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Re-Created Library Speaks Volumes About Jefferson
By Amy OrndorffWashington Post Staff Writer
In Thomas Jefferson's day, the books he lovingly collected were almost as famous as he was.
Leather-bound tomes on topics as varied as whist, beekeeping and philosophy were gathered from across Europe and colonial America, then brought to Monticello to help fulfill Jefferson's vow to amass the whole of human knowledge. They eventually became the foundation for the Library of Congress, although two-thirds were lost in a fire in 1851.
For the past decade, a small group of rare book experts has sought to re-create Jefferson's library, scouring antiquarian book collections on two continents to acquire thousands of volumes. The entire collection of more than 6,000 volumes -- some originals and some replacements -- will go on display tomorrow at the Library of Congress, looking much as it would have 200 years ago.
"These are the books that made America," said Mark Dimunation, chief of the Rare Books and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress.
After a lifetime collecting the books, Jefferson, sold them during the War of 1812. British soldiers had set fire to the first congressional library, obliterating more than 1,000 books. Aghast, Jefferson offered his library at whatever price Congress deemed reasonable. In 1815, Congress paid about $24,000 for all 6,487 volumes.