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Russell Bernabo, a fine-object conservator, was selected by the museum to restore the piece to its original luster. He considered 12 different samples of gold before settling on a match: 23-karat Italian gold in tissue-thin sheets, used to restore gilt to the engraved text on the blade, the hilt and pommel.

Mr. Bernabo approached the job with reverence.

“For an object of this iconic significance, the most important consideration is to not do anything that is too intrusive,” he said. “This sword is of the very highest workmanship. This is absolutely top notch.”

Mr. Bernabo was also mindful of the man whose hand once grasped its ivory grip.

“At no moment did I ever consider this to be a burden,” he said. “It was an effervescent treat to be working with such an object. It truly had an energy of its own.”

The sword was intended for ceremonial use. There is no evidence Lee used it in battle.

Lee surrendered after his forces were blocked near Appomattox Court House.