Regarding yesterday’s entry: Mark Bartlett, Head Librarian at the New York Society Library, informs me that the replacement cost for the missing Law of Nations was actually $1,200, and not $12,000, as reported in the New York Daily News article that I quoted here yesterday. He also provided this link to an NBC New York story on the matter, with a short video of the book in question.
Thanks for the clarification, Mark!
Yesterday at the New York Society Library, the estate of George Washington’s Mount Vernon presented the library with a copy of one of the two overdue books the first president checked out in the late 1700s. (You can read my original post about this right here.)
In a formal ceremony at the NYSL, James Rees, the executive director of Mount Vernon, presented NYSL chairman Charles Berry with a copy of The Law of Nations, one of the two books that Washington checked out of the library in October 1789. (You can read the full story of the ceremony here.)
The book isn’t the copy that Washington checked out — staff at Mount Vernon had no luck locating the original, so the estate purchased a similar copy, published the same year, from an online vendor for $12,000. That raised some eyebrows among Mt. Vernon fans, who would rather have seen that money spent at the Washington home.
For Mr. Rees, though, it was a matter of principle. By not returning the book on time, Rees explained, George Washington “did not do his public duty.” I think Washington — who took civic duty seriously — would have approved. Sometimes a symbolic gesture is priceless.
Those of us who have sheepishly returned an overdue library book and paid the seventy cent fine can be a bit less embarrassed now — because thanks to some recent record scrubbing by the New York Society Library, we found out we’re in good company: George Washington has two overdue books.
According to the story in the Guardian:
The library’s ledgers show that Washington took out the books on 5 October 1789, some five months into his presidency at a time when New York was still the capital. They were an essay on international affairs called Law of Nations and the twelfth volume of a 14-volume collection of debates from the English House of Commons.
The ledger simply referred to the borrower as “President” in quill pen, and had no return date.
Sure enough, when the librarians checked their holdings they found all 14 volumes of the Commons debates bar volume 12.
Under the rules of the library, the books should have been handed back by 2 November that same year, and their borrower and presumably his descendants have been liable to fines of a few cents a day ever since.
Doing the math, that adds up to an overdue fee of about $300,000. My pal Mark Bartlett, the NYSL’s head librarian, approaches this matter delicately and with a diplomacy that would likely have made the first president proud. “We’re not actively pursuing the overdue fines,” Mark says. “But we would be very happy if we were able to get the books back.”