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The New York Public Library Announces Historic Agreement To Display Original Copy Of The Bill Of Rights

NEW YORK, May 22, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- 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. "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."

The 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.

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