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Thomas Jefferson's lost books found in Missouri library

Thomasjefferson_peale Books from President Thomas Jefferson's personal library that had long been thought missing have turned up -- in the rare book division of the library at the Washington University in St. Louis.

The Associated Press reports:

Dozens of Thomas Jefferson's books, some including handwritten notes from the nation's third president, have been found in the rare books collection at Washington University in St. Louis.

Now, historians are poring through the 69 newly discovered books and five others the school already knew about, and librarians are searching the collection for more volumes that may have belonged to the founding father.

It turns out they've been there since 1880, when Jefferson's granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge, and her husband donated them to the university. They were part of a collection sold two years after Jefferson's death, and acquired by Ellen's husband through a friend; the family was particularly interested in books in which Jefferson had made notes.

Although a pair of scholars turned up the 69 new books, more researchers than that have been on the case. Like many historical and well-known readers, Jefferson's library has been reconstructed online by volunteers at LibraryThing. There you can find the details of Jefferson's own cataloging of his books, as well as more information about his collections, sales and distributions.

In 1815, Jefferson sold his book collection to the Library of Congress -- but that collection has been lost. In an online exhibit, the LOC explains:

By 1814 when the British burned the nation's Capitol and the Library of Congress, Jefferson had acquired the largest personal collection of books in the United States. Jefferson offered to sell his library to Congress as a replacement for the collection destroyed by the British during the War of 1812. Congress purchased Jefferson's library for $23,950 in 1815. A second fire on Christmas Eve of 1851 destroyed nearly two thirds of the 6,487 volumes Congress had purchased from Jefferson.

The Library of Congress is working to reassemble the books of Jefferson's that were lost. Maybe Washington University can help.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, crica 1805. Credit: Associated Press

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Last week I had an amazing opportunity to spend an evening in the Library of Congress at a private reception. I found myself standing alone in the recreated Jefferson Library for about 15 minutes. History touched me.

Just remember what Ray Bradbury has said, "There's more than one way to burn a book."

I'm imagining myself in his recreated library. I find it really historic. I think that reassembling the books is a great idea and I do hope that Washington University will make this possible.

Deceptive headline:

The rare book collection of top-notch Washington University is a bit more than 'a library in Missouri'.

Not exactly your neighbor branch patrolled by 6 year-olds with jam-covered hands.

"The rare book collection of top-notch Washington University is a bit more than 'a library in Missouri'. Not exactly your neighbor branch patrolled by 6 year-olds with jam-covered hands."

And yet it took them 131 years to figure out what they had in their collection...hmm.

Nice jacket he has in the picture there. Guy was a real player.

I wonder if there is a list of the books the Coolidge family originally donated.. and if that list matches the books discovered.

Sounds like the books are in a safe place. I do feel they should come home to Monticello.

Having visited Monticello on several occasions I can only imagine what a unique historical "find" Pres Jefferson's lost library was. For when you stand in his house history surrounds you in every room and it is easy to imagine him standing beside you. He was an exceptional president; he was an exceptional citizen and the nation really owes him a great deal of gratitude for establishing the Library of Congress that we enjoy today. Without his love of books there would be no Library nor, if there was one, it would not be as complete w/out his beloved books.


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