What document is taken better care of, encompassing the best in preservation technology, than probably any other piece of paper in the world? This one:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
These famous words, written in June 1776 by Thomas Jefferson, are from the Declaration of Independence, a document which is a great "symbol of liberty
" for the people of the United States. Yet, the document itself is over 230 years old! So is it in good shape? Well…
In its long history, the Declaration of Independence hasn’t always been well taken care of. The document is terribly faded mainly because there were not very good preservation techniques in the 19th century. Besides that, when the document was at the state department, people with influence would expect to get the document brought out to them!
Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the document was handled a great deal! Apparently, there’s even a handprint on the bottom left of the front of the Declaration! No one knows whose handprint it is.
Before the document made its home at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., starting in 1952, it used to be exhibited. Apparently, from 1776 to 1921 the Declaration was moved around to different cities and different public buildings so that as many people as possible could see the document in person. At the time, it was displayed for somewhat long periods of time, with exposure to light. Back then, the Declaration was also rolled, which is something that would not be done to important documents nowadays. The action of rolling the parchment, along with holding the curled parchment flat, damaged the ink used to write the words.
When the Declaration of Independence was permanently moved to the National Archives, even though preservation ideas back in the 1950s were different and not as effective as now, it was still kept safer by being encased than it ever had previously.
Today, the Declaration of Independence is sealed in inert gas to protect it from any more fading. It is believed that the absence of oxygen will allow the document to stay in good condition. The preservation environment also includes controlling temperature, relative humidity, and light exposure. Plus the Declaration is kept in encasements made of titanium and aluminum.
More than one million people visit the National Archives each year to see the Declaration of Independence. Amazingly, it is on display every day except for Christmas. The conservators of the National Archives are working to safe keep this important treasure of the United States to make sure that it lasts as long as possible so it will be preserved for future generations.