Saturday, August 29, 2009

On the Hunt for Jefferson's Lost Books

A Library of Congress curator is on a worldwide mission to find exact copies of the books that belonged to Thomas Jefferson

from the article,

For more than a decade, Mark Dimunation has led a quest to rebuild an American treasure—knowing he will likely never see the complete results of his efforts.

On an August day 195 years ago, the British burned the U.S. Capitol in the War of 1812 and by doing so, destroyed the first Library of Congress. When the war ended, former President Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his personal library, which at 6,487 books was the largest in America, to Congress for whatever price the legislators settled upon. After much partisan debate and rancor, it agreed to pay Jefferson $23,950.

Then another fire in the Capitol on Christmas Eve of 1851 incinerated some 35,000 volumes, including two-thirds of the books that had belonged to Jefferson. And although Congress appropriated funds to replace much of the Library of Congress collection, the restoration of the Jefferson library fell by the wayside.

Since 1998, Dimunation, the rare-books and special collections curator for the Library of Congress, has guided a slow-moving, yet successful search for the 4,324 Jefferson titles that were destroyed. The result of his labor thus far is on view at the library in the Jefferson Collection Exhibition.


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