The Magna Carta is considered by many to be
the most significant document in western history. Magna Carta means the Great Charter and what
it really does is it provides the basic rights that we have as citizens in the Western world.
The right to trial by jury, punishment that is proportionate to the crime, no taxation
without representation, habeas corpus and so forth. We decided to proceed using a lot
of expertise we gained working on the re-encasement of the Constitution, the Declaration. Probably
fewer than two dozen documents around the world have been sealed in an airtight environment.
What’s important now that it’s just come off exhibit, is that we want to document its
current condition. And we’re working with a report that we wrote in 2008 that will give
us a nice baseline for comparison. There are 17 copies of the Magna Carta. Fifteen are
in British institutions. One is in the Australian Parliament and one is in private hands. Yeah,
let’s pack it up! I had heard it was for sale, I went to see it the night before the
sale occurred and I heard from the curator that it was very likely that it was going
to be bought by somebody who lived outside the United States. So I decided that I would
go back the next day and try to buy it and really provide it as a gift to the National
Archives so that the American people could see it. With things that are reactive to changes
in humidity such as parchment, also paintings, those two particular types of artifacts always
need time to acclimate to the surroundings. We worked for a number of weeks making sure
that the temperature and humidity were kept constant in the workspace. When we opened
the encasement the first thing that we wanted to focus on was whether or not the change
in humidity visibly affected the parchment. It did not. Not wearing gloves is the first
thing that most people notice. See, I feel like it’s pretty strong. It’s phenomenal
condition for its age. And what we tell them is that when you wear gloves it reduces the
tactile sense. So if you have something that’s very fragile it’s the safest method of handling.
The parchment is so susceptible or vulnerable to changes in the relative humidity and temperature.
When it’s on the animal, you know, it’s aligned and it’s under tension. And then
it comes off and it gets prepared or treated. Because that’s not a natural alignment they,
when it gets exposed to moisture the collagen fibers, they have some memory that they want
to realign. When we talk about mapping the document we’re basically outlining specific
features. Because when we do the treatment, and it’s such a living document, it will
change a little bit. There was a lot of distortion. If that was tension caused by the mends we
wanted to release it, and the only way we could figure that out was by removing the
mends. There were nine old repairs on the document. Sometimes you discover things trapped
in the adhesive. Looks like someone was wearing a black sweater one day! What we wanted to
do was to remove all of them so that we could flatten the parchment evenly and also get
rid of old adhesive residues that had been left over from a previous campaign. Minimal
moisture is critical, so we used a mild enzymatic solution to soften the adhesive. It’s a
trace amount that’s actually in contact with the document. We take adhesive samples
to go and have them analytically tested, so that we know exactly what we’re dealing
with. Removing the old repairs can be very difficult, it’s very time consuming. We
do it very carefully under the microscope and use minimal moisture. That was not easy!
When you look at the Magna Carta there’s some drip marks on the right side. And you
can’t read anything. Using a special camera that can focus the ultraviolet radiation we
were able to actually see what inked letters had been present in those areas. So kind of
magically, what was lost suddenly is visible again. When we choose the paper, we’re looking
for characteristics that are compatible with the material that we’re mending or repairing.
I outline the shape of the loss and I made my repair paper slightly larger. And then
that edge got thinned and that’s what gets attached to the document with adhesive. There
was a pretty significant loss here and so to stabilize it we put the fill in. The effect
that I was trying to achieve was to just make it look similar to the surrounding parchment.
Which with these watercolors is fairly easy to do. None of the inpainting comes in contact
with the document, it’s confined only to the fill. And then to kind of, to reintegrate
the loss so that it’s not the first thing that you see when you look at the record,
we just lightly tone with watercolor. It’s still very visible that it’s there, but
when you, it’s like camouflage. Conservation’s art, science and history all rolled into one.
The final step was humidification and flattening of the parchment. And then we’re going to
leave it for, under restraints in this, for three months or so. After three months we’ll
take the weight off. Our anticipation is that it will remain in the, pretty much the same