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By Design: Secure, Functional, Attractive—Preserving, protecting, and more.

Preserving and protecting. Though these were the primary goals driving NIST's contributions to the Charters of Freedom Re-encasement Project, the customized design and manufacture of the new cases also responded to other key considerations. A major challenge was to satisfy NARA exhibit designers' aesthetic and accessibility requirements while meeting or exceeding demanding technical-performance criteria.

  • Aesthetics: The documents are encased in a gold-plated titanium frame, a visual complement to the bronze featured in the Rotunda itself. Inside, the parchment rests on pure cellulose paper made by the University of Iowa for this project. Parchment and paper are set up on top of an anodized aluminum support platform that is machined to conform precisely to the irregular shape of the document. The jet-black interior creates the impression that the document is floating. Beneath the platform, also invisible to the viewer, sits a NIST-integrated instrument system that monitors conditions inside.
  • Flexibility, ease of maintenance: Titanium frame and aluminum-alloy base are bolted together, permitting conservators to open the leak-free encasements if a problem arises or if an advance in preservation technology warrants. The previous 1950s encasements were soldered shut.
  • Ease of viewing: The encasements are in a retraction system inside secure display cases. The documents were positioned at an angle that make it easy for adults and children of nearly every height and for people with disabilities to view the documents.
  • Reasonable weight: The base is made out of light-weight aluminum. For additional weight savings, NIST machined rectangular pockets into the base, titanium frame, and the aluminum platform that holds the document. The resulting waffle-like structure maintains the desired stiffness of the materials, but makes it easier for National Archives staff to move the cases, if necessary.

Cut-away drawing showing major structural features of the new encasements

cut-away drawing
Credit: Jeffrey Aarons


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Created March 7, 2017, Updated April 5, 2022