A STATE OF THE ART FRAME: Engineers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology built an encasement to protect the Waldseemuller map, produced in 1507. It was the first to show both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and an outline of the land separating the two. The frame is about ten feet by six feet, and made from two solid pieces of aluminum. It also includes a double sheet of non-reflective laminated glass and interior environmental monitoring devices, along with valves that allow preservationists to control the gases inside the case. Additionally, the engineers designed a system to raise and lower the map for display and maintenance.
WHY GO THROUGH THE TROUBLE? This map, which marked the first use of the word "America" as a designation for the continents now called North and South America, is over 500 years old. Like any other old map, book, or scroll, it requires special care. If not properly protected, the ink will fade and the paper will break down. Filling the encasement with inert argon gas flushes out all the oxygen and stops the chemical reactions that can damage both the ink and the paper. NIST expects the seals to remain effective for more than twenty years.