Thursday, October 29, 2009

George Washington's Bookshelves

One of the neat things I ran across while doing the "unitemized libraries" sweep of Virginia probate records was the inventory [PDF] of Mt. Vernon taken after George Washington's death. I'd seen this inventory in published form as I worked on Washington's collection and had added the entries from the inventory to each record (sample). But with the raw transcription of the inventory I noticed that the book-list was separated out by case (Nos. 1-8), plus other books "On the Table."

So for each section I made a collection in Washington's LT catalog, allowing users to - at least to some degree - "recreate the bookshelves" at Mt. Vernon. The book lists appear on pp. 8-19 of the inventory, and then you can use the relevant collection (Case 1, for example, or On the Table) to pull up the books in each (full list of collections is at the top of Washington's profile page).

Some caveats: Washington had a bunch of volumes of bound pamphlets and other short works that are just listed in the inventory as "Miscellanies" or "Political Tracts," &c. Since there are so many of these, and they are scattered throughout the collection, it was not possible to assign those works to a "shelf." And occasionally you'll see a record that has been assigned to two bookcases; that's where part of a set (usually of a periodical) was in one place and the rest of it in another (as indicated in the record notes).

One of the interesting things I noted is that with the exception of most of the books in French and German (which were kept together) there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to the way the books were organized. Jefferson would have been appalled! (Of course Washington might have had a system that either was 'undone' by however the inventory-takers made the lists, or the books might have been disordered after his death, &c. - it's hard to say).

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