Behind the Scenes

Front cover of "Notes on the State of Virginia" by Thomas Jefferson - bound together with a shoestring
The book is bound with an old string to hold the covers together.
Front cover and front page of "Notes on the State of Virginia" unbound
Inside look at the worn book

Getting to revisit Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia with new expectations, I found some interesting items that I did not notice when I first handled the book. I learned more about the book and about the time period in which it was made. In order to learn this information, I had to test my hand at some bibliographical work. The book is indeed bound, albeit rather worn out. The front and back covers are both the only parts not intact with the rest of the book. An old string now holds the book tightly together to the original binding and will otherwise fall apart without it. The cover is a brown, hard leather binding that clearly shows the material withering away. At one point it seemed to be a darker brown but now has faded in certain spots due to light or sun exposure, or possible poor handling.  It reminds me of my dad’s old Bible that showed signs of use and love. This book was certainly handled and most likely not only by one person. There was a particular portion of an image which was on the inside cover, but was visibly torn. I wish there was a way of telling what it was and if it was something of importance or relevance to the book, like a map of Virginia or a crest of some sort.

Backlit picture of an example of horizontal chain lines
Horizontal chain lines
Backlit picture of an example of vertical chain lines
Vertical chain lines

Looking closer at the paper I could clearly see that it was laid because of the chain lines and wire lines on the pages. The chain lines were primarily vertical except for two particular pages which may have been inserted at a different time or otherwise just turned around. The first example of the chain lines running horizontally was on the left page of the actual title page. This is the only full illustration in the book and it’s a portrait of Thomas Jefferson. You can clearly see an imprint in the paper around the illustration as if that portion was pressed in. The title page to the right has the chain lines running vertically, which was a bit odd. The other page where they were horizontal was on an inserted pull-out chart which listed Native American tribes, what country they resided in (unsure if this actually meant county and not country), the chief town, and the number of warriors in a particular tribe. Both of these examples of the pages having horizontal chain lines were also obviously shorter than the rest of the book. I couldn’t tell if any insertions were included after the book had been bound together, so I don’t believe they were inserted at a later time. I calculated the format of the book to be octavo due to the number of chain lines running vertically to be four. On those pages where the chain lines ran horizontally, there were seven of them which could possibly be a quarto fold.

All of the pages were open and trimmed. Picture of the worn out edges in the first few pages of "Notes on the State of Virginia"At first, I thought the book was untrimmed because of the first few pages. I later realized those pages were just handled roughly because the binding had come undone. The paper therefore did not have deckle edges, or rough, torn edges. There were no watermarks that I saw. I glanced at every single page to determine the pattern of the chain lines, but as I did so, I didn’t catch sight of any watermarks. Unless I obliviously passed one, I may assume there isn’t one due to this being the fourth edition. (Perhaps the first edition had one?) It was first published in 1785 and this fourth edition was published only 16 years later in 1801, so I am not sure if that’s an appropriate assumption or not.

picture of an example of a signature
Signature “B”

The printer signatures of the book were there at the bottom of the pages every so often. They started as upper case letters and ran alphabetically, although oddly there wasn’t an  ‘A’, ‘J’, ‘V’, or ‘W’.



picture of an example of a double signature
Signature “Aa”

The signatures then followed with an upper case/lower case letter combination, and again the combos ‘Jj’, ‘Vv’, and ‘Ww’ were skipped or missing.



picture of an example of a number/letter signature
Signature “3A”

Following those signatures were 3A, 3B, and 3C and then came the conclusion of the book.




A few miscellaneous, yet interesting aspects of the book I found was that between pages 134 and 135 there seemed to be a page or insert torn out. It was shorter than the other pages so I believe it to be an insert and I wish I could tell what it was. The sewing was done with two sets of stitching with thick thread. The bottom stitching was still intact, but the bottom pages were starting to come apart from the glue which held it together to the spine of the binding.

Picture of the stitching in the book     Photo showing the stitching coming undone at the bottom of the book     Picture of the spine of "Notes on the State of Virginia"

At first glance, the book is rather interesting because of simply how it looks. It’s also a bit exciting holding a book one of our Founding Fathers wrote and published. It’s even more interesting and even more exciting to continue this exploration of the history of this book and other books that are waiting to be told. ✥

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