Building Archival Boxes and Custom Enclosures

Rows of grey archival boxes on shelves

Archival boxes are expensive.  Specialty archival boxes that aren’t standard sizes are even more expensive.  Acid free enclosures are similarly costly and often simply don’t fit all of the unusually sized items in a collection.  So, what is an archivist with a limited budget to do?  Build all the things!

Hand making enclosures and boxes is something that happens at many archives and museums.  This post compiles some of my favourite box building, enclosure creating, archival-crafting resources.  This list is merely a guide and collection of resources.  Different types of materials are going to require specific storage conditions and when in doubt of how to store something you should consult a conservation specialist.

Archival Boxes

  • How to save money by making your own archival boxes by Emily Lonie. This post provides a step-by-step guide for making archival boxes out of Coroplast.  This guide comes with photos, a materials list, and video resources.  Highlight recommend for anyone who is interested in making basic boxes from scratch.
  • Introduction to box making video by Jane Dalley of Dalley Froggatt Heritage Conservation Services.  This video provides examples of how to build a range of standard types of archival boxes.  It examples what types of boxes are best and how you can craft your own using acid free products.
  • Simple corrugated board box for rare books.  This guide by the State Library of Queensland includes information on how to size boxes correctly and a basic design plan that shows you where to cut/fold when making a box.

Artifact supports

  • An introduction, with photos, to building custom boxes and supports for artifacts.  In this particular example ethafoam is used to carve a secure supports for the artifact to sit in the box.  The foam is then lined with tyvek (an inert material) to further protect the object.
  • This “How to Make An Artifact Box” post goes through the details of building a box from scratch but it also includes instructions for building an artifact tray that will allow you to tie an artifact down with secure supports.  This particular post draws on the custom mount process used by the Eiteljorg Museum. I’ve seen some of the Eiteljorg’s custom built boxes and support in-person and they are pretty amazing — I had serious storage envy.
  • A mount per day keeps the conservator away”  provides a great summary of why artifact mounts are important.  The post includes a description of the work that went into creating storage mounts for 17 cowboy hats, 24 pairs of boots, 29 accessories, and 124 accessories held by the National Music Centre.  It includes a lot of great photos that show what proper mounts look like when completed.
  • There is also a great pinterest board that highlights a range of mounting and storage techniques used in artifact storage.

Enclosures

  • Making Protective Enclosure for Books and Paper Artifacts by the Canadian Conservation Institute.  This guide provides instructions on how to make slip-cases for books, boxes for archival material, and portfolio style enclosures for booklets, manuscripts and other material.  This outline includes a number of very detailed drawings and measurement guides.
  • Making a Four Flap Enclosure for Library and Archival Materials.  Video! If you’re a visual learner and find diagrams hard to follow this this a good demo of a four-flap enclosure.
  • Enclosures for Photographic Materials.  This resource includes information on how to make paper enclosures for photographs and glass-plate negatives. It also includes guidelines for making archival quality plastic enclosures for photos.  For folks who are curious about the advantages and disadvantages to different types of enclosures this post also provides a solid breakdown of pros and cons.
  • Bonus resource: Basic Conservation of Archival Materials Guide (2003 revised edition) by the Canadian Council of Archives provides information on general archival storage, material types, and conservation best practices.

What are your top tips for building archival boxes or enclosures from scratch? 

Photo credit: Burns Library, Boston College. Photo used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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