Smithsonian Restores the Jefferson Bible

Thomas Jefferson was notorious for staying very busy in his years after leaving the White House. In 1820, our nation’s third president set out to assemble a “personal bible” consisting of passages from the first four books of the New Testament. The result was an 84-page compilation, cut-and-pasted from four bibles, of the teachings that resonated most with Jefferson. The Jefferson Bible, as it’s referred to by historians, was never mass-published, because Jefferson feared that these religious beliefs would be used against him by his political rivals and could have potentially offended religious officials. The book remained in the possession of Jefferson’s family until 1895, when it was purchased by the Smithsonian’s librarian and curator of world religions, Cyrus Adler.

Earlier this year, the Smithsonian took on the task of restoring the book. The project involved deconstructing, and then reconstructing this incredibly rare text. Everything from re-binding to page reconstruction went into this restoration project. Throughout the arduous repair process, the Smithsonian has kept the public up-to-date through blog posts, and later, a very comprehensive and interactive website devoted to the subject.

Many of the same types of materials that the Smithsonian’s staff used during this process can be purchased from University Products. For instance, many of the stubs and pages of the Jefferson Bible had to be repaired using a micro-spatula. Also, the Japanese paper Kozo, which has excellent aging properties, was used in repairing and protecting the leather cover on the book. If your project includes the repair of a rare book, look for University Products’ collection of book arts and conservation materials.