Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, NYPL President Tony Marx, and National Constitution Chairman Jeb Bush examine the Library's original copy of the Bill of Rights. / Credit: Julie StapenMAY 22 – Members of the public in both New York City and Pennsylvania will soon get to see The New York Public Library’s original copy of the Bill of Rights, which will be exhibited for the first time in decades.
The Library and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania today announced an agreement to share display of the national treasure, which has been preserved in The New York Public Library’s collections since 1896. The document will go on public display alternately at The New York Public Library and in Pennsylvania beginning in fall 2014 (the year marks the 225th anniversary of the document being drafted and proposed by Congress).
“This landmark agreement makes public one of the most important documents in the nation’s history, an over 200-year-old, original copy of the Bill of Rights,” said Library President Tony Marx, who joined Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and National Constitution Center Board Chairman Jeb Bush at a press conference and mock proclamation signing at the Library's landmark 42nd Street Building to make the announcement. “The document has been expertly preserved at the Library for over a century, leaving it in prime condition and ready to inspire and educate the public now and in the future.”
“This is a win for Pennsylvania, New York and the citizens of the United States,” said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. “For the first time in decades, this historic document will be seen by We the People, the people who were granted these inalienable rights and privileges that we are still guided by today.”
NYPL staff charged with caring for the document examine the national treasure. / Credit: Jonathan BlancThe Library was previously unable to display the document for extensive periods of time for preservation reasons. Now, to ensure the document’s safety during display and while it travels, a special case will be constructed by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, based on technology developed for the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives. Estimated to cost $600,000, this crucial and state-of-the-art preservation measure is made possible as part of a generous gift from New York Public Library Trustee Ed Wachenheim III and his wife Sue. Their gift also supports exhibitions and programs related to the document.
The document is one of at least 14 original copies of the Bill of Rights sent by the First Congress of the United States to the 13 colonies (11 of which had become states) and to the Federal government in 1789. Four states, including New York and Pennsylvania, no longer have their copies.
The New York Public Library acquired its copy in 1896, when John S. Kennedy – a trustee of The New York Public Library – donated it along with other items he purchased from Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet, a noted surgeon and collector of Americana. Some have speculated as to whether the Library’s copy originally belonged to Pennsylvania.
“What’s most important is that the people in New York, Pennsylvania, and beyond will now have an opportunity to see and learn from this rare piece of history,” said Marx.
The Library’s copy of the parchment document includes the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as two other proposed amendments that were not ratified – one outlining compensation for members of Congress, the other providing a system of representation for Congress that could have created a House of Representatives with thousands of members today. The Library last displayed the Bill of Rights several decades ago, and has not displayed it for an extended period of time to ensure its preservation and protection. The document, currently in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, has been accessible to researchers by appointment.
National Constitution Center Board Chairman Jeb Bush, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, and NYPL President Tony Marx sign a mock proclamation to mark the agreement. / Credit: Julie StapenAccording to the agreement, the document will be displayed alternately by the Library and Pennsylvania equally for the first six years. After that, the Library – which is responsible for care of the document – will have it 60-percent of the time that it can be displayed.
The document will be on display at the National Constitution Center starting in fall 2014 until 2017, when it will travel back to New York City to The New York Public Library’s landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.
“The New York Public Library is one of our nation’s great cultural institutions and a living symbol of the First Amendment’s protection of a free press, which makes it a perfect place for the Bill of Rights to be displayed,” said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “I hope that New Yorkers – and our visitors from across the country and around the world – will take the opportunity to visit the Library and see the document that made America the freest nation on earth.”
“This is a milestone moment for the National Constitution Center as we celebrate our 10th anniversary and look towards the next decade as the museum of ‘We the People,’” said National Constitution Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen. “We are thrilled to be able to offer visitors the opportunity to experience one of America’s founding documents up close.”
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