January 20, 2012 U.S. Naval Observatory Donates Rare Book to Library of Congress

Contact: Erin Allen, Library of Congress (202) 707-7302 | Sally Bosken, USNO (202) 762-1463

The Library of Congress announced today the acquisition of a rare book to its Thomas Jefferson’s Library. Donated by the United States Naval Observatory, a Latin version of “Sur la Figure de la Terre,” written by the 18th-century French mathematician and philosopher Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, will join the more than 6,000 titles already assembled in the collection.

While serving as the American ambassador in Paris in 1789, Jefferson ordered a copy of Maupertuis’ Latin version, “Figura Telluris de Maupertuis,” which was published in Leipzig, Germany in 1742. It was one of a number of books he selected from a catalogue issued by bookseller Armand Koenig in Strasburg.

The book was ordered on June 29, 1789, and was sent to Jefferson with a bill from Koenig for £ 2.0.0, dated July 17. Jefferson entered the book without price in his undated manuscript library catalogue.

In 1815, Congress purchased the 6,487 volumes in Jefferson’s collection in order to reestablish the Library of Congress after the burning of the U.S. Capitol by the British during the War of 1812. Of the original volumes that Jefferson had, only about 2,000 remained following another fire on Dec. 24, 1851, that spread through the congressional library housed in the Capitol. These original 2,000 books, plus replacement copies of the other books, constitute a Library exhibition titled “Thomas Jefferson’s Library” (http://myloc.gov/Exhibitions/jeffersonslibrary/Pages/default.aspx). During the past decade, Mark Dimunation, chief of the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and his staff have assembled all but about 300 titles that were in Jefferson’s original library.

Over the years, the Library’s own copy of “Figura Telluris de Maupertuis” was lost. The USNO library has two copies of this book – the original French edition printed in 1738 and the Latin version from 1742.

With origins more than 181 years ago, the U.S. Naval Observatory continues to perform an essential operational role for the United States, the Navy and the Department of Defense. Its mission includes determining the positions and motions of the Earth, Sun, Moon, planets, stars and other celestial objects; providing astronomical data; determining precise time; measuring the Earth's rotation; and maintaining the Master Clock for the United States. The USNO’s James M. Gilliss Library was established in 1842. Today it holds more than 80,000 titles and is considered to be one of the world’s premier astronomical libraries.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, with nearly 142 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. As the world’s largest repository of knowledge and creativity, the Library is a symbol of democracy and the principles on which this nation was founded. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site, in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill, and through its award-winning website at www.loc.gov.


PR 12-011
ISSN 0731-3527