The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association has been able to acquire at auction books that belonged to President Washington for The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. When George Washington (1732-1799) died, he left behind a personal library at Mount Vernon of 800 to 1,000 volumes and hundreds of pamphlets.
His personal secretary, Tobias Lear, inventoried the library with the help of appraisers from Virginia, but Lear’s inventory is of little help to scholars trying to identify which books Washington owned, because Lear was more interested in counting them and appraising their monetary value than in recording their titles. For instance, he grouped together seven folio volumes (Number 254), valued at $28, and six octavo-format volumes (Numbers 267, 272, and 277), valued at $10.75, under the group heading “Laws of the United States.”
William Coolidge Lane, Librarian of the Boston Athenaeum identified some of the books in the Washington Collection of the Boston Athenaeum acquired in 1876 at an estate sale auction for Lawrence Washington. One can read his work in Appleton P.C. Griffin’s The Washington Collection in the Boston Athenaeum...With An Appendix...by William Coolidge Lane (published in Boston in 1897).
On June 22, 2012, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association paid $9,826,500 at auction for a folio that had belonged to Washington, as I mentioned briefly in “What is the Fred W. Smith National Library? Part VII” last year. It was his personal bound copy of the U.S. Constitution; the Bill of Rights; Oaths of the President, Vice-President, and other federal officials; and Acts passed at a Congress of the United States of America, begun and held at the city of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, in the year M,DCC,LXXXIX. and of the independence of the United States, the thirteenth. Being the acts passed at the First Session of the First Congress of the United States, to wit, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia; which eleven states respectively ratified the Constitution of Government for the United States, proposed by the Federal Convention, held in Philadelphia, on the seventeenth of September, one thousand eight hundred and seven.
This is how Christie’s described the book:
THE BIRTH OF AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT: PRESIDENT GEORGE WASHINGTON'S PERSONAL COPY OF THE CONSTITUTION, THE BILL OF RIGHTS AND OTHER KEY ACTS OF THE FIRST CONGRESS IN 1789
IN A SUPERB CONTEMPORARY BINDING, WITH WASHINGTON'S ARMORIAL BOOKPLATE AND HIS BOLD SIGNATURE (‘GO: WASHINGTON’)
WITH WASHINGTON'S AUTOGRAPH MARGINALIA, HIGHLIGHTING THE DUTIES AND POWERS OF THE PRESIDENT
BINDING: Contemporary polished tree calf, covers with thin Greek-key borders at edges; upper cover with rectangular green morocco label gilt-lettered PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES; rounded spine gilt in six compartments with five raised bands; two compartments with red or green morocco gilt-lettered labels (LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES and FIRST SESSION 1789); the remaining four compartments with a gilt patera tool and four small hollow star tools; marbled endpapers, edges tinted pale yellow, BOUND BY THOMAS ALLEN OF NEW YORK (who bound identical copies for Thomas Jefferson and John Jay.) CONDITION: Very slight rubbing to corners, raised bands and spine extremities, surface abrasion in several places on covers, catching small bits of the Greek-key border, otherwise in fine condition. Blue morocco clamshell case.
Washington's personal copy of the Constitution and proposed Bill of Rights does not carry Allen's printed binder's ticket. But the classical style of Thomas Allen's elegant binding is identical to that of copies owned by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Chief Justice John Jay, strongly suggesting that Washington himself had a direct hand in their design. All three bindings employ polished calf, use a distinct Greek-key roll at the cover edges and bear a gilt-lettered rectangular morocco panel on the upper covers. Little is known of Allen, whose binder's ticket reads: "Bound by Thomas Allen, No. 16, Queen- Street, New York." When the first Congress was meeting in New York, Washington's presidential residence was a large home at Number 1 Cherry Street, on the corner of Queen Street (now Pearl Street); a short distance from Fraunces Tavern (at 54 Queen Street, where many governmental offices were housed) and Allen's shop and bindery.
WASHINGTON'S ENGRAVED BOOKPLATE
In addition to the large signature on the title page, Washington has pasted in to the front endpaper his engraved armorial bookplate, featuring the Washington family coat of arms (‘Argent two bars Gules, in chief three mullets in fess of the second’) a decorative escutcheon with Washington's name and the motto exitus acta probat (‘the end justifies the deed’). This bookplate is no doubt one of a shipment ordered from England by Washington in December 1771, through his friend Robert Adam and the agent Robert Cary. The engraving was the work of a London engraver, S. Valliscure. He charged Washington 14 shillings for the plate and an additional six shillings for 300 prints from the plate, printed on good quality laid paper. Washington seems to have reserved these specially ordered bookplates for the more important books in his library.
It is striking that Washington… added marginalia in only this and one other volume… a copy of James Madison, View of the Conduct of the Executive. Here, in this volume, he has added brackets and marginal notes in light but readable pencil. All appear in the text of the Constitution itself and all relate to the duties and prerogatives of the chief executive in the new government.
Christie’s held the auction at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. The auction house expected the book would sell for between $2,000,000 and $3,000,000.
There are only three other copies of the book in the world. George Washington gave a copy to Richard Varick (1753-1831) that is now in the Princeton University Library. John Jay’s copy is now in private hands. Thomas Jefferson’s copy is in The Lilly Library (“The rare books, manuscripts, and special collections library of the Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington”) in Bloomington, Indiana.
The provenance of the book is as follows: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Bushrod Washington (1762-1829), George Washington’s nephew inherited Mount Vernon and its library. Bushrod Washington’s son Lawrence A. Washington inherited the book and it sold through M. Thomas & Sons, Auctioneers in Philadelphia on November 28, 1876 to Charles Henry Hart (1847-1918), a lawyer and historian.
In April of 1892, C.H. Hart sold the book for $1,150 in through Thomas Birch's Sons. It went from Mrs. Phoebe Hearst (1842-1919), wife of U.S. Senator George Hearst (1820-1891) to their son, the industrialist and newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951).
Next, it went from Colton Storm, Curator of The Everett D. Graff Collection of Western Americana at The Newberry Library in Chicago, to the Heritage Foundation in Deerfield, Massachusetts which sold it through Parke Bernet Galleries, Inc., on November 17, 1964 to George Sessler of Philadelphia on behalf of H. Richard Dietrich, Jr.
Dietrich purchased it for the Dietrich American Foundation. The Estate of H. Richard Dietrich, Jr. sold it through Christie’s in 2012.
On Monday, April 8, 2013, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association was able to announce a loan from the National Library of Scotland. That day, Alexander Elliot Anderson Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, hand-delivered books originally from George Washington’s library to Mount Vernon. Alex Salmond, the head of the Scottish National Party (SNP), is the chief-of-state for the devolved Scottish government, while Queen Elizabeth II is head-of-state and Prime Minister David Cameron, the head of the Conservative Party, is chief-of-state for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
“As a man who was driven to improve on his poor education as a child, Washington’s love of reading was voracious and topics covered everything from animal husbandry to Greek history,” stated Scottish First Minister Salmond. “Prominent however was his interest in all things Scottish and he held many volumes which reflected this, including works by Burns.”
Added Salmond, “It is therefore only fitting that we should help realise the dream to house all of his papers on his magnificent estate at Mount Vernon. I am honoured to be able to present these two volumes from the National Library of Scotland on loan to the library to help realise this wish.”
As part of Salmond’s visit to Mount Vernon, the First Minister toured Washington’s estate with Stewart D. McLaurin, Vice President for The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. During a tribute performed by a bagpiper, the First Minister laid a wreath at the tomb of Washington.
Following the wreath-laying, Salmond presented the books from the National Library of Scotland to Curt Viebranz, President & C.E.O. of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, during a private ceremony. “George Washington had a multitude of long-lasting Scottish influences throughout his life,” said Viebranz. “It is an honor and privilege for his Estate to again work with the Scottish people, through the generosity of the National Library of Scotland and the Scottish Government, to help recreate Washington’s library.”
The books presented to Mount Vernon are two volumes entitled the Official Letters to the Honorable American Congress, Written, During the War between the United Colonies and Great Britain, by His Excellency, George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Forces (London: 1795). In 1795, John Carey, editor of Official Letters, sent these volumes to President Washington with manuscript remarks. The family of Hugh Sharp, a bibliophile and wealthy jute manufacturer, donated this unique copy of Official Letters to Scotland's national collection in 1938.
On July 11, 2013, the Fred W. Smith National Library was able to announce the purchase at auction of eight volumes (five titles) that had been passed down in the Washington family for generations until dispersed in the aforementioned 1876 estate sale of Lawrence A. Washington. The books are
(1) Volumes III and VII of An History of the Earth, and Animated Nature...In Eight Volumes by Oliver Goldsmith. The Second Edition. (London: Printed for J. Nourse, 1779)
(2) The Beauties of Swift: or, the Favorite Offspring of Wit & Genius by Jonathan Swift (London: Printed for G. Kearsley, 1782)
(3) Volumes III and IV of The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane by Alain-René Le Sage. This was the sixth edition of a four-volume English translation. (London: Printed for W. Strahan, J. Rivington, T. Davies, W. Johnston, T. Longman, W. Nicoll, Richardson & Urquahart, G. Robinson, T. Cadell, and R. Baldwin, 1785)
(4) Volumes I and II of Voyages…dans l’Amerique septentrionale dans les annees 1780, 1781, & 1782 by Chastellux (Paris: Prault, 1786)
(5) Discourses Relating to the Evidences of Revealed Religion, Delivered in the Church of the Universalists, at Philadelphia, 1796 by Joseph Priestley (Philadelphia: John Thompson, 1796)
 The Fred W. Smith National Library stated the books went from “George Washington to Bushrod Washington to John Augustine Washington to John Augustine Washington III to Lawrence Washington,” but I believe they meant John Augustine Washington II (1789-1832) to C.S.A. Lt. Col. John Augustine Washington III (1821-1861) because John Augustine Washington I, George Washington’s brother, was (a) the father of Bushrod Washington and (b) died in 1787.
 Major-General François Jean de Beauvoir (173-1788), Marquis de Chastellux fought in the American War of Independence. Washington owned both this original French version of his war memoirs and a later English translation.