Conservation work on Jefferson’s Bible

Though I was not able to attend the AIC Annual Conference in Albuquerque this year (due to final exams!), I have been so pleased to be able to peruse the AIC website and read about all of the presentations. One that caught my eye was conservation work performed on Thomas Jefferson’s Secret Bible. Janice Stagnitto Ellis, Senior Paper Conservator at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History, along with Emily S. Rainwater, Post Graduate Fellow at NMAH and Laura A. Bedford, Assistant Book Conservator at NEDCC, worked on this 200-year Bible.

The Bible, entitled “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French & English”, has the most fascinating history, which is summed up quite well in an article in the University of Virginia Magazine. Jefferson was raised to be quite religious but questioned some aspects of Christianity as he grew older. He did not believe in miracles but was a devout follower of Jesus Christ. In 1804, he decided to create his own Bible by cutting out all references to miracles in the New Testament and pasting them together He then took these 84 pages to Frederick Mayo, a bookbinder in Richmond. The compilation is known today as Jefferson’s Bible.

The Bible went to the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History to be conserved in 2011. The conservation work is, I am so happy to say, detailed on a site dedicated to the Bible, as well as in a three minute video.

What an exciting project! I particularly loved learning about the organic and inorganic analyses. I’m so sad I missed this presentation but the conservators really put a lot of time and effort into giving the public as much access as possible to the work, through the website and video. Given this year’s AIC conference theme, outreach, hopefully we will see more and more institutions doing the same thing.