The National Archives and Records Administration has unveiled its 715-year-old copy of the Magna Carta after a conservation effort removed old patches and repaired weak spots in the paper that holds the English declaration of human rights.
The National Archives unveiled the medieval document Thursday in a specially humidified glass and metal case. It is the only original Magna Carta in the United States and will return to public display Feb. 17.
A $13.5 million gift from philanthropist David Rubenstein funded conservation of the only original Magna Carta in the United States. Rubenstein bought the historic document at auction in 2007 for $21.3 million and sent it to the National Archives on a long-term loan.
Rubenstein, a co-founder of the private equity firm The Carlyle Group, said he sought the document previously owned by Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot because he wanted to keep it from leaving the country.
Now the document is sealed in a 225-pound case filled with humidified argon gas to prevent degradation from oxygen and will be lit with filtered light, removing ultra-violet rays and some radiation. The document rests on cotton paper produced at the University of Iowa Center for the Book to give it a soft, acid-free surface.
Some words had been hidden by water damage in the past. But an ultraviolet photograph taken during the conservation work reveals the words are still there, though invisible to the naked eye. Visitors can read an English translation of Magna Carta's Latin words and compare it with language in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
There are 17 surviving copies of Magna Carta. Fifteen are in Britain, and one is displayed at Australia's parliament. The U.S. copy was one of four reissued in the year 1297. It still carries the wax seal of King Edward I of England, which is attached by a ribbon under the document. The 1297 document became the law of the land in England.
It is central to the founding of the United States because the colonists argued they were entitled to the rights under Magna Carta as Englishmen. But King George disagreed and the U.S. Revolution was the result.
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