Looking closely at 3½ inches of Thomas Jefferson's Library

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Three books from the Retirement Library of Thomas Jefferson are now held in Firestone: one came as a gift in the 1870s, another was presented in 1905, and the third gift arrived in 1944. Their journey toward Princeton began in Washington in 1829 when Nathaniel P. Poor auctioned the library formed by Jefferson during the latter years of his life.

At Monticello each book had a particular place in Jefferson’s bibliothecal scheme. Central to the scheme was his positing a continuum between book in hand and thought in mind. For Jefferson, mind entailed memory, reason, and imagination. These three faculties were, in turn, mirrored by human endeavors in history, philosophy, and the fine arts. Considered as an outcome of one of these endeavors, any book could be placed within one of these three classes or its sub-divisions. So placing it situated the book both in mind and on the shelf.

Now held at Princeton are auction lot numbers 236, 716, and 753. It’s extraordinary that these three gifts — each received decades apart — today form a pattern: the Library now has one book each from Jefferson’s three major classes.

• Memory / History is represented by
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• Reason / Philosophy is represented by
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• Imagination / Fine Arts is represented by
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[Jefferson’s own handwritten entries in his 124 page library catalogue, now available digitally at the Library of Congress.]

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Auction lot number in red crayon on front paste-down.
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(Ex) 9825.380 • Inscribed by Professor Charles A. Young in 1860, who gave it to the Library in 1905.
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Lot number in pencil; Bigelow’s inscription in ink.
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(Ex) HB871.E93 • Purchased by Andrew Bigelow and sold at his sale in 1877 to a member of the Green Family of Trenton, NJ , who, in turn gave it to the Library in the 1870s.
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(Ex)2767.1665 • Pencil note in back of volume 1 details sale of book in 1831. There are two slips of ms. notes initialed ‘V.S.’ and dated ‘Febr 12 [18]32’ mounted on two leaves in companion portfolio. Gift of Henry N. Paul in 1944.

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