Posts Tagged ‘museum quality crates’

EMPTY CRATES – store or discard?

Friday, April 10th, 2009



We get inquiries regularly from customers looking to gift their empty crates to us. With the implication that, of course, the crates are valuable and it is really the donor who is making the sacrifice. So the least we can do is pick them up for free, how about Tuesday? In the past, waaay in the past, we said yes. No longer.


Having accepted and stored an inventory of “used crates” some years back, we licked our chops and waited for the perfect fits to show up. The caller who would need a crate of a certain size, one we could pluck right out of our inventory, spruce up a bit and maybe re-fit the foam interior, and essentially sell again. Thus offering the customer a reduced rate and creating a happy transaction all around. Except that, it rarely happened. It so rarely happened, in fact, that we ceased for the most part storing empty crates.


Why? Well, first, it just wasn’t economical. Crates are built to house a particular artwork or set of artworks. To fit a smaller work into an existing crate, the interior has to be re-done, old materials stripped away, new foam added etc.– this is both labor intensive and involves the cost of new materials. Even removing old labeling and covering outdated stenciling takes considerable time. Often the “feet” of the crate were loose and had to be replaced, or other wood elements in the crate required reinforcement. In addition, the customer has to pay higher shipping rates for a larger crate, so that has to be considered in the trade off re pricing. Customers do not like to see wasted space within crates — and it is very clear to professionals when crates have been padded to excess.


The bottom line turned out to be that the expense in time and materials to refit an existing crate was substantial, and often building a new one was a better deal for the customer, especially when shipping costs were factored in. And on our side, the costs to pickup, handle, store, inventory and inspect crates to find possible matches was not worth the meagre return.


For many sculptures, installation pieces and other dimensional artworks, a retrofit crate was out of the question. With such artworks the interior of the crate is actually the expensive part, as custom supports have to be designed, fabricated, and secured in the crate to hold all elements of the work in place. To start with an existing crate would be a complication to be overcome, not a short cut.


Finally there can be quality issues with a used crate, particularly one that has been stored for a long time or that has been subject to repeated shipping adventures. Screws can work loose, wood dry out, glued elements come unglued, and the stresses of shipping can work loose formerly tight joints, gaskets, and seams.  Some of the crates donated to us way back when were, upon inspection, trash. Some looked new, but upon handling proved rickety and unlikely to survive further freight journeys without substantial refurbishing. Some had spiders and worse, having been stored out of doors — not recommended.


So our rule has become: empty crates? Thanks but, no thanks. There are exceptions to every rule, and here and there we are able to re-use a recently arrived crate if the stars are in proper alignment. If a really amazing crate comes our way we might keep and admire it for awhile, and have our craters learn from it’s design, but sooner or later out it goes. The only empty crates we store now are those held in storage accounts for our customers. These are typically high end crates built for specific artworks that clients have in their collections, or crates being held for artworks temporarily in town on exhibition. Normally only the most expensive museum quality crates and cases are stored long term; it makes economic sense to store these rather than build new ones. In that case, crates are carefully inspected prior to re-use, and any elements that have degraded are replaced, so they are in “as new” condition when released into the arms of the shipping gods.


 Betsy Dorfman