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Collectors' Guides

The Mystery of the Drowned Trunks; or The Importance of Solander Cases

Solander (or clamshell) cases are boxes of archival quality that completely enclose books to protect them from sunlight, moisture, dust, insects, and to a limited extent, even smoke and flame. They were invented in the eighteenth century by Daniel Charles Solander, a botanist who traveled with Captain Cook and later worked at the British Museum. I’d been meaning to write a post on the utility of these cases for some time, but events caught up with me in a rather dramatic fashion when our stock returned from the New York Antiquarian Book Fair.

We transport all our books in large, specially-designed trunks that are padded, locked, and have water-resistant seals around the edges. They’re even shaped such that water runs off the sides without getting close to the openings. So it was a shock (and a mystery) when two trunks arrived not only covered in water, but containing several inches of it:

Water in a trunk shipped back from New York

Water in a trunk shipped back from New York (the orange stuff is the glue that holds the foam down).

Luckily the impact was limited, but a few books were damaged enough to be considered irrecoverable. The silver lining to this incident, however, is that it provides a graphic lesson on the importance of solander cases in protecting collectible books. This copy of A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul did not have a case and therefore absorbed a great deal of water. It’s essentially ruined:

Water damaged copy of A House for Mr. Biswas.

Water damaged copy of A House for Mr. Biswas.

Fore-edge of the water damaged copy of A House for Mr. Biswas

Fore-edge of the water damaged copy of A House for Mr. Biswas.

Compare it with this inscribed copy of The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells, which was in a sturdy solander case made by our own Chelsea Bindery. The outside of the case, shown on the right, was soaked when we removed it from the trunk:

The Invisible Man solander case covered in water on removal from trunk

The Invisible Man solander case covered in water on removal from trunk.

But the book inside was almost completely protected – only a few small spots were apparent on the edges of the pages, and these dried quickly without causing much harm. Today the book is substantially the same as it was before the incident.

The Invisible Man before the water disaster

The Invisible Man before the water disaster.

The Invisible Man after the water disaster

The Invisible Man after the water disaster (the spine was already tanned).

Solander cases aren’t perfect, but they’re the most practical option for protecting cherished books. The Chelsea Bindery makes cases in two styles pictured below: full cloth and morocco-backed. If you’d like to have a case made to protect one of your books please contact us.

Cloth solander case by the Chelsea Bindery

Cloth solander case by the Chelsea Bindery (from £200).

Morocco-backed solander case by the Chelsea bindery

Morocco-backed solander case by the Chelsea bindery (from £310).

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. Simon May 19, 2011

    Crikey! Poor you. May I suggest “Swimming trunks” as a headline?

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