Rare Books Blog

April 4, 2013

Michael von der Linn’s March 27 talk, “From Litchfield to Yale: Footnotes to the Exhibit,” is now available online in the Lillian Goldman Law Library’s Vimeo channel. Von der Linn, Manager of the Antiquarian Book Department at The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., is guest curator of the Yale Law Library’s current exhibition, “From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843.”

In his talk, von der Linn focused on three documents relating to the early history of the New Haven Law School, which eventually became the Yale Law School. One is an Aug. 6, 1842 letter from Samuel J. Hitchcock to the Yale Corporation requesting permission for the school to grant the LL.B. degree, which you can view here (the third image).

The second document is a brief article from the Nov. 13, 1824 issue of The Religious Intelligencer, a New Haven newspaper:


“The Law School established in this city, by Seth P. Staples, Esq. will hereafter be conducted by the Hon. David Daggett and S.J. Hitchcock, Esqs. Mr. Staples having removed to the city of New York. From the success of this school, which has been growing in reputation, and increasing in numbers ever since its establishment; – from the well known reputation of the gentlemen who are now at the head of it; and from the many literary and social advantages which may be enjoyed in New Haven, we have no doubt that it will soon be equal, if not superior, to any similar institution in this country.”

The third document, shown below, is a manuscript from the Law Library’s Rare Book collection titled “List of students who have entered the office” [of Staples & Hitchcock from June 11, 1819 to December 26, 1824].


Rare Book Librarian



Litchfield Historical Society
April 4, 2013

Michael von der Linn, lead curator of our current exhibit, “From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782–1843,” will be speaking about the exhibit on April 19 at the Litchfield Historical Society in Litchfield, Connecticut. In his talk, von der Linn will explore how Sir William Blackstone’s seminal Commentaries on the Laws of England provided a syllabus for Judge Tapping Reeve, the founder of the Litchfield Law School. He will also compare examples from Book 1 of the Commentaries with Reeve’s own radical rewriting of that book, The Law of Baron and Femme (1816), and to show how Reeve revised Blackstone for a post-Revolutionary legal community.

The talk is part of the society’s “Lunch and Learn” series. The talk will begin at 12 noon on Friday, April 19, at the Litchfield History Museum, 7 South Street, Litchfield, CT. There is a $5 recommended donation for this program. Those wishing to attend are asked register by calling (860) 567-4501 or emailing .



April 3, 2013

The Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog turns five years old today, a good occasion for marking highlights and saying “thank you.”

Far and away the most popular posting of the last five years is “Holy diploma! Is Batman a Yale Law School alumnus?” (3 Oct. 2010), a byproduct of our exhibit, “Superheroes in Court! Lawyers, Law and Comic Books.” To date, it has been viewed 16,481 times. Thank you, Batman fans!


Coming in at number 2 on our greatest-hits list is “Images of Justice” (22 Dec. 2009), viewed over 3,700 times. Seth Quidichay-Swan put together this mini-exhibit as part of his internship in the Law Library, while he was studying for his master’s in library science from Southern Connecticut State University. Seth is now Faculty Services Reference Librarian at the University of Michigan Law Library. Other popular posts include “Freedom of the Seas: Bibliography” (23 Oct. 2009), compiled by Edward Gordon as part of the exhibit, “Freedom of the Seas, 1609: Grotius and the Emergence of International Law,” with 3,072 views, and “Capturing dealer descriptions in our online catalog” (21 Apr. 2012), with 2,549 views.

The Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog is a collaborative venture. I have been blessed with many outstanding contributors the past five years. They are:

  • William E. Butler
  • Dennis Curtis
  • Edward Gordon
  • Farley P. Katz
  • Seth Quidachay-Swan
  • Judith Resnik
  • Sabrina Sondhi
  • Alison Tait
  • Michael von der Linn
  • Benjamin Yousey-Hindes
  • Mark Zaid
  • Justin Zaremby

A number of colleagues in the blogosphere have kindly drawn attention to the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog over the years. I am a big fan of all of them and heartily recommend them. Thanks to:

Thanks also to my colleague Jason Eiseman, head of Technology Services, for his technical support and advice.

Thanks most of all to you, my readers. I welcome suggestions and comments. You can email me at .


Rare Book Librarian

The image: Woodcut initial from Nicolaus Pragemann, Commentatio iuridica de genuina notione servitutis praediorum urbanorum (Ienae: Heller, 1759).




March 22, 2013

From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843
An exhibition talk
by Michael von der Linn

Connecticut gave birth to the earliest American law schools, one of which lives on today as the Yale Law School. A March 27 talk at the Yale Law School will delve into the school’s origins.

The speaker, Michael von der Linn, is guest curator of the Yale Law Library’s current exhibition, “From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843.” Since 2001, von der Linn has been Manager of the Antiquarian Book Department at The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., one of the world’s leading dealers in antiquarian law books. He holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Columbia University. Von der Linn has an ongoing interest in the history of American legal education. The Summer 2010 issue of The Green Bag included his article, “Harvard Law School’s Promotional Literature, 1829-1848.”

The talk, entitled “From Litchfield to Yale: Footnotes to the Exhibit,” takes place at 2pm on Wednesday, March 27, in Room 122 of the Sterling Law Building (127 Wall Street) on the Yale University campus. The talk is free and open to the public.

The exhibition is open to the public, 9am-10pm daily through May 31, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery of the Lillian Goldman Law Library. It was curated by Michael von der Linn and Mike Widener, the Law Library’s Rare Book Librarian. It can also be viewed online here in the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog.

March 4, 2013

The Legal History and Rare Books Special Interest Section (LHRB-SIS) of the American Association of Law Libraries, in cooperation with Cengage Learning, announces the Fourth annual Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition.

The competition is named in honor of Morris L. Cohen, late Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law School. Professor Cohen was a leading scholar in the fields of legal research, rare books, and historical bibliography.

The purpose of the competition is to encourage scholarship in the areas of legal history, rare law books, and legal archives, and to acquaint students with the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and law librarianship.

Eligibility: Students currently enrolled in accredited graduate programs in library science, law, history, or related fields are eligible to enter the competition. Both full- and part-time students are eligible. Membership in AALL is not required.

Requirements: Essays may be on any topic related to legal history, rare law books, or legal archives. The entry form and instructions are available at the LH&RB website: http://www.aallnet.org/sis/lhrb/. Entries must be submitted by 11:59 p.m., April 1, 2013.

Awards: The winner will receive a $500.00 prize from Cengage Learning and up to $1,000 for expenses associated with attendance at the AALL Annual Meeting. The runner-up will have the opportunity to publish the second-place essay in LH&RB’s online scholarly journal Unbound: An Annual Review of Legal History and Rare Books.

Please direct questions to Robert Mead at or Maguerite Most at .

February 18, 2013

The news of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation brings to mind an image from our rare book collection that illustrates a previous papal resignation, that of Pope Celestine V. Celestine appears together with his successor, Boniface VIII, in an image at the opening of a 1514 edition of the Liber Sextus: Sextus decretalium liber a Bonifacio. viij. in concilio Lugdunensi editus (Venice: Luca Antonio Giunta, 1514). The Liber Sextus formed part of the Corpus Juris Canonici ("The Body of Canon  Law") that served as the foundation of canon law in the Catholic Church from the Middle Ages until 1917. 

It is unsurprising to find images of Boniface VIII at the opening of the Liber Sextus, since he is the pope who ordered its compilation. It is surprising to find such unflattering images. The woodcut depicts two scenes from Boniface's life.

In the foreground, Boniface embraces a fox who pulls the papal tiara from the head of his predecessor, Celestine V. A dove over Celestine's head symbolizes the Holy Spirit conferring its blessing upon Celestine. In essence, the image repeats the accusation that Boniface tricked the saintly Celestine into resigning.

Celestine V had been a monk renowned for his piety and asceticism, who founded a strict branch of the Benedictines. A divided College of Cardinals elected him in July 1294 after having failed for over two years to elect one of their own. The new pope accepted his election reluctantly, and soon concluded that he was unfit and unwilling to continue to serve as pope. Some sources say Celestine's decision to resign was his alone, while others say Cardinal Benedetto Gaetani, the future Boniface VIII, goaded and tricked him into resigning. All agree that Boniface drafted the papal constitution authorizing a pope's resignation. Boniface was elected pope immediately afterward, in December 1294. Celestine tried to return to a hermit's life, but he died as Boniface's prisoner in 1296. Celestine was canonized in 1313.

Interestingly, Pope Benedict XVI visited Celestine's remains in 2009, after they had survived the L'Aquila earthquake (see photos here). He proclaimed the Celestine Year from 28 August 2009 to 28 August 2010, to mark the 800th anniversary of Celestine's birth.

On the right of the image shown here is a scene from the end of Boniface VIII's papacy, in 1303. He was taken prisoner by the powerful Colonna clan of Rome, with whom Boniface carried on a bitter and bloody feud. The Colonnas and their ally, King Philip IV of France, demanded Boniface's resignation, to which Boniface replied that he would "sooner die." His wish was granted a few days later. It was Philip IV who later nominated Celestine V for sainthood.

Both Boniface and Celestine make appearances in Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. Dante places Boniface in the eighth circle of Hell, reserved for those guilty of simony. Dante's exile from Florence was a direct result of Boniface VIII's political machinations, and Boniface was "Dante's most reviled theological, political, and personal enemy" (Danteworlds website, University of Texas at Austin). Celestine V is believed to be the coward beside the gate of Hell who made "the great refusal" by abdicating the papacy and paving the way for Boniface's election as pope.

For citations to scholarly writings on papal resignations in the Middle Ages, see "The first papal abdication since six centuries", a posting in the excellent Rechtsgeschiedenis Blog, "Legal history with a Dutch view." The Wikipedia articles on Celestine V and Boniface VIII provide additional details and links to additional sources.

-- MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


February 9, 2013

Until the end of the nineteenth century most students prepared for the bar through an apprenticeship or self-study. These methods were often criticized by elite lawyers, who believed legal education would be more rigorous and thorough if it was taught in a classroom. By the late-eighteenth century a few colleges offered law lectures, beginning in 1779 with the College of William and Mary, but these lectures were designed not to train lawyers, but rather to educate future political leaders and businessmen.

Vocational legal education in America began with Tapping Reeve’s establishment of the Litchfield Law School in 1784. The success of Reeve’s program, and its perceived value, inspired the establishment of three other schools in Connecticut: Seth Staples’s in New Haven, Zephaniah Swift’s in Windham, and Sylvester Gilbert’s in Hebron.

Into the second decade of the nineteenth century Connecticut had more law schools than any other state in the union. Their proprietors had similar backgrounds. Born into comfortable circumstances, they were mostly graduates of Yale College, who became some of Connecticut’s leading attorneys. Their ability at the bar brought them wealth, fame, and high social status. They tended to be politically and socially conservative. Civic-minded and active in politics, they were involved in public service as legislators, judges, and local officials.

(1) Litchfield Law School. Years of operation: 1782-1833. Proprietor: Tapping Reeve, 1782-1820, James Gould, 1820-1833. Instructor: James Gould, 1798-1820. Number of students: 1,000+. (2) New Haven Law School. Years of operation: c.1800-1826. Proprietor: Seth Staples, c.1800-1824, Samuel Hitchcock, 1824-1826. Instructor: Samuel Hitchcock, 1820-1824, David Daggett, 1824-1826. Number of students: 67+ (lists of students prior to 1819 are unknown). (3) Gilbert’s Law School, Hebron. Years of operation: 1810-1818. Proprietor: Sylvester Gilbert. Number of students: 56. (4) Swift’s Law School, Windham. Years of operation: 1805-1823. Proprietor: Zephaniah Swift. Number of students: 12+ (records incomplete).

– Notes by Michael von der Linn

Map: Amos Doolittle & Mathew Carey, “Connecticut From the Best Authorities,” in The general atlas for Carey’s edition of Guthrie’s Geography improved (Philadelphia: Mathew Carey, 1795). Courtesy Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

“From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843,” curated by Michael von der Linn and Michael Widener, is on display through May 30, 2013, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.


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