Tag Archives: book boxes

Drop Spine Cradle Boxes

Nine years ago I designed a new style of cradle box, and it is rewarding to see the idea picked up by others. Below is recent one I made is for this stunning early 20th century French fine binding.  The cradle also supports the slip-case chemise which is quite fragile. The slipcase itself is missing, or maybe it never had one.

French fine binding in a cradle box. Private Collection.

Some other examples from around the web:

A variant from Trinity College, Dublin.

Rehousing a fragile book of engravings at Princeton University.

Display and storage for an artist book from Karen Apps.

Three different types of cradle boxes on the AIC book conservation wiki.

A simpler version made out of folding board.

A group conservation project from Duke University, with some construction details. 




Box Making Weights

box weights

Jeff Altepeter, the other bookbinder named Jeff that is obsessed professionally interested in bookbinding tools, is the Bookbinding Department Head at North Bennet Street School. Recently he has begun manufacturing box making weights, often referred to as “L” weights, though it seems angle weights would be more descriptive. Whatever you call them, they are really, really nice. Not only do they speed production and increase accurate corner wall miters — so there is less sanding — but because of their clamping pressure you end up with a stronger join.

Jeff explains that  “Tini Miura turned us onto the design [calling them “L” weights] years ago at the American Academy of Bookbinding and they used to be sold by Lucinda Carr of Jumping Bird/ Mesa Canyon Studios. When she lost interest in manufacturing them, I picked it up because my students here at NBSS fight over the sets I have in the classroom. They are useful when building the walls of boxes, measuring for boxes, and as nice single hand weights at about 7 pounds each.”

These are solid steel, precision machined on the inner faces and zinc plated. They are 2 inches square on the short ends, 4 inches on the long ones. Current cost is $160.00 for a set of two plus $25 shipping in the US. Up to two sets can ship at this price. Larger orders ship at cost.

Contact Jeff Altepeter to purchase:  jaltepet <AT> gmail <DOT> com

Cooked Books

In preparation for an upcoming lecture on book boxes (May 23, 2013, 6:30) and workshop on drop spine cradle boxes (May 24-25, 2013) at Columbia College in Chicago, I’ve run across some crazy ideas on how to protect a book.  The housing system below is noteworthy. Over 200 books at an NYC Institution were treated this way.

Crazy Housing

The outer shell is an acidic marbled paper and a laser printed paper label.  As you can see, it is difficult to unwrap the book without tearing the deteriorated paper. The laser printed label seems to date this treatment after the early 1990’s. Is it my imagination, an accident, or did the person who wrapped this book take extreme care to try and match the marbled patterns at the join of the paper?

Crazy Housing

The next layer is the big surprise: aluminum foil. At the moment, I can only think of one reason for wrapping a book in foil, to prepare it for baking. I’m not sure what the Interactions between the aluminum and leather might be, but the mechanical problems are quite apparent, since the extra aluminum is rolled up and pushed onto the head and tail of the text block causing uneven stresses when the book is shelved upright. Again, it is unwieldy to unwrap.

Crazy Housing 3

These books were also given an marinade of potassium lactate according to the treatment records. I think this must have caused some of the blackening and changes to the surface texture of the leather—they do look a little like they have been baked. Potassium lactate is used as an antimicrobial preservative in Hot Dogs.

Putting potassium lactate on leather books is a very bad idea, though. Even though it is discussed in some older book restoration manuals, it has been discontinued because of the damage it can cause. Tom Conroy (in the first comment) dates this treatment to 1984. At least one conservation vendor in the US still sells it, though.

The best way to preserve leather bindings is to put nothing on them. If there is already red rot, you should consult with a book conservator. Pass the ketchup.

Call For Images: Historic, Artistic or Technically Innovative Book Boxes

Dudin boxAn Asian style box was considered important enough to be illustrated in René Martin Dudin’s L’Art du Relieur-Doreur de Livres, Paris, Saillant & Nyon, 1772. My collection.

I’m preparing a presentation to accompany a workshop about drop spine boxes that contain an integral cradle. To date, I am scheduled to teach this workshop at Columbia College (Chicago, May 23-25) and at the Focus on Bookarts Conference (Forest Grove, OR, June 25-27).

I’d like to include a variety of images of historic, artistic and technically innovative book boxes. I am interested in early boxes from the nineteenth century, like the solander or the moulded fire-resisting pull-off case. I would love to have a selection of artistic boxes that either through design or action enhance or comment on the book enclosed within. Images of technically inventive boxes are also welcome, such as those that protect unusually sized or shaped books, house remains of binding parts removed, or have an integral cradle. I also intend to write up some kind of summary in a blog post.

If anyone has images they willing to share, please send up to 3 digital images to me by March 17, 2013. Include: your name, how you want to be identified (links to your website, etc), the name of the work (or book housed within), dimensions, date. I’m not sure if I will be able to use all the images, though if I only get one submission….

A Drop Spine Cradle Box

Peter Waters, in the introduction to “Boxes for the Protection of Rare Books: Their Design and Construction” established seven basic precepts for designing a protective enclosure in 1982.  It is an excellent analysis of what a good book box should be, and is worth quoting in entirety:

“1. A good box should place the closed volume under light pressure so that is is unlikely to expand, become distorted, or shift position if the box is shaken or dropped.

2. The box should be strongly constructed so that if it sustains a blow any damage to the volume within will be minimized. (Shipping boxes need to be stronger and are not considered here.)

3. Materials used for making boxes should be of the highest permanence and durability, with appearance playing a lesser role than it would in the design of “presentation” boxes.

4. As far as possible, a book box, when assembled and covered, should be a single unit.  Telescopic designs, for example, or boxes with inner sleeves and separate covers can confuse a user who must return each of several visually identical volumes to its own box.

5. The design and location of the label on a closed box should indicate clearly whether it should be shelved vertically or horizontally and how it should be opened. The method of opening and closing a box should always be simple and obvious.  Inadequate directions for opening are potential sources of damage to the book.

6. When possible, a book box should be designed so that the user must remove it from the shelf and place it on a table to open it and must remove the volume with both hands.  A slip case or telescopic case tempts a user to hold it with one hand while removing or replacing the volume with the other hand, which is potentially harmful to the book.

7. With few exceptions, a box design should restrain a user from opening the volume within the box.”

I would add two additional guidelines:

8.  It should be cost effective and simple to construct.

9. Ideally, there should be no abrasion when removing or replacing the book  in the box.  Practically, this is often impossible.


Fig 1: A drop spine box with an integral cradle.

With these precepts in mind, I designed a box with an integral cradle. For collectors who read their books (not unheard of!), it is often ideal; most don’t want the hassle of storing or locating rare book room style wedges, and some open their books inside drop spine boxes anyway.  This cradle could also be useful for book artists that want some control over how their books are displayed in an exhibition. In certain circumstances, it might even be useful in an institutional setting.  Dedicated cradles with variable degrees of opening are optimum for consultation and display, but sometimes this is not possible.

I based this box/cradle on one  I saw in  Montefiascone, Italy, this past summer and it was made by Nicholas Hadgraft. His version used velcro to attach the left wedge into the outer tray, but after some experimentation I changed this.  The basic idea, of hinging the cradle platform near the spine was his, I think.  I’ve also heard about a version that automatically raises the cradle, but haven’t seen one yet– I’d be happy to add an image or diagram to this post if anyone has one to share. After thinking, experimenting and making various models, I reached the point where further simplifications created more complications.  I’m sure there are many variations and hope there are potential improvements.


Fig 2: Diagram of the layout for a wedge.

The construction is easy and straightforward.  Basically, the two wedges are made, attached together,  then measured with the book to determine the dimensions of the inner tray. After that, the box is constructed as usual.  The construction of drop spine boxes is well documented, so there is no reason to repeat it here.

First, determine the angle of the desired opening for the book.  Then cut the three pieces of board- a spacer, the cradle platform and the upright.  The width of the upright will determine the angle of the cradle. A hinge spacing of four board thicknesses worked well with Iris cloth, but a thicker cloth might need additional space.  When measuring the book, I feel a somewhat “loose” box prevents abrasion of the book edges, when inserting and removing the book, which I feel causes more damage than if the book moves a few mm inside the box. About  one centimeter is a reasonable gap between the spacer and the upright when it is folded flat– it allows for some flexibility in construction, yet adequately supports the book when it is stored.  Then the three pieces are covered like a case binding, and lined.


Fig. 3: End view of the book and two wedges, ready to be measured for the tray.

Another important consideration is to add about one spine thickness to the height of the upright in the outer tray, in order to keep the overall angle of each wedge roughly similar to each other. Since the book could eventually be used in a wide variety of page openings, it seemed reasonable to keep the angle of the uprights roughly even.

The wedges were attached to each other by a double layer of book cloth, glued back to back. A variety of materials seem to work for  lining the platform depending on the fragility of the book covering material– I’ve used paper, cloth, volara and polyester felt.  The trays need to be lined before they are measured with the book. It is possible to construct the wedges and spine piece from one piece of cloth, but measuring for a proper fit is fairly difficult and more time consuming, and then the spacers need to be made from separate pieces of cloth.

Note that on the right side wedge, the spacer is glued to the bottom on the inner tray.  This allows the wedge to open, and his prevents the cradle from shifting and collapsing when it is open.  The spacer on the left wedge is glued to the bottom of the cradle platform. This allows it to open independently from the drop spine box, consequently the spine width is closer to the ideal than if the wedges are hinged to the trays.

cradle-in box

Fig. 4: View of the cradle when opening the box.

I try to make the cradle platform fit fairly tight in the inner tray, so that its friction can be used to create slight compression on the book.

One potential drawback is that it effectively doubles the thickness of a standard drop spine box, adding an additional 4 board thicknesses, plus lining materials, but presumably this is more of a concern for institutional, verses private collections.

cradle-first flap

Fig. 5: The box and cradle open, but the uprights not yet raised.

The location of the pull ribbon is quite important, and unfortunately there is no ideal solution.  If it is placed about halfway up in the height, it makes it easy to pull it to 0pen the upright.  But in this position, it can slip under the platform when closed.  If the ribbon slips under the right wedge, it can be very difficult to retrieve (DAMHIKT). For now, locating this closer to the top, or to keep it from slipping by sewing through the hinge, as illustrated here,  seem the best solution.

I trust that Peter Waters would have considered this box as an “exception” to his rule #7, otherwise I plead guilty as charged.


Fig 6: Competed box with integral cradle in position.