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Authenticating Thomas Jefferson's Artifacts

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When Thomas Jefferson died many of his possessions were sold to pay his debts. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation has located thousands of his belonging over the years but they believe there are even more still out there.

Susan Stein is the Senior Curator at Monticello and said the foundation only examines items that have a historical connection to Monticello.

"People contact us all the time with stories and with objects that they think came from Monticello," said Stein.

Each year, the curators investigate about 50 artifacts. Stein said roughly 1 in every 20 items they examine was once owned by Jefferson and his family.

"I think that one of the happiest days for me was when a women arrived at Monticello with a little book tucked in her hand bag and it turned out be what we think is one of Jefferson's earliest copies of Ovid," said Stein.

To authenticate items, the curators will try to trace its ownership leading back to Jefferson. They also try to determine when an object was made. Once missing from Monticello, a wall bracket was located and proven to be original to the home.

"Half of the original nail was still in the bracket and the other half was in the wall," said Stein.

Most of what you see at Monticello belonged to Thomas Jefferson and his family. The curators are always learning more about the history behind each individual artifact.

For decades the curators thought some French chairs were brought back with Jefferson's 86 crates of goods from France in 1790.

"But we discovered just last year that these chairs weren't in that shipment instead they some how were acquired by Jefferson's family sometime probably in the 18 teens," said Stein.

Stein said it's important to investigate every item fully so an accurate history of Jefferson's life and his belonging can be told. She believes there are still many items to found right here in our area, including Albemarle, Orange and Fluvanna County because of the estate sale after Jefferson's death.

Reported by Jennifer Von Reuter
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