Magna Carta to be Focal Point of New National Archives Exhibition Gallery
Press Release · Thursday, February 2, 2012

Washington, DC

National Archives’ expansion to include David M. Rubenstein Gallery and new Visitors’ Center

In a press conference today Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero and co-founder and managing director of The Carlyle Group David M. Rubenstein unveiled the newly restored and encased 1297 Magna Carta, which is on loan to the American people by Mr. Rubenstein.

The National Archives partnered with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on the exacting design and fabrication of the encasement. At the unveiling, National Archives deputy director of the conservation laboratory Kitty Nicholson and NIST design engineer Jay Brandenburg described in detail the process of conserving and encasing Magna Carta.

For a behind the scenes look at this highly technical and exacting process, see two mini-documentaries produced by the National Archives:, and These videos are in the public domain.

The conservation treatment of Magna Carta and the technology behind the new encasement:

National Archives conservators performed an intensive examination and conservation treatment of Magna Carta in 2011. In the course of the treatment, ultra-violet photography revealed previously illegible writing that had been obliterated by water damage at some unknown time in the past.

Experience gained from the 2001-2003 treatment of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, was applied to the conservation treatment, and encasement of the Magna Carta.

The ten month conservation treatment of the Magna Carta was conducted in three phases. First, the two conservator treatment team examined the document carefully and wrote a treatment proposal of steps to remove old repairs and adhesive and to fill losses with stable materials. With the treatment proposal approved, the conservators applied moisture which allowed for the successful removal of fills, some older repairs, and adhesive residues on the parchment. Then the team removed previous repairs, inserted fills and adhesive residues, and finally filled losses in the parchment and the parchment tag supporting the wax seal. New fills of long-fibered Japanese and Korean papers toned to match the parchment were applied to the losses using a mixture of gelatin and wheat starch paste. Finally, the document was carefully humidified and then dried and flattened for a number of months to ensure that it would remain flat when sealed in the encasement. All the materials used in the conservation treatment are chemically-stable and all of the treatments are reversible.

The new air-tight encasement, manufactured from monolithic 7075 aluminum, weighs approximately 225 pounds. It is filled with humidified inert argon gas to prevent oxidative degradation and is secured with 32- 3/8” stainless steel bolts. The specially laminated glass with antireflective surface coatings ensures maximum visibility of the document.

National Archives and NIST scientists created systems to monitor the presence of oxygen and moisture within the encasement to maintain the long- term stability of the parchment.

Building on NARA requirements and earlier research and development performed prior to the manufacturing of the Charters of Freedom encasements, the team sealed the new encasement with double O-rings, creating a pressure of 300 pounds per linear inch along the O-ring groove. The encasement is filled with an atmosphere of 99% high-purity argon, 1% high-purity helium, and an initial oxygen concentration of 1 part per million. The encasement seal achieved a very low leak rate that greatly exceeds the project requirements. This estimate was determined by measuring the helium leak rate and converting to account for the different permeation rates of helium and oxygen through the Viton O-rings. The interior humidity ranges from ca. 40 to 42% relative humidity, depending on the temperature of the display area.

Magna Carta rests in its new encasement on specially made cotton paper produced at the University of Iowa Center for the Book. The unbleached white paper behind the translucent parchment enhances its visual appearance. It also provides a soft acid-free surface between the document and the perforated metal plate below and helps stabilize the humidity within the encasement.

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The new Magna Carta display case:

The only Magna Carta that resides in the United States permanently returns to public viewing in a new display case on February 17, 2012. The display incorporates state-of-the-art technology allowing visitors to easily “read” the document for the first time. Magna Carta is written in Latin, and the new display allows close examination of the document through a translation feature.

Magna Carta continues to be a source of inspiration and guidance in the United States. The new display enables visitors to explore the connections between Magna Carta and American legal history. Elements of Magna Carta that influenced the United States Charters of Freedom: the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and Bill of Rights are highlighted in the exhibition.

Connections to the Declaration of Independence: Both the barons at Runnymede and the signers of the Declaration of Independence were fighting not for new but established rights. The barons were trying to restore traditional English liberties. The American revolutionaries were fighting for inborn or "unalienable" rights. The Declaration of Independence announced and justified the American colonists' break with England. Magna Carta was a declaration of rights guaranteed by the King.

Connections to the Constitution: Article VI of the Constitution establishes it as the "Supreme Law of the Land." This idea of a "Higher Law" that cannot be overruled, even by a king, comes from Magna Carta. The Constitution describes a democratic system of government. Magna Carta was a statement of limits to the King's power over his subjects.

Connections to the Bill of Rights: The fifth amendment that guarantees that "No person deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law" echoes the Magna Carta provision that states, "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned,...or in any other way destroyed...except by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to none will we deny or delay, right or justice." The Bill of Rights limits the power of the democratically-elected American Federal Government over all citizens, residents, and visitors. The provisions of the 1297 Magna Carta apply to "any freeman." "Freemen" were a minority in 13th-century England.

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The David M. Rubenstein Gallery

Magna Carta has quite a past, and there are big future plans for this document, as well. In June 2011, when David M. Rubenstein gave the Foundation for the National Archives a $13.5 million gift to enhance and expand the National Archives Experience, he said: "I am honored to assist the National Archives as it works to remind Americans -- and all visitors -- of the sacred freedoms we are privileged to have in this country." This gift, along with additional funds raised by the Foundation and from Congressional appropriations, will be used to expand visitor and researcher experiences at the National Archives Building.

Work has already begun on this next phase of the National Archives Experience – a new permanent, interactive exhibit celebrating Records of Rights. Slated for completion in 2013, this new gallery – to be named in honor of David Rubenstein – will be the future home of Magna Carta, on loan from David M. Rubenstein. This historic document will be the opening feature of the new gallery because Magna Carta contains the roots of the concept of freedom under law envisioned by the founding fathers. It will be the start of a journey of discovery highlighting this nation’s ongoing efforts to advance liberty and democracy. The gallery will incorporate stories of many individuals, including African-Americans, women, and immigrants, whose struggle for rights in subsequent decades is documented in records held by the National Archives.

The gallery will showcase original documents chronicling the expansion of rights across the centuries, including the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights and equal justice. Visitors will have the chance to examine important original records and will be encouraged to become “citizen curators” and use a social interactive tool to help “design” an ever-changing piece of the exhibit space.

New Visitor Orientation Plaza

Future changes to the National Archives Experience include both the Rubenstein Gallery and a new visitor orientation plaza. An expanded retail/research space will encourage visitors to continue their experience by conducting their own research at the National Archives or by accessing web-based resources from their own homes and schools. The plaza will provide information on navigating the building’s exhibit spaces and outline the numerous options available during a visit, especially for visitors traveling in large groups. Through films, exhibits, and tours, visitors will learn about the National Archives, what it holds, and why Democracy Starts Here.

About the Foundation for the National Archives

The Foundation for the National Archives is an independent nonprofit that serves as the National Archives’ private-sector partner in the creation and ongoing support of the National Archives Experience, which includes permanent exhibits, public programs, traveling exhibits, special events and film screenings, educational initiatives, and historical/records-related products and media. The Foundation helps the public understand the importance of the holdings of the National Archives by presenting the depth and diversity of the records through award-winning, interactive educational exhibits and programs.

About the National Archives Experience

The National Archives Experience, created by the National Archives in partnership with the Foundation for the National Archives, has transformed the visitor experience at the National Archives’ Washington, DC building, and includes a renovated Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, the award-winning Public Vaults permanent interactive exhibition, the William G. McGowan Theater, the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery for special exhibits, the Boeing Learning Center, the Digital Vaults online exhibit, and DocsTeach, a web based educational resource. These components make the rich resources of the National Archives accessible to Americans nationwide.

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

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