UVA Law Tracks Down Mr. Jefferson's Original Stacks
The University of Virginia School of Law is searching for the original books Thomas Jefferson selected for the university's founding. Librarians tracked down hundreds over four decades.
Now, they're just a few dozen away from completing the collection. Law was one of the original six disciplines at Mr. Jefferson's university. Many of the books were destroyed in the rotunda fire of 1895.
Now the law school's librarians are renewing the hunt to find the remaining missing few. Stacks of centuries old books surround Cecilia Brown at the special collections library. "We have to preserve these books," she said.
In the special collections library, tucked away on the top floor of the University of Virginia School of Law, there are 317 of Jefferson's hand-picked titles for the university's founding.
"These are the titles he wanted to have for the law department of the university," said Brown. "He wanted the important books and he wanted them here."
Law school librarians started their search to complete a recreated Jefferson collection 40 years ago. UVA Law Library Director Taylor Fitchett said, "We've been on a treasure hunt for a really long time now."
They've located some rare editions - including a 1569 English law book. Now, just 58 titles - listed in a 1828 catalogue - are still missing.
The challenge to track them down isn't far off from the mission of Francis Walker Gilmer. Jefferson sent his friend to England to find, buy, and ship the books back to Charlottesville.
"He had his difficulties too. I think ours are small in comparison to his," said Fitchett.
Alumni have donated many of the books in this collection. And rare book shops keep an eye out for the missing titles in the library's treasure hunt.
"When you have it together, you can understand the man better through looking at the books he selected," said Fitchett.
Brown is confident the library can complete the collection and preserve the pages of the past from Jefferson's university. She asked, "Why not try to have them all? We are getting there little by little."
An alum who is a lawyer in Baltimore has donated about a dozen of the books in the collection. The library has purchased others - with price tags ranging from $750 to several thousand.
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