In November, I built a custom housing for an object in our collections known as the Journeay Violin. The violin was made by Henry Journeay while he was imprisoned in Mexico during the 1842 Mier Expedition. Journeay was a skilled woodworker, and is thought to have later made the instrument’s wood and glass case.
My housing, modeled roughly on the common drop-spine book box, aims to protect the instrument and its case during storage and to allow for easy access for periodic display. My basic design comprises a textile-covered, paper lined tray and a large, textile-covered box lid. The lid rests on a small ledge inside the tray when closed. The instrument case need not be fully removed from the box for viewing; it can stay in the tray except when needed for exhibit.
As often happens with custom housings, design demands reveal themselves during the construction process. Here, I initially built a flat-bottomed tray, only to find that this would unduly challenge staff members trying to pick up the item, inviting them to slide one end of the case precariously off the table to establish a grip. I then built feet for the tray from laminate, textile-covered binder’s board. I mounted the feet underneath the instrument case’s feet to support its weight. This created a safer, more user-friendly design with finger room under the tray.
One of the efficient features of a drop-spine box is that its attractive covering material also adds strength by reinforcing its cardboard joints. Unfortunately, the violin’s box lid couldn’t share this efficiency, because I couldn’t cut a large enough piece of textile to cover the box in the continuous, traditional style. Instead, I reinforced all the lid joints inside and out with gummed linen tape before covering with textile panels for aesthetics only.
One further similarity between this box and a drop-spine box is how air suction is created upon opening. Because this box is more enclosed than a typical drop-spine box, it actually creates a much stronger vacuum. (Trust me, it was rather alarming the first time I tried to open it.) In order to open this box, it is first necessary to break its air seal by gently depressing its long, flexible walls. After this, opening is quite easy. Instructions have been attached.
This exercise highlights some of the overall challenges of building custom housings. The goal is to balance the needs of the object against the needs of those using the object, while hopefully avoiding completely reinventing the wheel. While I briefly considered a version of this housing with break-away walls, I decided such a design would be too complex for hurried reference staff to operate with confidence. As always, housing projects are problems with many solutions – perhaps you have one!