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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Oyster Shell: Pearl :: Clamshell: Medieval Manuscript?!?

A clamshell or “drop spine” box is a typical housing for bound materials, like books and manuscripts, or loose materials that should be stored together, such as a set of prints. The fanciest clamshells are covered cloth, paper, or leather, and are custom-made to fit the item that will go inside.

 Clamshell Box for MS B61 (exterior)

Here is an example made to fit MS B61, Registrum Brevium, a 14th century British manuscript written in Latin. This book, because of its age, had been bound in different styles over the centuries. The most recent iteration was a suede binding of the 19th or early 20th century, glued tightly to the backs of the folded pieces of parchment that were sewn together to make up the book.  This style of binding was creating stress on the pages, as users had to exert force to open the book.

The curator asked that the binding, which was in poor condition, be removed and replaced with something safer for the book. However, he wanted  the  covers of the previous binding to be kept with the book so that researchers could learn more about its history through the centuries. So in addition to the conservation treatment to document the book’s current condition and repair and rebind it, I created this clamshell box with a special drawer that houses the boards of the previous binding. There are myriad variations on the basic clamshell.  For more information on constructing your own clamshell box, see Books, Boxes and Portfolios by Franz Zeier, Z271 .Z4413 1990 (in Watson Library).

Clamshell box open with drawer open

For additional images, please click to enlarge:

Book in clamshell box with drawer visible    Clamshell box with drawer openOpen clamshell with drawer closed

Whitney Baker

Head, Conservation Services

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