Jefferson Monticello Bookcase

Image Credit: Thomas Jefferson Foundation/Robert C. Lautman

Copyright © Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc. (

Mr. Jefferson may have called them book cases or book presses. In 1815 he ceded, thats right according to historians he never referred to the sale of his library to start the Library of Congress as a sale.[1] This was  a sale of thousands of books. Its hard to understand the ability to amass over six thousand books in the 18th century. It must have been a life’s work. I’m sure he thought long and hard at the parting. Whether he did it out of altruism,  the library was in a poor way after the British burned DC during the war of 1812, or as some say he needed the money, we may never truly know. We, however, are the beneficiaries of his decision. In the end Mr. Jefferson sent almost his whole library to DC.

History gives us context, but the part that concerns us here is logistics. How do you move a whole library in 1812. You don’t back up a tractor trailer and have plastic totes to load all the books. So what did they do. Simple, they just nailed cheap pine boards as lids to the tops of Mr. Jefferson’s simply, yet ingeniously designed book presses.

Jefferson Bookcase from Down Under,

You see each one was an independent unit. [2] The smaller ones stacked on top of the larger ones and they all sat on a ready made plinth. Plinth is a fancy term for a low stand that was about 49 inches wide and about 5 1/4 inches tall. Each successive book press was 48 inches wide, dovetailed at all the corners with what looks like a nailed on 1/2 inch thick back. The bottom was about 18 inches tall and 13 inches deep and the middle and top cases became shallower and not as tall but remained 48 inches wide. They were all made out of lovely southern pine. Personally, I love this design for its simplicity and utility. I think Mr. Jefferson will be amazing us for centuries to come. I think I’ll go down to the home center and pick up some pine and make press me out some book er… cases.

[1] Book Boxes,

[2] Library (Book Room),


About senrabc

Hi, this is not really about anything. Just me testing the intertubes with my own random meanderings and thoughts. Ostensibly, big word, I’m using this site as my personal log of sorts. I’m a random guy with 4 kids and a beautiful wife living in sunny Florida. Pardon the gratuitous posts with pictures of cute kids. I have an iPhone and can’t help myself. My day job is working in the area of informatics at the University of Florida where I like the shell. Oh, yeah and incase you can’t tell I like woodworking with handtools. Goes along with my command line philosophy 😉 Thanks for reading. Christopher P. Barnes
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