Press Kits: Charters of Freedom Re-encasement Project Photo Gallery

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recently took a major step forward in its program to preserve the Charters of Freedom-the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. On October 20, 1999, the bronze and glass sealed encasement, fabricated in 1952 by the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute for Standards and Technology, NIST), housing the Transmittal Page of the U.S. Constitution, was carefully opened and the parchment document was removed. Components of the original encasement were reserved for further study and analysis. The Transmittal Page has undergone examination and conservation treatment in preparation for re-encasement in a new state-of-the-art titanium, aluminum, and glass sealed box.

Inspection of the documents
Prior to the opening of the Transmittal Page encasement, NARA conservation staff thoroughly examined the housing and the document. Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler performs microscopic examination of the glass surfaces of the encasement and of the heavily inked areas of the parchment.

Lead seal removal begins
Conservator Elissa O'Loughlin carefully cuts away the lead seal of the original encasement in the area of the leak detector.

Lead seal removal completed
Conservator Elissa O'Loughlin cuts through the lead seal that secured the original encasement components, using a steel cutting implement handmade for the task by Elissa. Working methodically around all four sides of the encasement, the seal finally was broken, permitting the encasement to be opened and the Transmittal Page removed. Chemist Maggie Kelly (left) serves as recorder during the opening; conservators Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler and Katherine Nicholson are holding the encasement in place.

Glass removal
Conservator Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler carefully removes the top layer of glass from the encasement; a second piece of glass still rests on the parchment. The glass components, showing evidence of deterioration, have been reserved for later analysis.

Documents are removed from casings
Within its 1950-era encasement, the Transmittal Page rested on 12 sheets of high-quality paper that were custom-made by the National Bureau of Standards. The parchment and the top sheet of paper were carefully lifted off. The remaining 11 sheets were quickly secured in an air-tight container, to permit testing of the moisture content.