The Atlantic has a cool story right now called “A Peek Inside the Conservation of the Jefferson Bible.” In case you’re wondering what the Jefferson Bible is,

“The Jefferson Bible was made by Thomas Jefferson himself between 1819 and 1820. He cut out Biblical passages which were important to him, and glued them, scrapbook style, into folios of blank paper. Verses were arranged chronologically and in columns in four translations. Next to the English language verses are columns of the same verses in French, Greek and Latin. Jefferson wrote notes in the margins in iron gall ink. The book is made from twelve different types of paper, six different printing inks, and at least three different home-mixed iron gall ink recipes. His bookbinder, Frederick Mayo, bound the 43 folio pages in a red morocco leather binding.”

Now that’s interesting. But the story is really about conserving the national relic and determining if it’s safe to use it in an exhibition. You may have never thought about how they do that. In truth, it is a bit weird isn’t it? Not exactly something many people have on their resumes.  It’s far more intricate than one might imagine:

“The Jefferson Bible is a magnificent exercise in complexity, and planning for its conservation is, too. The survey database captures vital details about all the materials Jefferson used to make the book, and organizes them into the categories: “Recto,” “Verso,” “Primary paper,” “Paper clippings,” “Iron-gall ink,” “Printing ink,” and “Adhesive,” and then subdivides them again, “Greek text,” “Latin text,” “French text,” “English text,” “Page Number ink,” “marginalia ink,” etc., and then subdivides them some more. These tiers of observation points were organized in a way that allowed the conservators to assess the book in a manner that minimizes the handling of this delicate bound artifact. Conservators worked in teams, as both collaborators and eye witnesses for each other, systematically calling out survey fields for each other and entering their responses in the database.”

Check out the video (footage courtesy of Smithsonian Channel):


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