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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Slipcases and Clamshell Boxes

At some point in time many book collectors will obtain an item that is unique, beautiful, perhaps somewhat fragile, and that requires long-term protection beyond the usual mylar dustjacket protector or mylar sleeving.

In such cases the best solution may be a custom slipcase or clamshell box (also known as a “drop-spine box”). A slipcase encloses a book on all sides except the spine, while a clamshell box normally envelops the book completely. In general, clamshell boxes are more elaborate, and therefore pricier, than slipcases. Both slipcases and clamshell boxes can be custom built to provide a perfect fit for a specific book or magazine.

There are two general market segments in the slipcase “industry”: mass-produced “factory” slipcases that are provided with new books and custom, one-of-a-kind cases and boxes that are built usually long after the book is new. This article focuses on the latter market.

When seeking out someone to produce a slipcase or clamshell box, there are several factors to consider:

  1. The prior experience of the craftsman. He or she should be able to produce or document examples of previous projects.

  2. The box should be built using only archival grade materials. There is no point in having a box built if the materials will actually contribute to the long-term degradation of the housed item. All materials (board, cloth, paper, glues, etc.) should be ph-neutral and/or acid-free.

  3. The willingness of the craftsman to discuss various options. Covering materials, colors, and aesthetics should all be open to negotiation. Of course the price will vary depending on the options selected.

  4. The need for accurate measurements. The best practice is for the craftsman to have the item “in hand.” If the item is simply too fragile to ship then extremely accurate measurements must be provided. Even then, the craftsman is likely to “fudge” a little, making the box slightly larger than normal in order to ensure that the book or magazine will actually fit into the completed casing.

  5. Considering the time involved there is an old adage: “Quality, Price, Speed – pick any two.” This is especially true for a custom, handcrafted item. Don’t wait until two weeks before Aunt Martha’s birthday to order that custom slipcase for her signed copy of Gone With the Wind. Be sure to give the craftsman the necessary time to properly complete your project – you’ll be much more pleased with the result.

There are various materials that can be used to present the book or magazine to its best advantage. Covering materials for the box can be art paper, cloth, leather (real or imitation), or various combinations of these. Additional items such as photos, logos, association items, etc. can all be incorporated into the final design. A custom case should add to the beauty and presentation of the item while helping to protect and secure its precious contents.

A custom slip-case or clam-shell will usually be fit very closely to the book. This is necessary to provide support and protection for the item being stored. A slip-case should be just loose enough to allow the book to slide out into the hand when the case is tipped open-side down. Some craftsmen build cut-outs into the main opening to aid in gripping the book. Personally, I don’t care for these due to the aesthetics and also because the cut-outs usually aren’t big enough to really allow a good grip on the book. I prefer to provide a ‘thumb-hole’ at the back of the slip-case instead. The book can be pushed gently out from the back of the slip-case, or it acts as a vacuum release if the slip-case is tipped as described above. With the thumb-hole, a slip-case can actually be slightly deeper than the book width, if desired. In this manner, the book is almost completely covered and supported.

Another consideration is in order for books with yapped covers: covers of soft cloth, paper, or full leather which overlap the main portion of the book – quite common in bibles. I like to build in a bottom block that will provide support to the main portion of the book (sometimes called the text block) and will relieve stress on the yapped edges. The support block is centered in the bottom of the slip-case with two narrow tracks, one on each side, for the edges of the covers.

Depending on the covering material(s) various care procedures are in order. If the covering is an art paper just the normal precautions for book care are in order – keep it out of direct sunlight, dust occasionally with a dry cloth, and keep temperature and humidity in standard ranges. If the covering material is cloth you may wish to treat it with a stain-proof chemical – check with the craftsman before applying such treatment – with the same further care procedures as stated for art paper covers. With a leather covering the best treatment is to just dust it on a regular basis and really control the temperature and humidity of the storage area. If it truly becomes necessary to clean, or apply leather treatments, the book should be removed from the case until all surface traces of the treatment are gone. Check the ph factor of any treatments before applying.

A custom slip-case or clam-shell will provide long-term protection for the book, or magazine, while also creating a unique collectible or heirloom treasure.

To see photos and examples of various types of slipcases and clamshell boxes, just go to

‘Gentleman Jim’ Arner has been a purveyor of used/rare books, on-line, since 1999. Specialties include The Old West, Wyoming, Cowboy Poetry, History of Firearms, and Ladies of Negotiable Affections – to be found at Bi-weekly updates of new listings are posted under the guise of exploits of the BookRanch Bookaroos – the boys of the Wheel-Bar-O. He has also been known to inflict Cowboy Poetry upon innocent by-standers.




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