Murder on the Postal Express

Updated: Jan 12

In October 2012, I agreed to loan a very rare Stevens Mallard hen decoy to the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art for an exhibition. I had never loaned a decoy to a museum before, but with a suitable loan agreement in place, I packed up my decoy and shipped it with our United States Postal Service. I insured it for $8,000; the exact price I had paid for it only a year earlier at the Copley Fine Art Auction in Plymouth, Ma.

A week later, I received a call from the Ward Museum saying the decoy arrived damaged.

I’ve packed and shipped a least a hundred decoys in my years of collecting and I only had to insure a few, and none ever arrived damaged. I always use the time-tested method of bubble wrap surrounded by foam peanuts. So I filed my insurance claim and I was immediately denied. The letter said I had missed my 30 days to file? I had filed the claim within 8 days and I had all the evidence to prove it. So I filed the claim again with proof of timing. The claim was denied; this time because they saw “no damage to the box”. What? I didn’t insure the box, I insured the decoy!

So I appealed with an outline ...

1. The item was not broken before being shipped.

2. The item was properly packaged.

3. The item was insured and its value established by a paid receipt.

4. The item arrived broken.

I continued; “I can’t understand how your office can make itself the judge and sole decision maker while acting in its own defense. This is not due process in a Constitutional democracy. Claiming the box appears undamaged ignores the fact that the insured item is damaged.”

The claim was denied again. There was only one final appeal process that finally referred the matter to an impartial Consumer Advocacy Board. I submitted my evidence and asked that we reach some kind of compromise; shared fault; anything, after all the decoy wasn’t completely ruined and perhaps my packing was too tight to handle the shock of being dropped (perhaps from a rooftop I hadn't considered a possibility?). A month later I get a check for the $8,000. No accompanying letter, no explanation, no willingness to consider the compromise, and not a word about the decoy. If this isn’t dysfunctional bureaucracy, I don’t know what is. I appealed to pay for the decoy to be returned. I was denied. The USPS replied that all items covered by a paid claim are sent to “Atlanta for disposal”. What? Dispose of it? Why? And why Atlanta? The plot was thickening - or perhaps it was just the typical nonsense of government policy. I appealed in panic, “It’s a historical artifact, please don't destroy it!” No reply, ever. I sent a second letter and made a phone call. Nothing. I’m afraid the body of Mrs. Mallard Stevens will never be recovered. It was murder on the Postal Express.

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