by Linda A. Ries and Jane Smith Stewart  


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Filter and her assistants painstakingly performed the delicate procedures. Regardless of what conservators do to prevent deterioration, organic materials, including parchment, paper, wood, silk, and wool, naturally break down and turn to dust. However, conservation measures can slow this process so that future generations can enjoy and study original artifacts and documents from the past. CCAHA’s stabilization effort included cleaning the parchment surface with mild enzymes and organic solvents, and dry cleaning with grated vinyl erasers and specialized hand tools. Mends made in the 1960s had begun to shrink and pull away from the original document. They were repaired with more compatible materials, which respond quickly to temperature and humidity fluctuations and will give way before the original parchment tears. Flattening parchment is not a matter of simply applying pressure. Reestablishing planarity, or a flattened surface, requires re-stretching the collagen fibers to orient them in the appropriate configuration, allowing the skin to lie flat. By slowly, gently, and evenly humidifying the Charter pages with water vapor, the collagen fibers of the parchment relaxed and could be reshaped. Once flat, maintaining planarity was achieved with a matting technique to hold the parchment skin taut. In this procedure, one end of numerous linen threads is attached with a benign paste all around the page edges. The threads are then twisted to the degree necessary, and evenly stretched and adhered to an acid free mat board with glue. Thus matted, the parchment remains flat yet is able to expand and contract with fluctuations in temperature and humidity. To protect the parchment, the linen threads are designed to break away from the mat board before the parchment tears.

Upon completion of the arduous treatment, State Police troopers transported the Charter to Harrisburg in February 1998--jjust in time for its birthday celebration held the following month at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. Each page was carefully housed in its own custom display case acquired through the generosity of the members of the Pennsylvania Heritage Society. All four cases are outfitted with special Plexiglas to filter out ninety-nine percent of the ultraviolet spectrum of light, and a linen-covered base layered with silica gel to maintain a constant humidity level. The exhibition area was lighted at low levels and secured by guards around the clock. Thousands of people came to see the dramatically changed document. After being exhibited for about ten days, the Charter was returned to its climate-controlled vault in the State Archives. In 1999, the document was placed on temporary display again, and this strategy will likely be repeated on special and appropriate occasions, as long as specialists believe the document can withstand it.

Not long after receiving the Charter, William Penn wrote to a friend, "It is a clear and just thing and my God that hath given it me through many difficulties, will, I believe, bless it and make it the seede of a nation." The Charter has received a new lease on life. With proper care and maintenance, the "patient" will last well into the next millennium, to be enjoyed and appreciated by future generations--undeniable testimony to the fact that Pennsylvania did indeed become "the seede of a nation," as its founder had envisioned.

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