Rare Books Blog

November 7, 2011

The Yale Law Library’s online catalog, MORRIS, now provides an easy, automated way to learn about our recent rare book collections. You can subscribe to an RSS feed, “New Additions to Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection,” by adding this link, http://morris.law.yale.edu/feeds/rarebooks.xml, to your favorite RSS feed reader, such as Google Reader or Live Bookmarks. A list of all the available RSS feeds from MORRIS can be found here.

The feed reports the most recently cataloged rare book acquisitions, such as Clarence Darrow’s The Skeleton in the Closet (Riverside, Conn.: F.C. Bursch, 1914). We purchased this little booklet from Meyer Boswell Books, who described it as “The first separate issuance of the first of Darrow’s ‘two major attempts at literature’, long to underpin his philosophical view of life as ‘a never-ending school [teaching us] to turn from [its] … dire defeats to the mastery of ourselves’.”

Thanks to Mary Jane Kelsey, our Associate Librarian for Technical Services, for making this possible.

Rare Book Librarian

November 2, 2011

The Law Library is always delighted when research on materials in our collection is published. An entire monograph on a single one of our manuscripts is a rare privilege and honor.

Such an honor has been bestowed on us by Rosemarie McGerr. Her latest book, A Lancastrian Mirror for Princes: The Yale Law School New Statutes of England (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), is an in-depth study of one our most important medieval manuscripts, the Nova Statuta Angliae (ca. 1450s-1470s). In the course of her study, McGerr rejects the previous description of the manuscript as a wedding gift from King Henry VI of England to his consort Margaret of Anjou. Instead, she argues that it was commissioned by Queen Margaret for their son, Edward the Prince of Wales. As described by the publisher:

This seminal study addresses one of the most beautifully decorated 15th-century copies of the New Statutes of England, uncovering how the manuscript’s unique interweaving of legal, religious, and literary discourses frames the reader’s perception of the work. Taking internal and external evidence into account, Rosemarie McGerr suggests that the manuscript was made for Prince Edward of Lancaster, transforming a legal reference work into a book of instruction in kingship, as well as a means of celebrating the Lancastrians’ rightful claim to the English throne during the Wars of the Roses. A Lancastrian Mirror for Princes also explores the role played by the manuscript as a commentary on royal justice and grace for its later owners and offers modern readers a fascinating example of the long-lasting influence of medieval manuscripts on subsequent readers.

Rosemarie McGerr is Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Medieval Studies Institute at Indiana University.

More information on the book is available from the Indiana University Press website.

Rare Book Librarian

October 28, 2011


Our current exhibit, “The Remarkable Run of a Political Icon: Justice as a Sign of the Law”, is now available online. Up to now, you’ve been able to view the Rare Book Collection’s exhibits online via this blog. While the blog has been a great way to provide access to our exhibits, it has a problem as well: since the exhibits are posted to the blog in installments, the viewer sees them in reverse order.

The new stand-alone exhibit allows the viewer to see the exhibit in its original intended order. In addition, the “Contents” links on the left side of the screen enables the viewer to skip around the exhibit.

A big thank-you to Jason Eiseman, our Librarian for Emerging Technologies, who built the new stand-alone exhibit site.

In the next several weeks, we will add online versions of all the exhibits that have appeared on the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog. I will continue to post our future exhibits to the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog, but now the same exhibits will also be available on their own websites, where the viewer can see them as they were intended to be seen.

For those of you, my readers, who can visit our exhibits physically, there’s nothing like the real thing. I’m a huge fan of digital access, but it remains virtually impossible to communicate the size, scale, and dimensionality of the objects on display. Please come visit!


Rare Book Librarian




October 21, 2011

The latest addition to the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr galleries is a set dedicated to bookplates. The Bookplates set is a project of Drew Adan, Library Services Assistant in our Collections & Access department. He will be adding more images of bookplates in the coming weeks and months.

The set includes bookplates of the famous, such as the bookplate of Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780), author of Commentaries of the Laws of England, the most influential book in the history of Anglo-American common law. His bookplate is in a copy of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (4th ed.; London 1700), which we recently acquired for our Blackstone Collection:

We will also seek help in identifying bookplates, such as this colorful one found in the Summa aurea of Hostiensis (Lyon 1556):

Rare Book Librarian

October 10, 2011

One of my favorite recent acquisitions is a tiny pocket edition of Justinian’s Institutes, printed in 1510 by Jean Petit. It measures only 3.375 inches tall (9.5 centimetres). Our copy is bound in gilt tooled vellum over pasteboards, with much of the gold gilt rubbed off. The flyleaf bears an early owner’s inscription: “Ad usum Innocensi de Rosso”, and there are handwritten marginal notes throughout.

The Institutes is perhaps the most long-lived student textbook in history, used by students of Roman law for well over a millenium. It was originally promulgated as the authorized textbook of Roman law by the emperor Justinian in 533 A.D., and was still being used by law students in the 18th century.

To fit the Institutes in a pocket format, the publisher of the 1510 edition stripped away the medieval gloss that usually surrounded Justinian’s text. The full title, Institutio[n]es imperiales : sine [qui]bus legum humanarum sacrorum[que] canonum amator mancus est, could be roughly translated as “The Imperial Institutes, a book no law student should be without.”

At the foot of the title page are three maxims. “Cum bonis ambula” (“Keep company with good people”) is from Cato.  “Mors peccatorum pessima” (“The death of sinners is hard”) is from Psalms 34:21. “Sic utere tuo ut alieno non egeas” means something along the lines of “Do not steal.” These maxims also appeared on the title pages of other books printed in Paris in the early 16th century. Were they intended for the student’s moral edification, or perhaps to discourage book thieves? [Thanks to Susan Karpuk, the Law Library’s head cataloger, for help with the Latin translations.]

This is a very rare little book. The only other copy I could locate is at the Austrian National Library.

It is also, possibly, the earliest pocket edition of the Institutes. If someone can cite an earlier example, please let me know.

Rare Book Librarian

September 24, 2011

The image of Justice, a remnant of the Renaissance, has had a remarkable run as a political icon. We can all “read” Justice because we have been taught to do so by political leaders of every stripe. Courthouse designers, artists, and cartoonists remain confident that a woman with scales and sword will be recognized as Justice, and not as a misplaced Roman deity or a warrior princess.

This exhibit, drawn from the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection, the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms (Yale University Press, 2011) by Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis, traces the roots of Justice iconography in books published in Europe between 1497 and 1788. Through these prints, we account for Justice’s visual accessibility, making her image a part of today’s popular knowledge when other European images of Virtues (and Vices), that were once as familiar as Justice, are lost to contemporary view.

The Justices depicted in Renaissance Europe had a diverse set of attributes – cornucopias, fasces (or lictor rods), orbs and globes, books and tablets, and an odd lot of animals and birds, including dogs, snakes, ostriches, and cranes. Over time, as this exhibit documents, the depiction of Justice stabilized around a woman with scales and sword.

As this exhibit also details, pictorial representations aimed to denote something of the complex relationship between judgment, sight, knowledge, and wisdom. In the 1400s and 1500s, a blindfold on Justice signified her disability; today the blindfold is commonly valorized as both a sign of law’s particular obligation to reason within confined parameters and of justice’s impartiality and disinterest.


Image: Cesare Ripa, Iconologie (Paris: Mathieu Guillemot, 1644), Lillian Goldman Law Library.


“The Remarkable Run of a Political Icon: Justice as a Sign of the Law” is curated by Judith Resnik, Dennis Curtis, Allison Tait, and Mike Widener, and is on display Sept. 19-Dec. 16, 2011, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.


September 24, 2011

The first image, known as “The Fool Blindfolding Justice” from Sebastian Brant’s Ship of Fools, comes from the 1497 Basel edition and is sometimes attributed to Albrecht Dürer. The 1509 London edition offers a close copy. The woodcut was one of a hundred illustrations for this popular book, subsequently printed in many languages.

The scene is one of the earliest known to show a Justice with covered eyes. The deployment is derisive, evident not only from the fool but from the chapter that the illustration accompanied, which was entitled “Quarreling and Going to Court.” Brant, a noted lawyer and law professor, prefaced the book with a warning against “folly, blindness, error, and stupidity of all stations and kinds of men.” The 1572 version is all the more insistently negative; in this rendition, the fool has pushed Justice off her throne as he covers her eyes.

Brant, Sebastian. Stultifera navis (Basel: Johann Bergmann, de Olpe, 1497). Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Brant, Sebastian. This present boke named the shyp of folys of the worlde (London: Richard Pynson, 1509). Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Brant, Sebastian. Stultifera navis mortalium (Basel: Sebastian Henricpetri, 1572). Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.


“The Remarkable Run of a Political Icon: Justice as a Sign of the Law” is curated by Judith Resnik, Dennis Curtis, Allison Tait, and Mike Widener, and is on display Sept. 19-Dec. 16, 2011, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.



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