"Bibliomany Has Possessed Me": Thomas Jefferson, The Booksellers’ Customer Extraordinaire

By David Emblidge.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States, was an almost unparalled intellectual. As a reader and book collector, in assembling his various libraries, Jefferson assiduously sought particular editions of specific books, choosing on the basis of several variables: quality of translation, quality of prose; reliability of the author; reliability of the printer; legibility of the printing; quality of plates or engravings in the work; quality of the paper; size of the format (folio, quarto, octavo, etc.); method and quality of binding, or the option to buy a book in unbound sheets; length of time required to receive shipment of a book; cost. Shopping on his own, pre-Internet, Jefferson built perhaps the greatest private library in Colonial America and in the early Republic. At its height (1815), Jefferson’s library held nearly 6,500 carefully chosen volumes, on all subjects, including maps and engravings, painstakingly catalogued and systematically shelved for ready reference. How did Jefferson acquire so many wonderful books; how did he do this…in the absence of many North American booksellers? The answer lies in his relationships with booksellers and purchasing agents in the great cultural capitals, on the other side of the Atlantic, and the answer tells us a great deal about “the bookstore in America” in the late colonial and early republic periods.

Keywords: Thomas Jefferson, Bibliomany, Historical Literature

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp.17-42. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.957MB).

Dr. David Emblidge

Associate Professor, Writing, Literature, and Publishing Department, Emerson College, Boston, Massachusetts, USA


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