US Constitution — The “Fifth Page” (Transmittal Page)
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US Constitution — The “Fifth Page” (Transmittal Page)

August 24, 2019


The document had been encased in the early
1950s along with the other Charters documents. In the fifty plus years since the documents
had initially been encased, things change. We have greater knowledge of materials, display
techniques and we wanted to incorporate those into new encasements. The interesting thing
about the Transmittal Page, it was the one document that was never on display. And so
it was available, we knew that was where we wanted to start. We were able to work out
procedures in terms of how to open the 1950s era encasement which by the way did not come
with a manual. Do you want to start with taking the frame off? We used a hand-shaped tool
to work through the lead that was holding the layers of glass together. And we used
a rocking motion to basically cut through the lead, which was pretty soft and easy.
It is almost like butter. It’s like very cold butter! Right! The work was a little
bit more difficult at the four corners of the encasement where there were heavy applications
of solder. So after we broke the seal then our next step was essentially to delayer the
parts of the encasement, and we did that very carefully with the top layer of glass and
then the layer of glass that was in direct contact with the parchment. One of the big
concerns we had for all of the encased documents was that they had been sealed with a loose
piece of glass, free floating, resting directly on the surface of the parchment and ink. We
didn’t know if there would be any issues with the free floating glass that was inside
of the encasement adhering directly to the parchment. On edge. See anything? There was
no adhesion. So we were greatly relieved. The second question that was really of great
concern was the condition of the ink. It had been seen that at least in one place there
was a loose flake of ink kind of lifting up off the parchment. So under a binocular microscope
we consolidated ink flakes, letter by letter, line by line. We did this for each of the
documents that make up the Charters of Freedom, beginning with the Transmittal Page and ending
with the Declaration. When we found a lifting flake of ink, it’s kind of interesting.
They lift up sort of like old paint on the side of an old dilapidated house, it’s still
attached but it’s lifting up and very vulnerable. We took a very, very fine brush and put a
tiny, tiny droplet of a warm gelatin under the lifting flake. And what that did was relax
the ink. And then by capillarity it pulled it back down as it relaxed. So it brought
it down effortlessly into the position it was originally. Whereas in the old encasements
there was glass sitting directly on the document that really tended to compress and caused
us some concern, the new mounting technique in the encasements have the parchments resting
on a custom-cut platform. The inert gas that was used in filling the encasement is argon,
humidified argon. We wanted very low or no oxygen levels in the encasement just to prolong
the life of the parchment and the ink to really ensure a very wonderful viewing experience
for the public and also to enhance preservation.

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