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Saurotherinae, color lithograph

This natural history print is believed to be among the items that survived the 1851 fire, which broke out in faulty chimney flues of the Capitol and spread to the Library of Congress. Valued volumes of John James Audubon’s Birds of America were among the books that escaped damage from the smoke and flames.

Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Saurotherinae, color lithograph

Rebuilding the Nation's Library

In 1814 Thomas Jefferson sold Congress his personal library to replace the Library of Congress collection destroyed during the War of 1812 when the British burned the U.S. Capitol. On Christmas Eve 1851, a second fire decimated the library. It consumed approximately 35,000 of the 55,000 volumes, including about two-thirds of Jefferson’s books. In 1852, Congress authorized funds to repair and enlarge the Library and to rebuild the collection. A new, fireproof Library of Congress opened in the Capitol in 1853.