Boxes with integrated book cradle: one object, two roles

By Erica D’Alessandro, Heritage Council Conservation intern


As conservators, our job is to conserve Library books but also to preserve them from dust, light, improper handling and fluctuations in humidity, and to protect them during movement and handling. This is why we create made-to-measure boxes for many of the books we treat.

This month, I completed the conservation and rehousing of two 19th century caoutchouc bindings1. This type of book usually includes beautiful illustrated plates and, as a result, readers are often tempted to open the text block widely. The problem is that, unlike a sewn book, the folios, which are usually a heavyweight paper, are pasted together at the spine with a rubber-based adhesive. This, combined with the weight of the text block, can lead to the detachment of the leaves, especially when the adhesive is oxidised and brittle2. Opening a book at 180 degrees flat on a table is hazardous for many different types of books and can quickly lead to serious damage such as split joints or a broken spine. In the case of caoutchouc bindings, the risk of damage during handling and consultation is much higher.

In the Early Printed Books Department, readers are usually required to use foam wedges or cushions when opening the books. However, for these 19th century bindings, we found it necessary to create a purpose-designed cradle for each book, to be kept within its storage box.

Type 1: Clamshell box with integrated cradle

Figure 1: Clamshell box with an integrated cradle inspired by Jeff Peachey’s blog

Clamshell box with an integrated cradle inspired by Jeff Peachey’s blog

This clamshell box is inspired by the Jeff Peachey design3. The book and cradle are both housed in the box and the folded cradle can be easily erected. Please watch the video to demonstrate its use. However, while the solution has many advantages, its construction is time-consuming, fairly expensive and it needs more storage space than a phase box.

Type 2: Phase box that transforms into a cradle

To improve on this we4 have developed a box that is solid, quick to build and less time- and material-consuming that will suit large format books.  It is inspired by the design of the phase box, which we more commonly make for books in our collection, and takes up less storage space than that of the clamshell box.

Figure 2: Phase box transformed into a cradle for a large book

Phase box transformed into a cradle for a large book

Here are the steps to create the phase box:

1. We created a phase box with a vertical and horizontal board.  A strip (width of the book spine) is cut from the vertical inner board before gluing it to the horizontal outer board.

Ill. 1: Cutting and creasing the cardboard strip

Fig. 1: Cutting and creasing the cardboard strip

The strip is then creased in the middle (Fig. 1) and glued along its crease in order to be able to lift the edges of the strip (Fig. 2).

Illu. 2: Pasting back down the cardboard strip but only on the crease

Fig. 2: Pasting the cardboard strip back down but only on the crease

2. The left and right sides flaps are creased at a strategic distance that will allow the boards to be inserted under the flaps creating an 80-75 degree angle (Fig. 3).  It is important to have a smaller angle than 90 degrees so the cradle does not open flat when the book is placed on it.

Ill. 3: Cross-section of the box

Fig. 3: Cross-section of the box

3. Rivets and washers are added for the closure of the box.  Two holes are made in the right side of the strip and in the right side flap in order to insert a plug as shown in Fig. 3.

4. Plugs are attached to the thread and, when the cradle is used, they are inserted in the holes in order to secure the boards under the cardboard strip (Fig. 3).

Please watch the video to demonstrate its use.

The drawbacks of this type of box-cradle is that it can be more complex for the reader and the boards of the book are not entirely supported by the cradle.


The two boxes are very different in their structure and each has different advantages. Designing an integrated box and support system was a challenging and interesting project, which has sparked my interest for box making, and I can see how endless the possibilities can be.

~ Erica D’Alessandro, from Brussels, Belgium, began a Heritage Council 9-month internship at Trinity College Library in October 2016. She has a Bachelor in Art History from the University of Brussels and a Bachelor and a Master in Art Conservation (book specialisation) from the National School of Visual Art of La Cambre, Brussels.

  1. Under the supervision of two book conservators, Marco di Bella and John Gillis.
  2. For additional information about caoutchouc bindings, please check Don Etherington description:
  4. In collaboration with John Gillis.