Thomas Jefferson’s lost books found in Missouri library


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

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