively small, I’ll drop it in a semi-rigid case and send it in a PWE. You can use the thicker rigid toploaders, too, but I really try to avoid those. I’ve seen several instances of those ending up mangled from sorting machines. If you need the protection of one of those, sending in a bubble may be best. I’ve gotten plenty in the mail via a PWE but if the thickness of the envelope is too much, it’s not a great idea to use those.

Similarly, if I’m sending a card where the condition is ultra critical, I consider using a bubble to pack it between cardboard and in a regular rigid toploader. Though, that depends on the recipient, the purpose, card value, etc.

One final thought on this is, a good compromise can be using a cardboard envelope as opposed to a bubble. Those offer more protection than a PWE and are still affordable to send.

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