‘Today’ features long-lost Thomas Jefferson books on President’s Day ’11 (video) — Appropriate for President’s Day, NBC’s Today Show featured a story Monday morning about a group of recently discovered books once thought lost from the library of Thomas Jefferson. The books have been determined to be authentically Jefferson’s, and the specific titles and notes associated with them will aid scholars and historians in filling in gaps in the history of the nation’s third president.
Ann Lucas from the International Center for Jefferson Studies appeared on Today along with Shirley Baker, Dean of Libraries at Washington University of St. Louis. Ms. Lucas explained her scholarly search that set her on the trail of the books.
How were the books found?
“I had been doing some research on Jefferson’s granddaughter,” she said. “Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge. We knew that she and her husband had purchased a sizable number of volumes at the auction after Jefferson’s death.” However, Coolidge descendants appeared to know nothing about what happened to them.
“I had the lucky happenstance one day of having a hit on Google Books when I was searching for information about Joseph Coolidge, Ellen’s husband,” Ms. Lucas continued. “Up popped a reference to Joseph Coolidge’s library being given in 1880 to Washington University in St. Louis.” She said she and a colleague thought the location made “perfect sense.” The books “were somewhere safe but somewhere we never would have thought to look.” They had been in that location for 130 years.
No one knew because the pieces to the puzzle had not been put together before. There were no online catalogs or computerized records of donations 130 years ago, and the Coolidge collection consisted of some 3,000 volumes. However, there were other documents that could be used to track down the relevant titles and call numbers. Library staff were asked to pull a list of books off the shelves for examination.
How were the books authenticated?
“Jefferson marked his books in a way that was unique — not unusual; other people have done this — but the way he did it was that he would put a ‘T’ in front of the ‘I’ signature on a volume, and an ‘I’ after the ‘T’ signature; the ‘I’ being the Latin for the ‘J,'” Ms. Lucas explained.
The library sent the scholars their progress via email in finding Jefferson’s marks among the pulled volumes.
“Every day we had more and more coming back until we hit 74,” Ms. Lucas said.
Among the special finds from the rediscovered collection is the French book, Parallels of Architecture: Modern and Ancient (Parallele de l’Architecture Antique et de la Moderne) by Roland Freart de Chambray. “We’re so thrilled about this,” Ms. Lucas said. “This is the one book that has his bookplate and the original binding.” She said, “This is the volume that Jefferson would lend to his workman who were building the University of Virginia.” He had used an earlier edition of the same book for models in building Monticello but sold that volume to the Library of Congress. This book shows that the president reacquired another copy for his use on the university.
Asked about the meaning for her of finding out that the historically significant books were safe and sound at her own university library, Ms. Baker commented, “The first thing that struck me was how interesting and important it was that they be in St. Louis because Thomas Jefferson did the Louisiana Purchase, and he sent Lewis and Clark there to survey it. So, finding what is now the third largest collection of Thomas Jefferson’s books in Missouri is especially appropriate.”
Will the books stay in Missouri?
Ms. Baker said, “They will stay right there; yes.”
VIDEO: Watch a clip from The Today Show about the Thomas Jefferson book discovery in the lefthand column of this page, or you can also watch it here.