Last summer, I needed to return a bronze to my foundry because the bits on the horse weren't done correctly. I shipped it August 31. By September 1 it was lost. It left Centerville OH and was checked into West Carrollton OH (about 10 miles away), then into Sharonville OH(about 30 miles away) and then disappeared.
It was a high-value package traveling via UPS. Their practice for such packages, so I'm told, is that the manager of each stop has to walk high value packages from the truck into the building and lock it in a cage, then walk it from the cage to the next truck when it's ready to go on and tracking paperwork has to be signed each step of the way. This type of handling should be a great safeguard, yet my bronze was lost its first day in the transit.
UPS paid the insurance to the foundry, since I was shipping on their account (because I was returning it for repair). The foundry, at my request, cast me another piece in that edition with the money UPS gave them. I recently got that casting - it's still in the box waiting to be mounted.
Now the story gets exciting. Yesterday, the Google alert I have on my name (to track where I'm mentioned online - a way of tracking advertising, word of mouth, etc.) arrived in my inbox with a listing for Ebay: "Lynda Sappington Bronze Horse & Carriage Elegance" and the edition number of the piece and the copyright year. When I saw it, my hands literally started shaking! The store selling it was in the Central Time Zone (I'm in the Eastern Time Zone), so calling and talking to a live person wasn't going to happen for a while, and I needed to leave for an appointment soon.
I researched the company and found out it has an A+ Better Business Bureau rating and a 99.4% positive rating on Ebay. Those highly positive ratings made me decide to trust that they were a legitimate business and not somebody who'd stolen my bronze to make a killing on it. I called the company and left a message: "This is Lynda Sappington. You have my bronze, "Elegance," listed on Ebay. Please stop the auction. It was lost by UPS in shipping. I want it back." (Yeah, I was a bit tense when I called . . .)
I called my shipper in Centerville and told them about finding the piece on Ebay, then forwarded them the link to share with UPS. By afternoon, I'd heard from a Centerville police officer investigating it as a theft and gotten a call from UPS as well. And bless them, the company had stopped the auction. By the end of the day, after a LOT of phone calls, the police were out of the picture (since it wasn't stolen) and UPS was making arrangements for it to be shipped to my foundry for repair. I had to pay the insurance back to UPS before they would ship it to the foundry, but that was the right thing to do.
After some investigation into how it wound up at a lost freight merchant, UPS told me there was no label on my package, so it was sent to their lost and found, which is on the Ohio/Indiana border somewhere. They then put a listing for it online for three months. When it wasn't claimed, they sold it to a company that buys lost freight to resell it - the company who'd listed it on Ebay.
There are several weird things about this whole situation. I shipped it with a waybill (sp?) on it, the kind of thing that goes in one of those plastic envelopes that stick on the top of the box REALLY WELL. So where did the label go??? They didn't say a plastic envelope was stuck to the box - they said there was no label at all. My shippers know their business. I've used them for probably 15 years now. There's no way a box without a label would ever leave their shop. Since it was marked "high value" for the insurance, my shippers think someone may have stolen it, ripped off the label, then changed their minds or something and put it back in the system. That's the most logical explanation, anyway. A description of the piece was sent to UPS when the insurance claim was made, yet they were apparently unaware they had that very piece in their lost and found. Neither my shippers or I have ever heard of that lost and found website before, so we didn't know to look for it there. We're going to find out more about that site for future reference.
Anyway - long story short - put a Google Alert on your name, your studio name and any variation of those names that might appear anywhere (on message boards, in the newspaper, in magazine ads, etc.). Google Alerts are free - you just have to create a Gmail account to be able to get a Google Alert for as many names as you want. Sculptors, be sure to sign your work in an obvious place in the clay, not in some obscure spot or just on a brass plate on the base. Painters, it would probably be a good idea to make a permanent signature, not one in pencil or hidden on the back of the piece. That may be the only identifying mark on your art if it gets lost in shipping, and it should be easy to find.
I'm so glad "Elegance" is back where it belongs (somewhere between me and the foundry at the moment, but in my control!) and appears to be undamaged. If it's damaged, UPS and I are gonna have words . . . . I wish that bronze could talk and tell me what happened! At least it's not lost anymore!