Book Conservation: Clamshell Boxes for Rare Books

 Decorative clamshell box custom made to fit a rare book.

Decorative clamshell box custom made to fit a rare book.

Conservation goes hand in hand with preservation - there is no point in putting in time and effort to conserve rare materials without also taking steps to ensure their preservation going forward. In many cases, preservation means ensuring that the object will be protected with proper storage and environment in the future, so that further deterioration or damage occurs as little as possible. 

For rare books, one option is to have a protective clamshell box custom made to fit the volume.

 1657 volume inside custom clamshell box.

1657 volume inside custom clamshell box.

This 1657 British law book recently came through our studio for treatment. The conservation procedures were minimal, involving a few repairs to the binding and preliminary pages; however, the client opted to have a custom clamshell box made as well. 

 Repairs to leather corners.

Repairs to leather corners.

 Surface cleaning the title page.

Surface cleaning the title page.

A clamshell box is a protective enclosure that can be custom made to fit any volume. The box opens like a book, with a tray on the bottom to hold the volume, and one on the top to cover it; the cover has a drop spine allowing the box to lay flat when open. When closed and placed on a shelf, it can look like a finely bound book itself, and can be fitted with a label on the spine to identify the volume inside. 

Clamshell box for rare book

 

 

Clamshell boxes serve to protect rare volumes from dust and light exposure, and to mitigate changes in temperature and relative humidity, all factors that can cause deterioration to the paper and leather of antiquarian books.

 

This particular clamshell also functioned as a presentation box, as the book was intended as a gift on a special occasion for the recipient. The label on the front cover commemorates the occasion and the rich red cloth and traditional marbled paper inside provide a luxurious accent to the volume, at the same time as protecting it.

 The book fits snugly inside the box, with no room to slide or rub.

The book fits snugly inside the box, with no room to slide or rub.

While ready-made drop-spine solander boxes can be purchased from archival supply companies in a selection of standard sizes, the beauty of a custom clamshell box is that it is made to perfectly fit the volume it holds. Antiquarian books often measure in odd dimensions and a custom box will fit the book snugly, preventing it from sliding around inside, which could cause damage to the binding.

 Construction of a custom clamshell box must be very precise in order to fit the volume snugly.

Construction of a custom clamshell box must be very precise in order to fit the volume snugly.

Rare book libraries and special collections often construct custom boxes to protect their most valuable volumes, and the boxes can be made decorative, as in the example above, or more plainly in a conservation style box, as those shown below. 

 A conservation clamshell with plainer materials protects the book from dust and light.

A conservation clamshell with plainer materials protects the book from dust and light.

Conservation clamshell box

If you have rare books that you want to protect and preserve, consider having custom clamshell boxes made to house them. Decorative and plain styles are available in a variety of colours and materials, and presentation boxes make a great accent for gifts or special occasions. Get in touch with us today to discuss your needs, or view our rare books conservation gallery to learn more about book conservation projects by our studio.