When a prestigious New York jeweler decided to donate the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian, the company put it in a brown paper package and sent it by U.S. mail.
Of course, postal inspectors took particular care to ensure that the priceless jewel arrived safely in Washington, D.C.
Ed Silverberg wishes his company had been as fortunate.
The $2,670 bracelet that Silverberg Jewelry Co. shipped last spring from St. Petersburg to a customer in the United Kingdom has yet to arrive. U.S. postal officials say the piece of jewelry cleared customs in Great Britain and was handed over to the Royal Mail. Then it vanished.
The package was insured, but the U.S. Postal Service refuses to pay Silverberg's claim. Officials say the company used the wrong type of service to mail the bracelet. Silverberg, though, did get a refund for the $24.75 his company spent for postage. He has refused to cash the money order.
"I really feel as if I've been wronged," Silverberg said from his company's executive offices near Tyrone Square Mall. "I contacted Congressman Bill Young and Sen. Nelson and Sen. Martinez, and they basically wrote me nice responses."
At least Young forwarded his complaint to the postmaster general, he said.
Silverberg, 50, president and owner of the company his grandfather started in the 1930s and which has stores in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa and Sarasota, blames the post office for giving his employee incorrect shipping information. He said the employee specifically asked a postal clerk whether the 18 karat white gold diamond bracelet could be sent safely. The clerk's answer was that there was no risk, Silverberg said.
"We were told that we must specifically use Express Mail and that, in addition, we must purchase insurance from the U.S. Post Office. This way we would be guaranteed compensation in the event the item was lost or stolen," Silverberg wrote in his appeal to the Postal Service.
U.S. Postal Service spokesman Gary Sawtelle said the agency offers different types of services to send mail and a variety of ways to protect it. Silverberg used the wrong type of service to mail the bracelet, he said.
"He sent this bracelet Global Express Mail. And for Global Express, that is an item that is prohibited," Sawtelle said.
The jewelry company should have sent the bracelet by registered letter post or insured parcel, he said. Besides, the firm should have known how to ship the piece, Sawtelle said.
"If that's your business, then the person responsible for the shipping department or shipping should become versed in what the prohibited items are to the country they mail to. And each country may have a list of prohibited items. All that information is online. Also, another way to get that information is by telephone," the Postal Service spokesman said. That sort of reasoning infuriates Silverberg, who blames the post office and its staff for giving his company bad advice.
"Why sell us the insurance? What was the purpose? We went to the post office for advice on how to send the bracelet. If the postal clerk is incompetent or unaware of the post office rules, how should I know? . . . The post office should be responsible for their actions, and if they make a mistake should be held accountable like any other business," Silverberg said in part of his appeal to the agency.
The State Attorney General's Office sided with Silverberg, pointing out in a letter to Mike Rodriguez, manager of U.S. Postal Service consumer affairs in Tampa, that the agency's own regulations indicate that the sender must be informed of mail restrictions. Since the Postal Service is a federally regulated agency, the Attorney General's Office asked that its letter be forwarded to support Silverberg's case, which was on appeal in Washington, D.C. The appeal has since been denied.
The jeweler encountered another bureaucratic snag when he tried to file a lawsuit in small claims court against the postal agency. He learned that the U.S. Postal Service cannot be sued.
"It's not the dollar amount," Silverberg said. "I just can't believe that there's no remedy available to me and the post office can do whatever the heck they want."
As for the bracelet, there are few clues.
"When we got this inquiry from Mr. Silverberg, we called London and we talked to the Royal Mail. We tracked it all the way to their incoming distribution site," Sawtelle said. "It was accepted by the Royal Mail, and it's from there that the trail went cold."
Silverberg sent a replacement to his customer. It was hand delivered.
IF YOU MAIL OVERSEAS
Among the valuable articles that may be sent only in registered letter post or insured parcels are the following: coins, bank notes, currency notes (paper money), manufactured and unmanufactured platinum, gold and silver, precious stones, jewels and jewelry. Inexpensive jewelry is accepted to countries that prohibit jewelry, but at the sender's risk. Call 1-800-275-8777 (1-800-ASK-USPS) or visit www.usps.com.