1091 Project: Boxes

Welcome to the latest post of the 1091 Project.  Today’s topic is the wonderful world of preservation boxing.  Below is a segmented discussion of the types of boxes we use in our lab.  I’m looking forward to visiting Duke’s Preservation Underground blog to check out their boxing policies and go-to enclosures, too!

We try to stabilize and repair as many of the materials that come into the lab as we can, but sometimes the best preservation solution is a box.  Boxes offer many benefits: boxes physically contain materials which may have detached or partially detached pieces; boxes create a micro-climate which can buffer items from changes in temperature and humidity; boxes offer a secondary barrier against light damage, smoke, water, and other dangers.  Boxes also signal to patrons that the item inside requires extra care in handling.  However, boxes also eat up a lot of shelf space, can be expensive to purchase or produce, and can make it harder to find an item on the shelf.

Some boxes we order pre-made, while others we build in the lab. We use boxes to protect:

  • items that would be too costly or time-consuming to repair with respect to their significance to the collection
  • items that simply can’t be repaired (for example, books with extremely brittle pages)
  • items which have been repaired or stabilized but still require the extra protection a box affords
  • items which require a special box to perform a particular function, such as a box which compresses a splaying binding or a box which doubles as a display case

Some books are boxed as an immediate measure to protect them in their current condition, with the hope that there will be time and resources for actual treatment in the future.  On average, we use about 800 pre-made boxes and build about 600 in-house boxes annually, although the actual numbers of different types of boxes vary.


CMI box

CMI Boxes (“pizza boxes” or “corrugated clamshells”).  This is the most common type of box we use for materials of average dimensions in both General and Special Collections.

Archival Products portfolio with customizable, pre-creased, four-flap wrapper

Archival Products portfolios with four-flap wrappers or envelope inserts.  The pre-made portfolios containing four-flap wrappers are pre-creased on the wrapper flaps, for a somewhat customizable size.  We use these portfolios for books which have too narrow a spine for a CMI box, for calendars in Special Collections, and for situations such as when a series of pamphlets has been cataloged as a single item.


CoLibri pocket with 20-point Bristol board support piece

CoLibri Covers and CoLibri Pockets.  These aren’t boxes, but they are some of the most common types of enclosures we use in the lab.  CoLibri book jackets are used for General Collection books with cut-outs on the boards or covering material (like pale silk or suede) that could easily get dirty or damaged with normal Library use, and for robust Special Collections books.  They are sealed using a CoLibri machine, and are trimmed to fit each item individually.  Our students pre-make CoLibri pockets in a range of standard sizes for Special Collections pamphlets.  (General Collections pamphlets are bound into pamphlet binders instead.)   Special Collections holds an extensive recipe pamphlet collection, which contains quite a few Jell-O recipe books like the one pictured above.

Tux box

Tux Wrap (or “four-flap wrapper”).  We use tux wraps for containing fragile items which have hard boards that don’t require additional support.  Their thin profile takes up less shelf space than CMI boxes or phase boxes.

Phase box (with double fore-flaps)

Phase Box.  We use the style pictured above rather than the style that has only a single board thickness at the fore edge.  For a detailed explanation of why, see our very first blog post, “Phase Boxes: Old School vs. New School?

Cloth-covered clamshell box

Cloth-covered Clamshell (or “Drop-spine”) Box.  These boxes are reserved for Special Collections items which need extra protection, especially if they are heavy and unlikely to receive full conservation treatment.  We also make this style box for show pieces which are likely to be requested a lot.  Not only does the box afford extra protection to the item it houses, the fancy box signals to patrons that this is a valued collection item and should be treated with extra care.  Pictured above is the box that book technician Mindy Moeller made for the Martin Family Bible.  The Martins are an important family in Ames history, and this large, heavy volume’s compromised binding required a robust box for support.

Chemise and girdle enclosure

Chemise and Girdle Enclosure.  The chemise and girdle is a great enclosure for splayed vellum-over-board bindings.  The “chemise” (inner wrapper) snugs around the book, and then slides into the “girdle,” which is open on both sides (unlike a slipcase, which has an opening on only one side).  This enclosure is easy to open and close, but provides a significant amount of compression to keep boards from splaying.


Confession time: I love enclosures.  I particularly love when a problem child requiring a unique housing comes into the lab, because I love the puzzle of working out a solution that balances staff time and supply costs with the best possible support and ease of access for the item.  I also love the creative process of designing an unusual enclosure, and believe a special box should be attractive as well as functional.  That may be why I encourage my staff to design fancypants boxes whenever they offer a worthwhile solution to a preservation need.  If we have the time and funds to spare, then I am always willing to allow extra time for a beautiful and effective enclosure.  Here are some of my favorites:

Corrugated clamshell with custom support inserts

Corrugated Clamshell Box with Custom Support Inserts. The Library acquired this fantasy role-playing game as a resource to help students in a course on writing game instructions.  Martha constructed this box with foam inserts and polyethylene baggies to hold the game’s many pieces.

Cloth-covered, foam-lined, protective enclosure for glass vase

Foam-lined storage box for glass vase.  This glass vase (an award which is part of an archival collection) was standing unprotected on a shelf in Special Collections until Martha designed this protective storage box.  Because of the way the top hinges back, the full inscription on the front of the vase can be read without lifting the vase out of the box.

Double-window portfolio

Double-window Portfolio.  Special Collections requested a housing which could double as a display case for this certificate which has writing on both recto and verso.  There is also a small map which needed to be housed together with the certificate.  Martha built this double-window portfolio to minimize handling of the certificate while also providing an attractive means to view it.

Cloth-covered book shoe

Book Shoe.  This “Fancy Shoe” was built by our 2010 Lennox Conservation Intern, Kristi Westberg.  She wanted to protect the delicate repairs to the marbled paper on the board faces from abrasion, without covering up her beautiful spine repairs.  This book shoe (with a tail insert that supports the heavy textblock) provided an attractive solution.

Music Presentation Box.  Our regular readers will recognize this box from last week’s post.  This cloth-covered clamshell box houses a thin case binding containing musical compositions, while an audio CD of the music snugs into the foam insert below.

Built-in Cradle Box.  Our 2009 Lennox Conservation Intern, Bexx Caswell, built this elegant built-in cradle clamshell box for Special Collections’ copy of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Quaestiones de Verite (1475).  The cradle collapses flat when the box is closed; gently pulling on the linen ribbons lifts the cradle into its support position.

If you haven’t yet visited today’s 1091 Project post at Duke, head on over to Preservation Underground to learn about their lab’s use of enclosures.


  1. Awesome array of enclosures! Thanks for putting the CoLibri with a stiffener in your post, we do those, too. We also send out for corrugated boxes through our commercial binder (our binding unit handles that workflow).

    Today I’m working on boxing a thousand or so lead miniatures from the Murray Collection (think Dungeons and Dragons). I’ll be blogging about that sometime soon.

    I so love making boxes. They are like puzzles sometimes. And I love puzzles.

  2. Pardon my delayed comment but thanks again to both blogs for interesting posts – and especially for all the pictures. Box making always takes me back to my childhood of model making.

    One question, does anyone have some plans or instructions for the built-in-cradle box they’d be willing to share?

      1. I make a lot of the corrugated clamshell. It’s a pretty quick, forgiving, and versatile to work with. My recent challenges have been making enclosures for large items which presents a different set of difficulties. I like the challenge of figuring out a reasonably quick and economical enclosure for things like oversize federal document atlases (unbound). I’m not always perfectly pleased with the final result, but I learn from it and the next one is better.
        I am a little disappointed that my library has reduced its purchasing of art books because they were always a fun challenge to house.

  3. Ironically the day before this post we were talking about enclosures similar to the double window portfolios that my staff was making for the single manuscript leaves collection. It’s a great solution for both preservation and access.

  4. Hi Melissa & Co! As to the built-in cradle, this post for A Drop Spine Cradle Box by Jeff Peachey is a great guide that most experienced box makers can follow. I’ll be making one soon and I’d like to see that one by Katherine Beatty if it differs and is still available! It looks pretty similar. I like to use these for some of our star objects, those which people return again and again to look at a particular passage.

    1. Thanks, Nora. My 2013 Lennox Intern, Susanna Donovan, and I wrote up detailed instructions for making it that I can send along to you as well if you’re interested.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s