If you buy, sell, or trade baseball cards through the mail, then you may have your own opinions about PWE shipping.
Even if you’re just an innocent bystander perusing various baseball card forums, you might also have some strong thoughts on the subject. Certainly, you’ve read some strong thoughts on the subject.
But what’s the truth?
Is PWE shipping OK for moving baseball cards across the land? Or is it a method bound for heartbreak?
Let’s dive into the pros and cons, but first things first …
What Is PWE Shipping?
PWE stands for “plain white envelope,” the kind you can buy at any office supply store, and the kind your great-great-great-great-great-granddad used to send love letters to your great-great-great-great-grandmom back when the George Washington rookie card was all the rage.
You know, an envelope:
By extension, then, PWE shipping refers to mailing baseball cards in a plain white envelope. Just pop that 1982 Fleer Jerry Augustine into an envelope, scrawl the address on the front, slap on a stamp, and drop it in the mailbox (the one right next to the payphone).
PWE Shipping: Pros and Cons
Alright, now that we know what PWE shipping is, the next question is, can you mail baseball cards in a PWE?
The simple answer is yes, of course, you can mail baseball cards in a PWE, just as you can mail the deed to that lost Dutchman mine you found in that old Rik Smits jersey you picked up at the church rummage sale in a PWE.
But is it a good idea? And is it better than other shipping methods?
Or is using a PWE to send cards across the country more dangerous than letting Dr. Fauci throw out the first pitch?
Depends on who you ask AND on your particular situation (more on that later).
For now, let’s take a look at both sides of the argument.
Pros of PWE Shipping
Cost – No doubt this is the primary appeal of using PWEs to ship cards. When you’ve got hundreds of singles flying everywhere, it can get expensive to send them all in boxes, or even bubble packs. In contrast, you can buy envelopes for a dime or so apiece.
Even when you add in some other packing materials (more on that later, too) and stamps, you can still send multiple cards from here to there for a couple of bucks or less.
Convenience – Which is easier: finding just the right box or bubble pack, arming your cards for battle, loading them up, taking them to the post office, paying the freight?
— OR —
Girding your cards with some sleeves and cardboard, slipping them in an envelope, stamping, addressing, and dropping in the slot?
Yes, PWEs are pretty darn convenient, which is also an important consideration when you do a lot of trading (or buying and selling) of the non in-person variety.
There are also some more intangible benefits that come along with using PWEs to swap cards, not the least of which is the endorphin rush that floods your body whenever a hand-addressed envelope with your name on it shows up in the mailbox. What treasures lurk inside?
Cons of PWE Shipping
Of course, PWE shipping is not without it’s drawbacks. But what in this life is?
When it comes to flipping baseball cards across the terrain in humble white envelopes, here are some of those “cons” you may run into:
No Tracking – Sellers (usually you included) use PWEs almost always to save some scratch, so most of the time, that means loading up the envelope, slapping on some stamps, and sending it on its way. There is no way to track that sort of first class mail while it’s in transit, so you just sort of have to hope that everything works out OK.
Or at least, that used to be true. These days you can take advantage of programs like the eBay Standard Envelope (ESE, I guess). to keep costs low and take advantage of some tracking. As of this writing, the eBay Standard Envelope lets you ship up to 15 cards weighing a total of three ounces or less, and with a total value up to $20 for between 57 cents and $1.05. No graded cards allowed. You can read the details here.
- Card Damage – Envelopes and the stuff you can stick inside them to keep cards safe usually do a decent job of getting them where they’re going safely. But it’s not all that hard to bend, tear, scrape, or otherwise mutilate a paper wrapping and the contents within, so card damage is a real possibility with PWEs, though anectdotal reports seem to point to low incidences of such.
- Card Loss – Remember that no tracking bit? That can be a big deal because “letters” have a way of getting lost or stolen on occasion. They’re thin and can slip into and under things, after all, and they can flitter off into the ether of a sufficient breeze gets at them. They can also disappear from mailboxes and stoops, but then, so can more substantial packages. Again, a valid concern, but one that doesn’t seem to come to fruition all that often.
- No Insurance – If a card does get lost, stolen, or obliterated during shipment in a PWE, either the buyer or the seller is going to have to take the hit in most cases, because insurance usually takes it in the shorts when a simple envelope is involved. Not many folks are going to pony up for insurance, after all, when minimizing shipping costs is the goal. Ditto for registering the letter for tracking purposes. (As noted above, the eBay Standard Envelope program does give you some coverage for values up to $20).
Alright, so it looks like the cons outweigh the pros, at least on our tally sheet above, right?
But, again, it depends. Because, for each transaction, the buyer-seller combo has to weight the risks versus the rewards of using PWE shipping and decide if its right for their situation.
So then, you might be asking yourself …
When Is PWE Shipping OK for Sending Baseball Cards?
No, the answer isn’t “never,” though you’ll run into some arguments for that opion. It’s a great one if you have money to burn for moving those Dickie Noles cards around the country.
But for many budget-conscience collectors and dealers who use singles sales to offset the costs of breaking new product and other business expenses, PWE shipping can be a godsend. Actually, it can be a necessity.
So, when does PWE shipping make sense for transporting baseball cards from here to there? Well, some slam-dunk cases include times when your shipment contains:
- A single card worth $5-10 or less (your personal tolerance for loss may vary).
- 5-15 cards with a total value of $20 or less (to use eBay’s parameters — again, that may be too steep for you)
- Non-graded cards (slabs tend to crack during the rigors of first-class-letter transport)
- No more than a couple of toploaders
Combinations of those “rules” apply, too: you wouldn’t ship a $50 card in a PWE just because it’s not graded, for example.
The general principals to keep in mind are to NOT ship valuable or important-to-you cards using a PWE, and to not overload your envelope. The limits set by the United States Postal Service for mailing a first-class envelope are a maximum of 3.5 ounces in weight and a quarter inch in thickness.
You’d usually do well do stay below those limits.
How Do You Ship Cards Using a PWE?
OK, so maybe you’ve decided that you have a card, or some cards, that are perfect candidates for PWE shipping. How exactly do you go about loading up that plain white envelope and getting it on the road?
Exact implementations are as varied as the collectors and dealers sending out the cards, but basic process almost always entails the following steps:
- Address your envelope and write any pertinent warnings on front. “Bend this envelope and Albert Belle’s wrath awaits” usually suffices. You want to do all your writing on an empty envelope, lest you cause some bonehead damage to the precious cargo.
- Place your card (or cards) in (a) penny sleeve(s). This provides the first layer of protection and guards edges and surfaces from the rigors of the trip ahead.
- Give your card(s) something stiff to protect them from getting bent. For single cards, this usually means sliding the card, that’s already in a penny sleeve, into a toploader. For multiple cards, it can mean sliding two cards in the same toploader, putting the front and back cards in toploaders and wedging the rest in between, or using some sort of stiff cardboard to give your package a “spine.”
- Fix your cards in place. Even in their now-sleeved-and-stiffened state, you don’t want your cards sliding around the in envelope during shipping. To prevent that, you can include some sort of letter-sized wrapper — you know, like a letter, or a packing slip — in your envelope. Tape the cards securely (by their holders) sideways in the middle of the paper, fold it like a letter, and stuff away.
- Weigh the thing. There are mail scales, kitchen scales, and post offices that can make this a reality.
- Place the proper amount of postage (stamps) on the front of the envelope.
- Mail the envelope. Mailboxes, post offices, and errand drones all work here.
Again, approaches vary, and you’ll find your own groove over time if you embrace PWEs.
Basically, though, the process is a bunch of “esses”:
- Settle up
Welcome to the world of PWE shipping!