By DONNA URSCHEL
Construction of a state-of-the-art encasement for the Waldseemüller map—the crown jewel of cartography—has recently begun and will continue for the next several months.
The encasement will make it possible to display the original 1507 map in the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building later this year to mark the 500th anniversary of its creation. The map will be featured in a new exhibition titled "The Early Americas," consisting of items in the Jay I. Kislak Collection, which will become a key part of the Library's New Visitors Experience in 2008.
The Library's preservation experts and the Engineers of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) spent nearly a year designing the encasement for the map, which measures more than four feet by eight feet when assembled from its 12 separate sheets. The planned design calls for the encasement's base to be machined from a solid piece of aluminum and to measure approximately 116 inches by 73 inches by four inches. The map will rest on a separate aluminum platform positioned inside the encasement base. A sheet of laminated, tempered, nonreflective glass will be placed on top of the base and held in place by an anodized aluminum frame that will seal the map in the case.
The hermetically sealed encasement will include valves for flushing out oxygen (which chemically reacts and degrades organic material such as paper and ink) and for filling the encasement with inert argon gas.
The encasement also will contain monitoring devices to measure internal environmental conditions. After Library preservation experts secure the map in the case, NIST engineers will help seal it by tightening 92 bolts distributed around the perimeter. The seals are expected to last a minimum of 20 years. The encasement will provide optimum accessibility for the viewing public while preserving and protecting the document.
In 2003, NIST designed and built the encasements that house America's Charters of Freedom—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and their transmittal letters—for the National Archives. The Waldseemüller map encasement will be almost six times bigger than the largest previous cases for individual Charters of Freedom.
The Waldseemüller Support Fund, established by Virginia Gray and the Gray family in memory of Martin Gray, is providing funding for the design and fabrication of the map encasement.
The Alcoa Foundation and the Alcoa Company are providing additional funding. The Alcoa Foundation funds will help with fabrication and enable the Library to incorporate the environmental monitoring capabilities. The Alcoa Company, the world's largest aluminum producer, will donate the monolithic aluminum blocks from which the encasement base and frame will be machined.
Donna Urschel is a public affairs specialist in the Library's Public Affairs Office.