By MARK ROOSA
Library of Congress conservators have confirmed for the first time that the paper upon which Thomas Jefferson penned the composition fragment and the "original Rough draught" of the Declaration of Independence were made by the same paper manufacturer.
The Library's Conservation laboratory recently compared the paper quality of the composition fragment of the Declaration of Independence with that of the "original Rough draft" and discovered distinct similarities. The comparison, accomplished with the help of a fiber-optic light, was made as the fragment was being prepared for exhibition in "American Treasures of the Library of Congress." The fragment and draft are on view through Sept. 4.
"Upon visual examination and in comparing the positions of chain and laid lines (fine textured lines in the paper resulting from the papermaking process) it appears that the two papers share the same characteristics. This new discovery strengthens the link between these two important documents," said the Library's senior paper conservator, Linda Morenus.
In the 18th century, sheets of paper were cast from wet fiber pulp onto a mold or screen composed of very thin metal wires, thus leaving an impression. Chain wires ran perpendicular to the laid wires and were attached to them for support.
"The impression from the chain and laid wires is visible when held up to the light; this is because less pulp is deposited on the wires of the mold than between them," said Ms. Morenus. Placing the documents side by side and using a fiber-optic source of heat-free, transmitted light, Ms. Morenus was able to see and count the chain and laid lines and measure the distance between them.
"The papers appear to be made by the same paper mill. The first sheet of the rough draft has a large watermark bearing an oval ribbon design and the words Pro Patria Eiusque Libertate ['For Country and Her Liberty'] and, according to Julian Boyd, author of The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text, the paper is probably Dutch in origin. The fragment does not have a watermark because it is a piece from a larger sheet of paper," said Ms. Morenus.
Like the draft, the fragment has undergone substantial conservation treatment since its creation in 1776. The first treatment, applied early this century, was a 'silking' process that was commonly applied to reinforce manuscripts. It involved adhering the document between two thin pieces of transparent silk. The Library adopted the silking method for manuscript repair in 1899. The technique was practiced worldwide for many years, but fell out of favor in the 1940s, when specialists realized that the materials used in the process became acidic and brittle over time.
In the 1970s, the fragment underwent a second treatment in which the silking was removed, a painstaking process that involved soaking the document in water until the adhesive holding the silk in place dissolved and the silk fell away from the paper sheet. The fragment was also alkalized -- a process in which damaging acids were removed from the paper to prevent chemical deterioration -- and mended using Japanese tissue with a heat-activated synthetic adhesive.
When the fragment arrived in the Library's conservation lab in 1995 for treatment prior to that year's exhibition "Drafting the Documents," the challenge was to undo earlier restorations that were visually unsympathetic and to apply in their place a discrete, stabilizing treatment that would allow the delicate fragment, which had been tri-folded by Jefferson in order to pocket it, to be exhibited and consulted without risk of physical damage.
Ms. Morenus began by removing the tissue mends and tending to the exposed small tears by applying minute slivers of very shear gossamer tissue coated with a reversible adhesive, which allows the mending to be removed without any alteration to the original sheet. Paper losses were then filled in with strong, lightweight kozo paper made from the inner bark of an indigenous Japanese plant known for its particularly long fibers. The repairs were matched to the original sheet using pastel crayons. The conserved sheet was then placed into a protective double-sided mat that allowed both the front and the back of the fragment to be consulted without being touched, where it remains. The mat also protects the fragment during transit and while in storage or on exhibit. Finally, the preserved fragment is kept in a specially designed cold storage vault that maintains stable temperature and humidity levels, which substantially extend the life of paper documents.
During their exhibition in the "American Treasures of the Library of Congress," the draft and the fragment have been placed in the award-winning 'Top Treasures' display case, which was built according to the highest standards of preservation and security. It is reserved exclusively for the Library's rarest and most valuable items.
The case consists of a high-hard-steel display chamber within an exterior of maple veneer with mahogany inlays. On either side, two large viewing windows are glazed with a specially rated ballistics polycarbonate and glass laminate. Temperature and relative humidity can be maintained within minimum tolerances of plus or minus 1 degree Fahrenheit or 1 percent humidity. The case is set for the optimum preservation conditions of 50 degrees and 50 percent relative humidity.
Mr. Roosa is chief of the Conservation Division.