Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    Thomas Jefferson. Notes on the State of Virginia. Philadelphia: Printed and Sold by Prichard and Hall, 1788. Rare first American edition of the only book-length work by Jefferson to be published in his lifetime, with a preface written expressly for this edition. Octavo in fours (7.75 x 4.625 inches; 196 x 117 mm.). [2, title (verso blank)], [1, Advertisements], [1, Contents], 244 pages. Signatures: [A]² [B]4 C-Z4 Aa-Hh4 Ii4 (-Ii3 and Ii4). Bound without the final four pages of bookseller's advertisements (Ii3-Ii4). Complete with folding letterpress table of the Indian Tribes of Virginia between pages 100 and 101 (short splits to folds at top edge), and several other tables, including "A Comparative View of the Quadrupeds of Europe and of America" (pages 49-52) and "Birds of Virginia" (pages 72-76), as well as tables of prevailing wind speeds, the number of settlers and census of inhabitants, the number and condition of the militia, commercial productions, crimes, and weights and measures of currency. Full-page woodcut of "An Eye-Draught of Madison's Cave, on a scale of 50 feet to the inch" on page [20].

    Modern antique-style tree calf; covers decoratively bordered in gilt; smooth spine, decoratively tooled in gilt in compartments, with red morocco label lettered and decoratively tooled in gilt; board edges decorated in gilt. New endpapers. Very light rubbing to covers; corners very slightly bumped. Title-leaf reinserted; paper very slightly browned and becoming brittle; first and last few leaves browned around the edges; a few leaves with small marginal stains or faint dampstaining. Tiny adhesion or abrasion on pages 180 and 181, affecting two letters on each page; small hole in the text on Gg1 (pages 225/226), affecting one letter on recto (no loss); tiny hole in lower corner of C4 (15/16). Upper portion (two-and-one-half inches) of outer margin of Ee1 (pages 209/210) strengthened on verso with old tape; short (three-eighths-inch) tear to upper margin of I4 (pages 63/64); short tear to lower edge of final leaf of text; small portion of upper corner of final leaf torn away; a few additional leaves with tiny portion of upper corner chipped away; a few additional minor edge chips or tears. Perforated stamp, although repaired, visible on a few leaves: pages [1]/2, in upper portion of text, affecting the heading "Query I" on recto and first four lines of text on verso; S1 (pages 129/130), mostly in lower margin, but affecting last line of text, catchword, and signature mark on recto, and footnote on verso; and Ii2 (pages 243/244), affecting last two lines of text on recto, all with no loss. Faint blue ink or pencil shelf number on title-page verso, with pencil note beneath it; blue ink accession number in lower gutter margin of page [1] of text, with pencil notation beside it. A very good copy in a handsome period binding of one of America's first permanent literary and intellectual landmarks.

    ESTC W28796; Evans 21176; Howes J78 ("aa"); Sabin 35897 (erroneously calling for 204 pages); Verner 1788. See Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 4167 (IV, pp. 301-330).

    "During his retirement Jefferson wrote, in large part, his only book, Notes on the State of Virginia. Actually it did not begin as a book or with any view to publication, but as a response to a series of questions about Virginia posed by the secretary of the French legation in Philadelphia. Becoming fascinated with the questions, Jefferson converted the task-one of instructing America's revolutionary ally-into an intellectual self-discovery of his native land, the greater Virginia of that day. The manuscript grew as he worked at it, and he was finally induced to publish it, originally in a private edition, in Paris in 1785. A digest of information and opinion on many subjects, Notes on Virginia is uniquely interesting as a guide to Jefferson's mind as well as to his country. It exhibits his insatiable curiosity, his manifold interests, painstaking detail, and speculative bent. It reveals the man of science disciplined to empirical fact and eager to possess nature for the mind, yet also the man of almost romantic sensibility enraptured by the wonders of the American continent even as he quested for useful knowledge. Of special importance was Jefferson's vindication of American nature against current European theories of biological impotence and decay in the New World. The book was a virtual manual of Jefferson's political opinions, and some of its passages -- on slavery, on the virtues of husbandry, on religious freedom, on the errors of the Virginia constitution -- became so well known that they were said to be 'stereotyped in the public voice.' The book whetted the appetite of the tiny community of American philosophers and won Jefferson a scientific and literary reputation on both sides of the Atlantic" (Merrill D. Peterson, in American National Biography Online, accessed August 2, 2019).

    With the Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson "produced one of America's first permanent literary and intellectual landmarks...In the decades following Jefferson's death, the Notes on Virginia was favorably regarded as a popular handbook of natural science and geography, and certain sections (such as that describing the Natural Bridge or the passage of the Potomac through the Blue Ridge, and the account of Logan's speech) were frequently reprinted and widely read. Most nineteenth-century critics, however, tended to ignore the literary significance of the Notes; not until the middle of our own century was this aspect of the book assessed and evaluated. In an enlightening commentary on the Notes, Gilbert Chinard calls it 'one of the first masterpieces of American literature' (Thomas Jefferson, the Apostle of Americanism, Boston, 1929, 118)" (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Edited and with an Introduction and Notes by William Peden (Chapel Hill: [1995]), pp. xxiv-xxv, and footnote 42 on p. xxv).

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    September, 2019
    5th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 10
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,100

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    25% on the first $300,000 (minimum $49), plus 20% of any amount between $300,000 and $3,000,000, plus 12.5% of any amount over $3,000,000 per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2021 September 25 - 26 Americana & Political Signature Auction - Dallas.

    Learn about consigning with us

    You reach a customer base that is in many ways completely unknown to the major auction houses, and your marketing to this base is as professional as one could hope for. As I continue to wind down my holdings.
    Michael Z.,
    Hawthorne, NY
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search