MHS News

Jefferson’s Filing Table on View at Monticello

If you find yourself at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, Va., be sure to see the filing table of the third U.S. president. Given to the MHS in 1912, the table has been on loan since 1929 to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which displays it in its original location in Jefferson’s library. Based on a design typically used in England for managing paperwork, and known there as a “rent table,” the Jefferson piece originated in Philadelphia or New York between 1790 and 1800.  Because the drawers set into the octagon of the tabletop are marked with letters for filing, the family called it “the ABC table.” According to Joseph Coolidge, who met and married Jefferson’s granddaughter Ellen Randolph at Monticello, Jefferson “habitually used [it] in his chamber” to store his papers.

After Jefferson’s death in 1826, the table became the subject of a family tug-of-war. Two of Jefferson’s grandchildren, Ellen Randolph Coolidge and Thomas Jefferson Randolph, were determined to purchase the table when it was scheduled to be offered for sale in January 1827.  Jefferson’s daughter Martha Randolph settled the matter by giving the table to her daughter Ellen. The table descended to Ellen’s son Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, who gave it to the MHS in 1912.

The MHS is home to the second largest collection of Thomas Jefferson manuscripts (primarily his private papers) thanks to the generosity of several generations of Jefferson's Coolidge descendents; the Library of Congress holds the largest single collection of Jefferson manuscripts (primarily his public papers). To learn more about the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts at the Massachusetts Historical Society, go to

Published: Friday, 8 April, 2011, 12:56 PM