As part of our preservation efforts in the Watkinson, we sometimes hire a conservator to make a clamshell box to protect an extra-special, fragile book. Stephanie Gibbs, a bookbinder from Easthampton, Mass., is making a linen clamshell box for an incunable with delicate, exposed sewing. The fit of the box is important so that the book doesn’t shift when being shelved and get damaged.
An “incunable” (the English form of the Latin incunabula = “cradle”) is a book from the “infancy” of printing, covering the years 1455 to 1500. Why doesn’t Stephanie just repair the binding? Several reasons: being able to see the original structure of the book is a window into the history of the artifact; appropriately restoring a binding is time intensive, requires a high level of expertise, and is therefore very expensive. This type of treatment would be reserved for a book that is very rare indeed or that needs to be handled fairly often for teaching or research. Boxing is a practical way to protect an artifact for the future.
—Sally Dickinson, Associate Curator & Preservation Librarian