Rare Books Blog

Russian Blackstone 1781
February 16, 2016

The Rare Book Collection’s Slavic holdings are now described in “Slavic, East European and Central Asian Libguide: Law Library”, courtesy of the Yale University Library Slavic & East European Collection. The guide includes a downloadable list of our Slavic law books, which include 24 Russian titles, seven Czech, five Hungarian, four Polish, and one Slovenian. Chief among these is the 232-volume Polnoe sobranie zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii (Complete Collected Laws of the Russian Empire) (1839-1916). Our most recent Slavic acquisition is volume 2 of the 3-volume Russian translation of Blackstone’s Commentaries (1780-1782), pictured here.

A big thanks to my colleague Agnieszka Rec, PhD candidate in Yale’s Department of History, for compiling and publishing this guide.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Portrait of Cinque
February 10, 2016

The Lillian Goldman Law Library is proud to join with the Yale Black Law Students Association in remembering the most famous event in New Haven’s history, the Amistad case. In 1839 a group of Africans liberated themselves from the Spanish slave ship Amistad, and their abolitionist lawyers then defeated efforts to return them to slavery.

An open house in the Rare Book Room, at 6pm on February 10, will feature many of the library’s primary primary sources on the Amistad case, including contemporary newspaper accounts and the notebooks used by Roger Sherman Baldwin to prepare his arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. The Amistad, 40 U.S. 518 (1840) (see below).

For those who can’t attend the open house, an album on the Law Library’s Flickr site, “The Amistad Case,” has images from the Law Library’s Amistad collection.

Following the open house, there will be a screening at 6:30pm of Stephen Spielberg’s 1997 film, Amistad, in Room 120, Yale Law School. Please join the Yale Black Law Students Association and the Law Library for this Black History Month event.

Here are a few online resources on the Amistad case:

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Source: Roger Sherman Baldwin (1793-1863). Notebooks relating to the Amistad trial, [1840].

February 8, 2016

Modern academic dissertations are typically rather dull visually, consisting almost entirely of typescript. In early modern Europe, however, dissertations could be quite ornate. The Rare Book Collection recently acquired one of these, a 1692 dissertation from the University of Innsbruck with a lovely portrait of the young emperor Joseph I of the Holy Roman Empire (1678-1711), shown below. The presence of the portrait suggests that the emperor or his representative may have attended the formal defense of the dissertation. The portrait is framed by allegorical figures: on the left, Religion is trampling down Heresy, while on the right Justice beheads a Turk. The artist, Bartholomäus Kilian, came from a family of German engravers.

The dissertation, Manipulus decimarum, sive, Quaestiones X. canonicae et plures controversiae de decimis (Innsbruck: Benedict Carol Reisacher, 1692), is by Kaspar Ignaz von Künigl (1671-1747), later a notable bishop of Brixen, a city in the Italian Alps to the south of Innsbruck. The dissertation is a methodical legal analysis of controversies surrounding tithes.

Thanks to Leo Cadogan Rare Books, whose detailed and learned description provided most of the details given here.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Portrait of Emperor Joseph I, Holy Roman Empire

Free Mooney! Labor's Champion
February 1, 2016

A hundred years ago, a bomb explosion was the pretext that San Francisco authorities needed to prosecute the militant left-wing labor organizer Tom Mooney on trumped-up murder charges. Mooney’s false conviction set off a 22-year campaign for his exoneration. The Yale Law Library, with a collection of over 150 items on the Mooney case, has mounted an exhibition marking the centennial of Mooney’s arrest.

“Free Tom Mooney! The Yale Law Library’s Tom Mooney Collection” is on display through May 27. The exhibition was curated by Lorne Bair and Hélène Golay of Lorne Bair Rare Books, and Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian at the Yale Law Library.

The campaign to free Tom Mooney created an enormous number of print and visual materials, including legal briefs, books, pamphlets, movies, flyers, stamps, poetry, and music. It enlisted the support of such figures as James Cagney, Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, and George Bernard Shaw. It made Mooney, for a brief time, one of the world’s most famous Americans. The Law Library’s collection is a rich resource for studying the Mooney case, the American Left in the interwar years, and the emergence of modern media campaigns.

The exhibition is on display February 1 - May 27, 2016, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, located on Level L2 of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School (127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT). Images of of many of the exhibit items can be viewed in the Law Library’s Flickr site.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


Lion of St. Mark
January 13, 2016

Cataloging is now complete on a significant addition to our Italian statute collection: two bound volumes containing 204 Venetian “Parte Presas”, dating from 1574 to 1655. A “parte presa” is an individual decree issued by the Council of Ten, the Senate (Pregadi), or other legislative body of the Republic of Venice. All of the decrees in these volumes have individual records in our online catalog, MORRIS. Close to half of them are the only copies in WorldCat.

With a couple of rare exceptions, almost all of these decrees bear an image of the Lion of St. Mark (Venice’s patron saint) on their title pages. They are typically brief, consisting of a single folded sheet producing a 4-page leaflet. Lengthier decrees appear in pamphlets of 8, 12, 16, or even 24 pages. A few were published as broadsides. The Venetian government officially promulgated these decrees by posting them in a public place. In many of the leaflets, such as the one shown below, the colophon states the date and place where the decree was posted, in this case “le Scale di San Marco & di Rialto,” the stairs of St. Mark’s Basilica and the Rialto Bridge.


It is unusual to find collections of these decrees in their original bindings, as these are. In the past, some book dealers unfortunately broke such volumes apart to sell the items individually. These two volumes have a high percentage of decrees dealing with criminal law, on topics such as banditry (banditi), dueling, blasphemy, smuggling, and vagrants (vagabondi). One concerns jailhouse snitches. Quite a number are regulations of firearms (archibusi, or arquebuses, and pistoli). Others concern economic regulation including taxation, coinage, cashiers, and debt. Several apply to Venice’s far-flung possessions, such as Verona, Istria, Dalmatia, and Albania.

Aside from their subject matter, the decrees are interesting as examples of job printing in the city known as the printing capital of Europe. The printers include Francesco Rampazetto, an important music publisher. Giovanni Pietro Pinelli is remembered today as a printer of opera librettos. The Pinelli family also published Greek liturgical books for Orthodox churches in the eastern Mediterranean. Their government printing contracts provided a lucrative and steady income.

With the cataloging of these two volumes, our collection now has 272 Venetian parte presas, as well as another 93 from Florence and dozens of broadside decrees from Milan, Turin, Casale Monferrato, Venice, Palermo, Bologna, Rome, Parma, Verona, and Udine.

Thanks to our rare book cataloger, Susan Karpuk.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian
















Anders Winroth
November 6, 2015

The Lillian Goldman Law Library is pleased to host a talk by Professor Anders Winroth on the library’s latest rare book exhibition, “The Pope’s Other Jobs: Judge and Lawgiver.” Winroth, one of the world’s leading experts on medieval law, is the Forst Family Professor of History, Yale University.

The talk will take place on Tuesday, November 10, 12:10pm, in Room 128 of the Sterling Law Building
127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT. Cold drinks and dessert provided; feel free to bring your lunch.

The exhibition, “The Pope’s Other Jobs: Judge and Lawgiver,” is on display through December 15, 2015, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library. It illustrates the Pope’s legal responsibilities throughout history using rare books and a medieval manuscript from the Law Library’s outstanding collection. Michael Widener, the Law Library’s Rare Book Librarian, co-curated the exhibition. A catalog of the collection is available for download here.

The exhibition is one of several Yale library exhibitions featured in a YaleNews article.

Cerro Gordo / Tlahuilco
October 15, 2015

October 15 is the final day in Hispanic Heritage Month. The final installment in our Hispanic Heritage Month series is on two fascinating manuscripts from Mexico, which we acquired this month. One of the manuscripts is an investigation of a land deal in 1589, and the other is a lawsuit from from 1777-1782, filed by Indian villagers.

While separated in time by two centuries, the lands in question are only a mile apart. They are located on the northeastern fringe of modern-day Mexico City, on the way to the pyramids of Teotihuacán. In addition, both have simple hand-drawn maps with features suggesting they were drawn by the area’s original Nahua inhabitants.

The 1589 manuscript collects from an investigation ordered by the Viceroy of New Spain, Álvaro Manrique de Zúñiga, invoving a claim by Hernando Jaramillo to land in Tepexpan (see map). There are depositions from both Indian and Spanish inhabitants, and a lengthy census of all the land owners in the neighborhood. The map includes Aztec glyphs for maguey and cactus pears, to indicate the agricultural production of Cerro Gordo, “which the Indians call Tlahuilcoc”; see the detail shown here at the upper left. The manuscript ends with a criminal accusation by Jaramillo against a neighbor who attacked him and forcibly ejected him from his home. Spoiler alert: Jaramillo won.

The later manuscript is a petition by the Indian inhabitants of Iztapa (today called Santa Isabel Ixtapan), just to the south of Tepexpan. They sought to recover lands they claimed had been given them by the Jesuits before the Jesuits were expelled from New Spain in 1767. The manuscript includes a wonderfully detailed map, shown below. Note the trail of footprints that indicate the roadway.

My thanks to Salomon Rosenthal of Librería Urbe for his informative descriptions of the manuscripts.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian



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