August 21, 2001 Last Chance to See Thomas Jefferson's Library
Exhibition closes at Library of Congress September 13
Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940
Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library - 6,487 books - to the U.S. Congress in 1815 after the 1814 British raid on Washington, when British soldiers burned the Congressional Library in the U.S. Capitol. Jefferson's wide-ranging collection, the largest private book collection in North America, then became the seed from which today's comprehensive national collection grew.
Jefferson himself defended his broad collecting interests, saying, "There is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer." Today's Library of Congress mirrors Jefferson's universal approach to collecting; it is the only national library that collects internationally in all subjects, across a vast spectrum of topics and languages.
Politics, law and history predominate as major subjects in Jefferson's Collection, but it also includes the domestic sciences, foreign language dictionaries, rhetoric, poetry and routine working manuals. The Greek and Latin classics are represented as well, along with volumes on education, shorthand, gardening, accounting, military strategy, beekeeping and brewing.
Nearly two-thirds of Jefferson's books were lost in another catastrophic fire in the Capitol on Christmas Eve, 1851. As part of the Library's Bicentennial celebration in 2000, the Library of Congress chose to honor its origins with an effort to reconstruct the 1815 Thomas Jefferson Collection. Included in the re-creation are more than 2,000 volumes from the original collection that had survived both fire and time. An additional 3,000 or so volumes were assembled from other collections in the Library - editions that match those lost in the 1851 fire. Other missing works have been acquired over the years through gifts. Several hundred volumes have recently been purchased, purchases made possible through a generous gift from Jerry and Gene Jones.
In the exhibition of Jefferson's library, the books have been arranged in the same order as Jefferson originally organized them. They are displayed here together for the first time since they were acquired in 1815.
The four categories of books in the exhibition are marked with colored ribbons to indicate their source. Books with green ribbons were part of Jefferson's original library at Monticello. Gold ribbons denote recently purchased volumes, and books with no ribbons indicate that they came from other parts of the Library of Congress collections. Books that are missing from the collection are marked with a book box with the author and title of the absent volume.
Jefferson's library is on view in the second-floor Northwest Pavilion of the Jefferson Building, First Street and Independence Ave. S.E., from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, through September 13.