Rare Books Blog

Stephan Kuttner (1907-1996)
May 20, 2015

The Lillian Goldman Law Library joins with the Stephan Kuttner Institute of Medieval Canon Law in celebrating the return of its library to Yale University this week. The grand opening is part of an international conference, “Rem non novam nec insolitam aggredimur.”

In conjunction with the grand opening, the Law Library is pleased to launch its “Guide to Using the Stephan Kuttner Institute of Medieval Canon Law Library.” The guide was prepared by our 2015 Rare Book Fellow, Anna Franz.

The “Guide” gives an overview of the collection and its history, and then describes each of its components. The most significant of these is the collection of over 700 microfilm, microfiche, and photocopy reproductions of medieval canon law manuscripts. In one location researchers can consult manuscripts from libraries scattered across Europe and North America. The Kuttner Institute’s book collection of over 2200 volumes is a valuable reference tool for those using the manuscripts and for anyone studying the history of canon law (browse the collection via this link). The collection also contains over 15,000 offprints of journal articles, many of which are still not available online and which constitute an extensive repository of scholarship.

The “Guide” also directs researchers to the Law Library’s own extensive collections on canon law, including current scholarly monographs and the Rare Book Collection’s rich canon law holdings.

The Law Library is delighted to take custody of the Kuttner Institute’s library and looks forward to assisting its users. If the “Guide” doesn’t answer all your questions, ask one of us!

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Handbuch aller unter der Regierung des Kaisers Joseph des II, volume 15 (1789)
May 14, 2015

In my search for law books with illustrations, I have never come across botanical illustrations until now. The plant depicted here is belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade. The leaves and berries are highly toxic, although the plant is also used in a wide variety of medicines.

The illustration is found in volume 15 of the Handbuch aller unter der Regierung des Kaisers Joseph des II. für die K.K. Erbländer ergangenen Verordnungen und Gesetz in einer sistematischen Verbindung (Vienna: J.G. Moesle, 1785-1790), an 18-volume compilation of the legislation of Emperor Joseph II of Austria (1741-1790), the brother of Marie Antoinette. The illustration is for a law that required teachers to warn their students about belladonna and other dangerous plants, following a number of deadly incidents. It gives instructions on how to identify belladonna, and describes the symptoms of belladonna poisoning. It is part of a set of public health regulations. (Thanks to Otto Vervaart and Mark Weiner for translation help.)

The Handbuch contains the enormous legislative output of the reform-minded Joseph II. He freed the serfs, abolished the death penalty, ended press censorship, instituted religious toleration, and reformed public administration, among other things. Many of his reforms were rolled back after his death. All 18 volumes are available online, courtesy of the National Library of Austria.

One unusual and attractive feature of the Handbuch is that each of the 18 volumes has a different allegorical frontispiece and engraved border on the title page. You can view all of the frontispieces in an album on our Flickr site. Below is the frontispiece of the last volume, volume 18, published in the year that Joseph II died. It shows a soldier mourning his leader’s death.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Statuta terrae Bassani marchionatus (1615)
May 3, 2015

The Yale Law Library’s collection of early Italian statutes is the largest outside of Italy. One of its strengths is its manuscripts. A list of them, “Manuscripts in the Italian Statute Collection, Yale Law Library,” is now available in the Yale Law Special Collections section of the Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository.

The list is arranged alphabetically by jurisdiction (usually a city or town). It gives descriptions of 74 manuscripts. Most of them are municipal statutes that govern both civil and criminal matters. A few contain the statutes of guilds (pharmacists of Naples), or statutes covering specific subject areas such as criminal law (Bregaglia Valley), commercial law (Città di Castello, Florence, Montefortino), fishing (Perugia), tariffs (Bologna), or agriculture (Tivoli). They date mainly from the 15th to 18th centuries.

One example is shown at left: the 1615 compilation of the statutes of Bassano del Grappa, a city in northwest Italy that was part of the Republic of Venice for much of its history. Ernest Hemingway lived in Bassano while he was driving an ambulance in World War I.

The list also includes 24 print titles because they contain significant additions in manuscript. Printed editions of municipal statutes were expensive to publish and had a limited market, so only the most important and populous cities, such as Milan and Venice, published frequent updated editions. For printed statutes in other cities, it was easier and less expensive to update the copies in manuscript. Below is one example from Novara, Statuta civitatis Novariae (1719). From a book history perspective, these volumes are interesting because they straddle the boundary between manuscript and print.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian



We accuse : Bill Epton speaks to the court (front cover)
April 21, 2015

…50 years ago.

NEW YORK - Bill Epton stood before the court at his sentencing hearing and delivered the fiery speech “We accuse.” In it Epton, a community organizer, accused the government of violating his First Amendment rights and of committing crimes against humanity both at home and abroad. His political party published the speech a few days later and we recently acquired a copy.

Initially indicted by a grand jury for criminal anarchy, Epton was later convicted of “advocating” criminal anarchy and sentenced to a year in prison for every twelve counts found against him. This all happened because he and his lawyer led a protest march in defiance of a city-wide ban on demonstrations.

Why the protest? On July 16, 1964, an off-duty white police officer had shot and killed a 15-year old African-American boy in Harlem.

- ANNA FRANZ, Rare Book Fellow

Blackstone's Analysis of the Laws of England (1821)
April 13, 2015

“Blackstone’s Commentaries: A Work of Art?”

An exhibition talk by

Cristina S. Martinez, PhD

University of Ottawa


Friday, April 17, 2015


Room 122, Yale Law School

127 Wall Street, New Haven CT


A legal treatise as a work of art? Very few people would confuse the two, yet William Blackstone wrote about architecture before turning to law, and may have brought his orderly artist’s eye to bear in organizing the law in his landmark Commentaries on the Laws of England, an 18th-century bestseller and the most influential book in the history of Anglo-American law.

The Yale Law Library will host a talk by Dr. Cristina S. Martinez entitled “Blackstone’s Commentaries: A Work of Art?” in conjunction with the exhibition, “250 Years of Blackstone’s Commentaries.” Her talk will be accompanied by Mark Weiner’s video, “Blackstone Goes Hollywood,” which includes interviews with Mike Widener and Wilfrid Prest, co-curators of the exhibition.

The talk will take place Friday, April 17, in Room 122 of Yale Law School, 127 Wall Street, at 11am. It is free and open to the public.

Martinez received a PhD in Art History and Law from Birkbeck College, University of London. She is an Adjunct Professor at the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa and a Faculty Member of the International Summer Institute for the Cultural Study of Law at the University of Osnabrück in Germany. She is the author of the forthcoming book Art, Law, and Order: The Legal Life of Artists in Eighteenth-century Britain (Manchester University Press) and contributed “Blackstone as Draughtsman: Picturing the Law” to the collection edited by Wilfrid Prest, Re-Interpreting Blackstone’s Commentaries (2014).

The exhibit “250 Years of Blackstone’s Commentaries” is on display through June 2, 2015, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, located on Level L2 of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School. The exhibition will then travel to London, where it will be on view September through November 2015 at the library of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, and then on to Sir John Salmond Law Library, University of Adelaide, December 2015 to February.

The exhibit can also be viewed in the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


Hic iacet lepus, rabbit drawn in the margins of a canon law text.
March 27, 2015

Part of the fun in dealing with older materials is coming across the occasional doodle or illustration added to the margins. This charming little creature comes from Decisiones antiquae et novae Rotae romanae (Old and new decisions of the Roman Rota), edited by Wilhelm Horboch sometime in the late 14th century, though our edition was printed around 1477.

The inspiration for the rabbit comes from the text directly to the right of the picture “…vbi iacet lepus…” (where the rabbit lies), and the annotator helpfully captioned his work at the bottom of the page with “Hic jacet lepus” (here lies the rabbit). Now, this particular rabbit is lying in the middle of a piece of canon law about privileges and confused jurisdictions, which begs the question – why the rabbit? Well, if the results of searching on Google can be trusted, “hic iacet lepus” is a colloquialism for “here’s the solution.”

Who knew rabbits were so handy?

- ANNA FRANZ, Rare Book Fellow

Page from a notebook belonging to Stephan Kuttner, listing variant readings in texts of the Council of Trent.
March 16, 2015

Among the Kuttner Institute materials recently deposited here are two pieces indicative of the work the Institute continues to support – creating editions of Medieval Canon Law.

The first picture, a page from a notebook used by Stephan Kuttner, shows his notes on variant readings found in texts of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), and they occupy the top half of the page. The bottom half has his thoughts regarding which of the texts he consulted served as the source for the other texts, visually expressed by the tree in the bottom right corner of the page.

Some of a page of variant readings of texts of Pseudo-Isidore

This second picture demonstrates another method of tracking variant readings. A scholar working on Pseudo-Isidore used sheets of graph paper (taped together to form pages of over three-and-a-half feet in length) to list changes between manuscripts line by line. Painstaking labor with a rather cumbersome physical result, but still a good way to see copy errors and textual corruption at work.

- ANNA FRANZ, Rare Book Fellow


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