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The original Magna Carta dates back to 1215, to England as ruled by King John I. It represents the transition from a brokered agreement to the foundation of English law, upon which U.S. law is also based.

The version of the manuscript at the U.S. National Archives was authenticated by King Edward I of England in 1297. I’m willing to hazard a guess that it has since been authenticated by others as well! It is one of only four known copies of the Magna Carta in existence today.

In 2010, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, known as NIST‡ and the U.S. National Archives began work to ensure that the document could be safely exhibited in a public museum gallery in Washington D.C. NIST is responsible for preservation and framing. The photograph, see above, was taken at the beginning of the project, which was initiated in July 2010.

The National Archives displayed the Magna Carta through March 2011 while plans for the new case were developed. The document was then withdrawn from display for one year while NIST constructed the protective container-frame. NIST staff engineers said:

The Magna Carta will be displayed in an inert gas environment that reduces oxidative degradation and maintains constant moisture content so that the parchment will lie flat and not deteriorate.

The document must then be given time to acclimate to its new controlled environment.


Given the facts provided by the U.S. National Archive, the Magna Carta was withdrawn according to schedule in March 2011. The year of acclimation would have been completed as of February 2012. Let’s add some extra time, just so the Magna Carta might be fully comfortable with its new home. That brings us to… near about April 2012.

According to NIST and the National Archives, a new interactive display in the West Rotunda Gallery of the U.S. National Archives Building is planned, featuring the more secure and safely preserved Magna Carta.

By my reckoning, the Magna Carta should be ready for the limelight and public display, any day now.

‡ NIST is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.