Continued from page 1

While Washington wanted to preserve his private library — which consisted of 800 to 1,000 books and thousands of letters and other documents — he was unable to finish construction of a separate building at Mount Vernon prior to his death in 1799.

During subsequent decades, Washington’s heirs sold or gave away many of his books and papers, while family friends and other visitors to Mount Vernon essentially plundered the estate for souvenirs.

Jared Sparks, a Harvard historian who published the 12 volumes of “The Writings of George Washington” between 1833 and 1839, famously “borrowed” and later gave away hundreds of Washington’s documents to politicians and influential people.

“There were different ideas about preservation and what was important in the 19th century,” said Mary Thompson, a Mount Vernon historian. “It was pretty important to have a little piece of Washington.

“You would find family members cutting up pieces of Washington’s hair and giving to each other. Or pieces of Martha Washington’s dress. We still get back pieces of Washington’s original coffin.”

The book containing Washington’s copy of the Constitution remained at Mount Vernon until 1876, when the son of Bushrod Washington sold it at auction along with about 100 other items.

The book was sold again in 1892 for $1,150, and is believed by Christie’s to have later belonged to newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst.

Ms. Bookout said that the book would be the centerpiece of a collection — currently containing 47 books and 450 documents that belonged to Washington — housed at the new Mount Vernon presidential library, a $100 million project currently under construction.

The Mount Vernon Ladies‘ Association, a private non-profit organization that operates Mount Vernon, purchased the estate from the Washington family in 1858.

“When Martha Washington died, most of the loose stuff here — including the furnishings in the house — pretty much all went,” Ms. Thompson said. “By the time the Mount Vernon Ladies‘ Association took possession, only a handful of things that actually belonged to George Washington were still here.”

Ms. Thompson said that a sketch of the Bastille given to Washington by Lafayette that once hung in the central passage of Mount Vernon’s main hall went missing for nearly 100 years until being returned in the 1980s.

“It had been found in a trailer in Connecticut when someone died,” she said. “That happened all the time, things being sold or divided among various people. It’s been quite a challenge to bring things back.”