1297 Magna Carta on Loan to NARA to be Re-encased
Press Release · Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Washington, DC


Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero announced today that the only original Magna Carta on display in the United States will have a new $322,800 state-of-the-art encasement and will be featured in a new exhibition gallery at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. The 1297 Magna Carta is on loan to the National Archives from David Rubenstein, Co-Founder of the Carlyle Group.

In making the announcement, the Archivist said “I want to thank Mr. Rubenstein for his generosity. He has not only loaned the Magna Carta to the National Archives, but has also agreed to underwrite the cost of preserving it for future generations who will come from around the nation and the world to learn the story of our democracy. The Magna Carta will become the centerpiece in a new exhibition about the pursuit of freedom. The new gallery will trace the struggle for personal liberty and a government of laws across the generations from Magna Carta to women’s suffrage and civil rights.”

Mr. Rubenstein purchased the Magna Carta at Sotheby’s Auction House in New York in December, 2007, with the intent of ensuring that this original charter would be available to all Americans. The Magna Carta which is written in Latin on parchment is on display in the National Archives West Rotunda Gallery, was encased more than 25 years ago by Dr. Nathan Stolow.

New research and technological advancements based on the 2001 re-encasement of the Charters of Freedom (the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights) by the National Archives and the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have led to improvements in design of encasements to ensure the preservation of historic documents on extended display. National Archives experts will apply their knowledge and understanding gained in encasing the Charters of Freedom and to apply the latest advances in very long-term seal technology. These measures will ensure that the Magna Carta is displayed in an environment that greatly reduces oxidative degradation reactions and maintains constant moisture content in the parchment. This will also ensure dimensional stability. The new encasement is expected to provide an optimal environment for many years. The encasement design will represent a collaboration between the National Archives Conservation and Exhibition staff and NIST Fabrication Technology staff.

“My goal from the outset has been to make this milestone in the historic struggle for freedom available to the American people, now and in the future. Working with the National Archives and NIST we not only have the opportunity to upgrade our ability to monitor the physical condition of the document, but to let the public gain a greater understanding of the intellectual context of Magna Carta,” said Mr. Rubenstein.

In its new location on the entrance floor of the National Archives Building, Magna Carta will not only have a new protective encasement but a new display case as well. The case will incorporate a digital display that will allow most visitors to read the document for the first time (Magna Carta is written in Latin and the new display would not only allow close examination of the document but also have a translation feature). The display case will also place new emphasis on the connections between Magna Carta and the American Revolution and make it easier to understand the elements of the document that influenced our own Declaration of Independence and Constitution.


In 1215 on the plains of Runnymede an assembly of barons confronted the despotic King John of England and demanded that traditional rights be recognized, written down, confirmed with the royal seal, and sent to each of the counties to be read to all freemen. King John agreed, binding himself and his heirs to grant "to all freemen of our kingdom" the rights and liberties described in the great charter, or Magna Carta.

Between 1215 and 1297, Magna Carta was reissued by each of King John’s successors. To meet his debts from foreign wars, King Edward I imposed new and harsher taxes in 1297. This provoked another confrontation between the king and the barons, resulting not only in the reissue of Magna Carta, but for the first time its entry into the official Statute Rolls of England. The 1297 document represents the transition of Magna Carta from a brokered agreement to the foundation of English law.

Only four originals of the 1297 Magna Carta remain. By the 17th century, the one displayed at the National Archives was in the possession of the Brudenell family, the earls of Cardigan. It was acquired by the Perot Foundation in 1984 and purchased by David M. Rubenstein in 2007. David Rubenstein has placed Magna Carta on loan to the National Archives as a gift to the American people.

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For press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.



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