Rare Books Blog

March 12, 2012

The post-Soviet era of Russian history has made the legacy of the pre-1917 era newly relevant in ways unimaginable. It is not merely a country recovering historical experience suppressed or distorted for ideological reasons during the Soviet regime, but a country seeking to modernize partly on the basis of its earlier legal legacy. A transition to the legal foundations of a market economy is happening before our eyes in Russia, partly an adaptation of foreign legal experience and institutions, partly the preservation and re-adaptation of those elements of Russian legal experience that are essential in the twenty-first century, partly the pioneering of new legal approaches to achieve a transition that is without precedent in human experience.

This exhibition contains principal landmarks of the pre-1917 era, drawing upon the riches of Yale University and augmented by a loans from the Harvard Law School Library and a private collection. So far as we can determine, this is the first occasion in the United States that an exhibition has been mounted on this topic. Wonderful exhibitions devoted to Russian relations with the west or to elements of Russian history generally have omitted law and the legal system.

The notes which follow situate each book in the fabric of Russian legal history. As a general observation, it may be observed that the systematization of legislation is among the larger contributions that Russian law has made to civilization. The story of that contribution is well told by the materials here.

In accordance with normal Russian practice, the relevant titles and other data are provided in Library of Congress transliteration, short form.

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

March 12, 2012

Iaroslav I (c. 978-1054), Russkaia Pravda. [Bound with:] Ivan IV, the Terrible (1530-1584), Note on the Sudebnik of Tsar Ivan Vasil’evich. Russia, 18th century manuscript. Private Collection

Virtually all surviving documents from the Kievan period of early Russian and Ukrainian history are legal texts of one kind or another. The earliest are peace treaties concluded between Kievan Rus and Byzantium in or about 907, 911, 944, and 971. The supposition is compelling that the Slavic peoples inhabiting the lands of what became Kievan Rus had rules for interpersonal and interclan or intertribal behavior long before Kievan princes consolidated their authority.

The Russkaia Pravda (also known as Lex Russica) is the earliest surviving compilation of Russian laws. Whether it is a creative codification or a reduction of customary law to written form continues to be debated. So too does the extent to which the substance of the Russkaia Pravda, which contains striking parallels with aspects of Frankish and Anglo-Saxon law, was the result of mutual influence or an independent development.

No contemporary versions of the Russkaia Pravda survive; there are only three texts prior to the fifteenth century and ninety-two texts dating from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The traditional approach is to consider that there exist three versions of a single law (Russkaia Pravda, Expanded Pravda Russkaia, and Short Pravda Russkaia), but it is conceivable that each version may comprise an autonomous enactment. The initial version, believed to date from the reign of Iaroslav the Wise, began with the rules of blood feud, which the Expanded version relates was abolished by Iaroslav’s sons and replaced by a system of monetary compositions. Matters addressed were stealing, interest, custody of property, suits for money, shipwreck, beekeeping, succession, oaths, slavery, and ownership. The versions suggest that the Prince’s court played a minor role in prosecution and litigation. The system relied upon party initiative; there were no permanent judges, merely officials who presided over proceedings. There was no appeal, no systems of courts, no legal profession, no legal commentaries. Nor can we be certain of the territorial jurisdiction of the Russkaia Pravda.

In the manuscript exhibited here the Russkaia Pravda is accompanied by commentary on what has been called the first national Russian law code, the Sudebnik of 1497, here represented by an expanded and polished version from 1550. The Sudebniks are essentially manuals of procedure and to some extent of criminal law. The few articles devoted to civil law may reflect the inability of the compilers to consolidate satisfactorily the diversity of local rules. The extent to which the Sudebniks created new rules of procedure or embodied pre-existing patterns is much debated. The evidence of judgment charters prior to 1497 suggests that the transition to a vertical system of justice with a hierarchy of courts and judges was a gradual process rather than an innovation in 1497. The 1550 Sudebnik is known only through forty later copies, of which thirteen are of the sixteenth century. The text was adopted with the participation of the Boyar Duma in 1550 and confirmed by the Stoglav Assembly in 1551. Consisting of 99 or 100 articles, depending upon which copy is consulted, this document had no official title. The 1550 Sudebnik lay the foundations of a Russian administrative system at the central and local levels, reflecting the enhanced stature of the Tsar and the further centralization of power in Russia.

On exhibition is a previously unrecorded 18th-century manuscript of the short version of the Russkaia Pravda and the 1550 Sudebnik, with notes by V.N. Tatishchev (1686-1750), regarded by some as the first proper historian in Russia. He began editing the Russkaia Pravda in 1738, but it was published for the first time in Russia only in 1786, long after his death. Five other manuscript versions of the short version of the Russkaia Pravda are known with Tatishchev notes, all from the eighteenth century and all held by St. Petersburg institutions. The version exhibited here differs from the printed authoritative text in the numbering of clauses and in the precise text of the Tatishchev notes.

See: W.E. Butler, Russian Law (3d ed. 2009), Chapter 2; D.H. Kaiser, The Growth of Law in Medieval Russia (1980); D.H. Kaiser, The Laws of Rus’: Tenth to Fifteenth Centuries (1992).

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

March 4, 2012

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” the latest exhibit from the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection, is perhaps the first rare book exhibit in the U.S. to focus on the history of Russian law.

The exhibition features principal landmarks in Russia’s pre-1917 legal literature. Among these are the first printed collection of Russian laws, the 1649 Sobornoe ulozhenie, and three versions of the Nakaz, the law code that earned Empress Catherine the Great her reputation.

The exhibit draws on the riches of Yale University libraries, augmented by loans from the Harvard Law School Library and a private collection.

“The post-Soviet era of Russian history has made the legacy of the pre-1917 era newly relevant in ways unimaginable,” writes William E. Butler, one of the exhibit curators. “It is not merely a country recovering historical experience suppressed or distorted for ideological reasons during the Soviet regime, but a country seeking to modernize partly on the basis of its earlier legal legacy.”

Butler is the John Edward Fowler Distinguished Professor of Law and International Affairs at the Dickinson School of Law,  Pennsylvania State University. The exhibit’s co-curator is Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian at the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

Butler is the pre-eminent U.S. authority on the law of the former Soviet Union. He is the author, co-author, editor, or translator of more than 120 books on Soviet, Russian, Ukrainian, and post-Soviet legal systems. He is a member of the Grolier Club, the leading U.S. society for book collectors, and the Organization of Russian Bibliophiles. He is also a leading bookplate collector who has authored several reference works on bookplates.

Widener has been Rare Book Librarian at the Lillian Goldman Law Library since 2006. He is a member of the Grolier Club and a faculty member of the Rare Book School, University of Virginia.

The exhibit is on display through May 25, 2012 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, located on Level L2 of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, 127 Wall Street. The exhibit is open to the public, 9am-10pm daily. The exhibit will also go online via the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog.

For more information, contact Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian, at (203) 432-4494 or .@yale.edu>

February 25, 2012

The latest issue of Law Library Journal is a special issue, “A Tribute to Morris L. Cohen (1927-2010).” Our own Fred Shapiro organized this fitting tribute to our mentor and friend. All of the articles can be downloaded from the LLJ website. – MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Law Library Journal
Volume 104, no. 1 (Winter 2012): A Tribute to Morris L. Cohen (1927-2010).

“Introduction.” Fred R. Shapiro.

“Morris L. Cohen, 1927-2010: A Remembrance and Celebration.” Vincent DiMarco, Kent C. Olson, Balfour Halévy, Lika Miyake, Mary Jane Kelsey, Sharon Hamby O’Connor, & Robert C. Berring.

“In Praise of Morris L. Cohen’s Bibliography of Early American Law.” Daniel A. Cohen.

“Morris L. Cohen: A Reminiscence.” Morris S. Arnold.

“Memories of Morris–and How I Use His BEAL.” Jordan D. Luttrell.

“Morris Cohen and Rare Book School.” David Warrington.

“Morris Cohen and the Art of Book Collecting.” Michael Widener.

“Cornerstones for Enduring Law Libraries: Morris Cohen’s Influence at Yale.” S. Blair Kauffman.

“Birth of a Nutshell: Morris Cohen in the 1960s.” Kent C. Olson.

“The End of Scholarly Bibliography: Reconceptualizing Law Librarianship.” Robert C. Berring.

“Appeals to the Privy Council Before American Independence: An Annotated Digital Catalogue.” Sharon Hamby O’Connor & Mary Sarah Bilder.

“Blackstone and Bibliography: In Memoriam Morris Cohen.” Wilfrid Prest.

“Booksellers in Court: Approaches to the Legal History of Copyright in England Before 1842.” James Raven.

“Practicing Reference … ‘That Most Congenial Lawyer/Bibliographer’.” Mary Whisner.

“Reflections: An Interview with Morris L. Cohen.” Morris L. Cohen & Bonnie Collier.

“Morris L. Cohen: A Bibliography of His Works.” Ryan Harrington & Camilla Tubbs.


February 24, 2012

The Lillian Goldman Law Library was delighted to host a book talk by Rosemarie McGerr on Feburary 24, on her new book, A Lancastrian Mirror for Princes: The Yale Law School New Statutes of England (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011). The book is an in-depth study of a Rare Book Collection showpiece, the Statuta Angliae Nova (ca. 1450s-1470s). A summary of the book is in a previous post.

In her talk McGerr pointed out areas where work remains to be done on the manuscript. In its creation and design, the manuscript shows the influence of Sir John Fortescue (1394?-1476?), chief justice of King’s Bench under Henry VI and author of De laudibus legum Angliae (A Treatise in Commendation of the Laws of England; 1st ed. 1543), an often reprinted treatise that, like our New Statutes manuscript, was prepared to educate Henry VI’s son in the duties of kingship. One of the manuscript’s later owners was Sir Thomas Elyot (1490?-1546), English humanist and author of yet another “mirror of princes,” The Boke Named the Governour (1st ed. 1531). Here’s hoping someone takes the bait and discovers what else this manuscript holds for us.

Our thanks to Rosemarie McGerr for sharing her time and knowledge with us and our guests today.


Rare Book Librarian

Rosemarie McGerr, Professor of Comparative Literature and director of the Medieval Studies Institute at Indiana University, with the Law Library’s Statuta Angliae Nova, which is the subject of her latest book, book, A Lancastrian Mirror for Princes: The Yale Law School New Statutes of England (2011)

January 25, 2012


We have just acquired an early printing of Brazil’s first constitution, Constituição politica do imperio do Brazil (Lisboa: Na impressão de João Nunes Esteves, 1826). Measuring only 10 cm. tall, it still retains its original printed wrappers; a remarkable survival. From the dealer’s description (quoted by permission):

“First edition to appear in Portugal? There are several editions with the same imprint; priority has not been established. Originally published Rio de Janeiro, 1824, this constitution was written in large part by the Emperor D. Pedro I. It served, with some modifications, until the end of the Brazilian Empire in 1889. Similar to the Portuguese Carta Constitucional, the second Portuguese constitution, written and promulgated in Rio de Janeiro in 1826 by D. Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil, in his capacity as D. Pedro IV, King of Portugal, it is no accident that the Brazilian constitution also appeared in Lisbon that year. Though liberal in its day, it was more conservative than the constitution the Brazilians would have had if D. Pedro had not intervened and their constitutional convention had had its way.” – Richard C. Ramer Old & Rare Books (Jan. 2012).

Rare Book Librarian

December 17, 2011

Our 15th-century manuscript of the statutes of Montebuono, Italy, is now available in a full-color facsimile edition, along with a full transcription and three scholarly studies. Lo Statuto di Montebuono in Sabina del 1437 (Rome: Viella Libreria Editrice, 2011) is available for purchase from the publisher’s website. It includes an introductory essay by Mario Ascheri, the leading scholar of Italian statuti, as well as a history of medieval Montebuono by Tersilio Leggio, and a detailed study of the Montebuono statutes by legal historian Sandro Notari. In addition, Alda Spotti of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma provided a transcript of the Latin manuscript.

I was honored to speak at a symposium marking the publication of the volume on November 23 at the Biblioteca del Senato della Repubblica in Rome. Other speakers included Mario Ascheri (Università di Roma 3), Sandro Notari, Sandro Bulgarelli (director, Biblioteca del Senato della Repubblica), Maria Teresa Caciorgna (Università di Roma 3), the Hon. Dario Santori (mayor, Comune di Montebuono), and Yale’s own Professor Anders Winroth. Following is an excerpt from my talk:

My library’s involvement with the Statuto di Montebuono began in 1946. In that year Samuel Thorne was appointed as the head librarian of the Yale Law Library. Thorne was not a librarian by training. He was a legal historian, one of the outstanding historians of medieval English law in the 20th century. However, Thorne had a librarian’s instincts. With the help of a large endowment, he began a ten-year campaign of buying rare books and manuscripts. He put the Yale Law Library into the first rank of historical law collections in the United States.

In his first annual report, for 1946, Thorne wrote: “The outstanding acquisition of the year was the notable collection of Italian statuta, numbering almost nine hundred volumes, purchased from a learned Italian lawyer who had brought it, over a period of fifty years, to its present completeness. It contained fifty-two manuscripts of the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries, nine incunabula, and many sixteenth-century editions.”

With this single purchase, the Yale Law Library acquired what is still the largest collection of Italian statuti in the Americas. Among these nine hundred volumes was the 15th century manuscript of the Statuto di Montebuono.

In 2007, Professor Anders Winroth brought his medieval legal history seminar into our Rare Book Collection. One of his doctoral students, Ms. Oriana Bleecher, chose the Statuto di Montebuono for her research project.

Ms. Bleecher was perhaps the key catalyst in the project that led to the book we are celebrating today. She asked me if the Law Library could acquire a book that the Fondazione Gabriele Berionne had just published, Montebuono e il suo territorio. The Fondazione refused to sell us the book. Instead, Renata Ferraro insisted on donating this beautiful book to my library, on behalf of the Fondazione. As a token of gratitude, I sent Sig.ra Ferraro a copy of Ms. Bleecher’s seminar paper.

Soon after, Sig.ra Ferraro sent me a full-page article from the newspaper, Montebuono Spazio Comune, about our Montebuono manuscript and Ms. Bleecher’s research. In 2008, my library featured the Statuto di Montebuono in the inaugural exhibit in our new exhibit gallery. The title of the exhibit was “The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library.”

At Sig.ra Ferraro’s request, we digitized the Statuto di Montebuono, and then I put her in touch with Mario Ascheri, the world’s leading scholar of early Italian statutes. The result of their collaboration, Lo Statuto di Montebuono in Sabina del 1437 (Rome: Viella Libreria Editrice, 2011) is before us today. The Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, and I are deeply, deeply honored to have played a part in making this publication a reality.

I learned that my Italian colleagues consider the Montebuono statutes to be particularly significant: medieval municipal statutes from the Sabina region are generally rare, and especially such sophisticated statutes from a small rural community.


Rare Book Librarian

Biblioteca del Senato della Repubblica, Rome, 23 Nov. 2011. L-R: Prof. Maria Teresa Caciorgna (Università di Roma 3), Sandro Notari, Prof. Mario Ascheri (Università di Roma 3), Prof. Anders Winroth (Yale University), Mike Widener.


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