National Archives Unveil Newly Encased Magna Carta

A newly-restored 1297 Magna Carta, complete with a brand-new encasement, is the prominent piece in a new exhibit at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The Magna Carta, originally issued in 1215, was the first document forced onto an English king in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect the privileges of the feudal barons. The charter was an important part of the historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law in the English speaking world. This copy, owned by managing director of the Carlyle Group, David M. Rubenstein, was donated to the National Archives. The document underwent a 10-month conservation treatment before its unveiling on February 17.

Page one of the Magna Carta Manuscript.

The treatment process began with the National Archives’ team of conservators performing an intensive examination to identify the repairs that needed to be done to the 715-year-old document. Then the conservators applied moisture to aid in the removal of old fills, adhesive residues, and old repairs. Losses in the parchment were repaired using Japanese papers that were toned to match the hue of the document. The long fibers of these papers were applied to the fills by using a mixture of gelatin and wheat starch paste. National Archives conservator Terry Boone was able to accurately match these colors by using watercolor paints. Finally, the document was humidified, flattened, and dried over the course of several months.

In its new encasement, the Magna Carta rests on a sheet of unbleached, all-cotton paper that was custom-made by the University of Iowa’s Center for the Book. This sheet acts as an acid-free buffer between the document and a perforated metal platform as it rests in the new case constructed by the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST). The paper also brightens the appearance of the translucent document and helps to keep the relative humidity inside of the encasement at a stable level. NIST scientists devised a system to measure oxygen and moisture content within the encasement which includes filling it with humidified inert argon gas. Also, the interior of the display is filled with an atmosphere of 99% high-purity argon, 1% helium and an initial oxygen content of 1 part per million.

University Products offers a variety of materials, tools, and equipment for document conservation including: 100% cotton rag papers, pre-shred cotton linters, Ex-Libris economical portable vacuum table, micro-spatulas, and white cotton gloves.

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