Massachusetts Historical Society

Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson
1789 Catalog of Books, [manuscript], [circa 1789]
From the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.

Summary description

This manuscript volume, the 1789 Catalog of Books, forms part of the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts. Although undated, this 50-page manuscript catalog was probably compiled by Thomas Jefferson around 1789. It seems to be a list of titles he purchased (either for himself or others) while serving as minister plenipotentiary between 1785 and 1789.

The 1789 Catalog of Books differs from the 1783 Catalog of Books, another manuscript volume in the same collection that lists the books in Jefferson's personal library. Please see a Timeline Relating to Thomas Jefferson's Catalogs of Books for brief descriptions of several catalogs arranged in chronological order.

The classification scheme found in the 1789 Catalog of Books is the same as the scheme Jefferson uses in the 1783 Catalog of Books. Both catalogs are divided into three sections--History, Philosophy, and Fine Arts--adapted from Francis Bacon's three categories of knowledge: Memory, Reason, and Imagination. Within these three main divisions, Jefferson subdivided his 1789 Catalog of Books into chapters: Ancient history, Modern history (Foreign, British, and American), Ecclesiastical history, Cosmology, Agriculture, Chemistry, Surgery, Medicine, Anatomy, Zoology, Botany, Mineralogy, Technical arts, Ethics, Religion, Equity, Law (Common, Mercantile, Maritime, Ecclesiastical, and Foreign), Politics, Commerce, Arithmetic, Geometry, Mechanics (and Statistics, Pneumatics, Phonics, and Optics), Astronomy, Geography, Gardening, Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, Poetry (Epic, Romance, Tragedy, Comedy, Dramatic, and Didactic), Oratory, Criticism, and "Polygraphical" (books covering several categories). The only chapter heading that differs between the two catalogs is the one used for Chapter 6. In the 1789 Catalog of Books, Jefferson used "Cosmology," whereas in the 1783 Catalog of Library he used "Natural Philosophy."

To browse by these subject categories, please refer to Jefferson's classification scheme.

Physical description of manuscript volume

This catalog of books is a small, unbound volume (ii, 50 pages). It does not have a title page, and each page measures 4 1/2 x 7 1/4 inches.

In 2000, the volume was treated by the Massachusetts Historical Society conservation staff. Individual pages were cleaned, deacidified, and repaired and reinforced with Japanese tissue paper and wheat paste. Digitization project staff scanned the pages and then a conservation bookbinder created a microchamber case for the unbound volume.

Use of the images

Permission to reproduce images of manuscripts and/or publish transcriptions of collections must be obtained in writing from the Massachusetts Historical Society. Please forward requests to the Reference Librarian, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215, or send an email message to:

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