by Linda A. Ries and Jane Smith Stewart  


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


In 1837, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania directed Secretary of the Commonwealth Thomas H. Burrowes to display the Charter in his offices at the State Capitol "for the inspection of visitors." When framing the document for display, workers presumably removed the Great Seal of England, with its skippet and silken cord, and trimmed four to five inches of the lower section of each page. Semi-circular rust marks, caused by the skippet, and holes on page four are the only remaining physical evidence that the document once bore such a seal. The whereabouts of the document’s Great Seal of England are, sadly, unknown.

The framed Charter was displayed in the secretary of the Commonwealth’s office for much of the nineteenth century. In 1850, Samuel Hazard reported in his Hazard’s Register that "this venerable document . . . is now framed and hung up." It probably remained on continuous display, in whole or in part, at least until the opening of the twentieth century, when responsibility for it passed to the Division of Public Records, created in 1903 as part of the State Library. In 1945, the Division of Public Records became part of the present-day Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). At that time, the Charter was placed in a small fire and theft-proof metal vault, which could be opened for display purposes, at the old State Museum building (renamed the Speaker Matthew J. Ryan Legislative Office Building in October 1999), adjacent to the State Capitol. 

It also received its first known conservation treatment. The document was sent to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where it was extracted from its frame and examined with thoughts of "restoration." It was also discovered at this time that before the Charter was framed in 1837, --all four leaves had been treated with some substance,-- presumably a consolidating coating to stabilize the flaking inks. 

In 1965, when the complex housing the present State Museum and Pennsylvania State Archives was dedicated as the William Penn Memorial Museum and Archives Building, the Charter was again placed on long-term display in an alcove, behind a towering statue of William Penn that dominates Memorial Hall.

Not long after, it was examined, for a second time, by conservators. It was sent to a firm in Illinois for treatment that included "sterilizing the document via chemical vapor to inhibit future mold growth," possibly using thymol or ethylene oxide. These gases, which continue to emit toxins after treatment on porous materials such as parchment and paper, are known human carcinogens, and would not be recommended for use today. The firm also cleaned the surface of the pages, removed tapes attached during the earlier repair and, using new parchment, mended the holes.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

PHMC home page