Rare Books Blog

July 8, 2011

A big thanks to all those who helped make the “Law Books: History and Connoisseurship” course that I taught June 13-17 at the Rare Book School such a success. My wife, Emma Molina Widener, was a valuable source for advice and support. Elizabeth Ott, the Rare Book School staffer, handled all the logistics. Thanks most of all to the nine colleagues who took the class and taught their teacher so much.

Thanks also to Special Collections, Arthur J. Morris Law Library, University of Virginia School of Law, for hosting a field trip where the class viewed close to 50 volumes from their splendid rare book collection; and to Michael von der Linn, Manager of the Antiquarian Book Department of Lawbook Exchange, for submitting to an hour and a half of questions from the class about the antiquarian book market.

I will be teaching the class again in the summer of 2013.


Rare Book Librarian


The 2011 “Law Books: History and Connoisseurship” class, Rare Book School, University of Virginia. L-R: Elizabeth Ott (Rare Book School), Julie Griffith Kees (Bounds Law Library, U. of Alabama), Stewart Plein (Farmer Law Library, West Virginia U.), Linda Hocking (Litchfield Historical Society), Marisol Floren (College of Law Library, Florida International U.), Ryan Greenwood (Library & Information Science, Rutgers U.), Mike Widener, Robert Steele (Burns Law Library, George Washington U.), Emma Molina Widener (World Languages, Southern Connecticut State U.), John Kazanjian (Lawbook Exchange), John R. Block (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), Marguerite Most (Goodson Law Library, Duke U.).


June 8, 2011

I prepared the following set of links for the class I'm teaching at the Rare Book School next week, "Law Books: History and Connoisseurship." Colleagues and readers of this blog might find some of them useful or interesting. If you want to know where I spend my time online, here are a few hints...

Online library catalogues

  • WorldCat: Public-access version of the largest union catalogue of library holdings world-wide.
  • KVK - Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog: Meta catalog of over 50 national library catalogs, regional library catalogs, and union catalogs.
  • ESTC - English Short Title Catalogue (British Library): 460,000 items published between 1473 and 1800 mainly, but not exclusively, in English, published
    mainly in the British Isles and North America, from the collections of the British Library and over 2,000 other libraries.
  • Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (British Library): "The international database of 15th-century European printing created by the British Library with contributions from institutions worldwide."
  • Virgo: Online catalog for the University of Virginia Library.
  • MORRIS: Online catalog for the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.
  • Yale University Library

 Resources on Book Terminology

Cataloging Resources

Internet Databases for Rare & Used Books

  • AddALL: Searches 24 online databases of used and rare books in North America and Europe (including ILAB and ABE), with the option of restricting searches to selected databases.
  • ViaLibri: Designed especially for rare & collectible books. It allows you to permanently filter out print-on-demand books from your search results (yay!). Another great feature is the ability to search 72 library catalogs, including WorldCat (public version), KVK, ISTC, ESTC, and dozens of other union catalogs, national library catalogs, and individual library catalogs.
  • BookFinder.com: Searches almost 100 listing services (like ABE), online bookstores, and even "rental services" (!) for new, used, and rare books.
  • International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB): Restricted to listings from member booksellers. Offers an automated "wants" notification to registered users (registration is free), a searchable directory of member booksellers, multilingual glossaries of bookseller terms, Carter's ABC for Book Collectors in PDF format, a calendar of book fairs, and a large "Library" of articles on the book trade, collecting, and related topics. ILAB's U.S. affiliate, the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) offers most of the same features, but is limited to U.S. dealers.
  • AbeBooks.com: Registered users can create automated "wants" lists, and are notified by e-mail of matching books.

Book Collecting Resources


 Legal History Resources


June 3, 2011


There are two new sets in the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr gallery…

Justitia - headpieces is part of my continuing pursuit of images of Lady Justice (or Justitia). This set contains images of Lady Justice found in headpieces, which are defined as “A type-ornament or vignette at the head of a chapter or division of the book” (ABC for Book Collectors). The example above comes from volume 1 of Capitularia regum Francorum (2 vols.; Paris, 1780).

Bambergensis 1580 contains all the illustrations from the 1580 edition of the Bambergische peinliche Halszgerichtszordnung. We acquired the volume in 2008 from Jeffrey D. Mancevice Rare Books, who described the book as “one of the most beautifully illustrated law books of the 16th century.” Also known as the Bambergensis constitutio criminalis, this criminal code was compiled by Johann von Schwarzenberg (1463-1528). We also own the first edition, printed at Mainz in 1508. Mancevice continues: “The fine text woodcuts which first appeared in the 1507 edition are by Fritz Hammer after drawings by Hans Wolf Katzheimer (according to the NUC) with the exception of three which were recut for this edition. The woodcuts are also attributed to Wolf Traut (ca. 1486-1520). Among the fine full-page woodcuts [is] a charming woodcut of seven people at a meal, each with an emblem of punishment above their heads (two appear to be playing cards)”; this is the woodcut shown below.

With apologies for my extended absence…

Rare Book Librarian

March 17, 2011


“Yes: the Dark Knight went to Yale.” That is the verdict of the Yale Alumni Magazine. Inspired by our “Superheroes in Court!” exhibit, the magazine devoted the cover and three articles in its March/April 2011 issue to Batman’s J.D. from the Yale Law School, set out in our exhibit and here in the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog (by far the most-viewed post in the history of our blog, with over 7,000 views as of today).

The issue contains three articles on the Caped Crusader and Yale:

  • In “Holy Eli, Batman!”, graphic artist Chip Kidd examines the evidence. He discards the Yale connections from the 1960s television show as “meaningless,” especially for “true Bat-geeks” who despise the campy show for turning their hero into “the ultimate costumed laughingstock.” However, he accepts the diploma on Bruce Wayne’s office wall at face value, and concludes that Yale’s emphasis on community service is entirely consistent with Batman’s role as “an urban steward.”
  • Kathryn Day Lassila ‘81, the editor of the Yale Alumni Magazine, tracked down and interviewed the artist who drew the Yale Law School diploma in “Why Batman Went to Yale.”
  • My Law Library colleague Fred Shapiro, a regular contributor to the Yale Alumni Magazine, reviews memorable Batman quotations in “Bruce Wayne’s Verbal Legacy.”

The credit for discovering Batman’s Yale Law School diploma goes to the Hon. Mark Dwyer, Judge of the Court of Claims (Supreme Court of the State of New York) and a 1975 graduate of the Yale Law School. Dwyer himself credits a fellow law student for showing him the comic, and acknowledges the help of William Lee Frost, Yale Law 1951.




Rare Book Librarian

March 17, 2011

The Law Librarians of New England are meeting today here at the Yale Law School. In honor of their visit, I’ve posted a new gallery in our Flickr site, “Law Libraries”, with images of both real and imaginary law libraries. Below is one of my favorites, the frontispiece for the 1743 edition of a popular legal bibliography, Bibliotheca iuris selecta by Burkhard Gotthelf von Struve (1671-1738). Struve’s legal bibliography was first published in 1703 and went through nine editions. It’s interesting to note that a direct descendent of the author, Henry Clay von Struve (1874-1933), was the first fulltime law librarian of the University of Texas Law Library, in 1895.


Rare Book Librarian



March 4, 2011

Among the most outstanding illustrated law books of all times is an edition of Justinian’s Institutes published by a member of the Giunta printing dynasty of Venice, Instituta novissime recognita aptissimisq[ue] figuris exculta (Venice: Luca-Antonio Giunta, 1516). The “aptissimae figurae” are small woodcut vignettes that introduce 22 of the titles in the Institutes. Below is the woodcut for Inst. 2.10, De testamentis ordinandis (Of the execution of wills), showing a man dictating his last will from his sickbed. The Roman emperor Justinian promulgated the Institutes as a textbook for students of Roman law, and remained the standard introduction to Roman law for students throughout the medieval and early modern periods.

All 22 woodcuts are in a new gallery on our Flickr site, Justinian’s Institutes illustrated. The images appear first in two-page spreads, showing them in context, and then as cropped images of the woodcuts themselves. The image titles cite the title of the Institutes where the woodcut appears (i.e. “Inst.2.10” is Book 2, Title 10 of the Institutes), followed by the title in Latin and an English translation taken from R. W. Lee, The Elements of Roman Law, with a Translation of the Institutes of Justinian (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1944).

This edition of the Institutes is stylistically a companion to the three heavily illustrated volumes of the Corpus Juris Canonici that Luca-Antonio Giunta published in 1514: Gratian’s Decretum, the Decretals of Gregory IX, and the Liber Sextus of Boniface VIII, all of which we were fortunate to acquire in 2009.


Rare Book Librarian


February 24, 2011

This past month I’ve added 44 additional images containing depictions of Justitia (Lady Justice), to our Flickr gallery Justitia: Iconography of Justice. In addition, the Courtroom Scenes gallery grew by a dozen or so images. Below is an image that now appears in both places: it is the frontispiece to Johann Stephan Burgermeister’s Teutsches corpus juris publici & privati, oder, Codex diplomaticus (Ulm: In Verlegung Johann Conrad Wohlers Buchhändlers, 1717), and shows Lady Justice as the presiding judge, encouraging the downtrodden of the Holy Roman Empire to draw near and enter their pleas.

For the past several months I’ve been scouring our collection for such images, and also buying books containing images of Justitia, as part of our collecting focus on illustrated law books. The project has taken on additional relevance with the publication of Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-states and Democratic Courtrooms by Yale Law professors Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis (Yale University Press, 2011), and the Spring 2011 seminar, “Representing Justice,” taught by Professors Resnik and Curtis. See the Law Library’s Representing Justice page in its Document Collection Center.

I’ve discovered that an Italian law library shares our interest in images of Lady Justice. The law library of the Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia has built an excellent website, Immagini della Giustizia. The user can view examples based on their role in the printed book (frontispiece, headpieces, initials, architectural borders, etc.), as well as via iconography (the scales, sword, blindfold, etc.). I don’t read Italian, and I still found the site easy to navigate. It also has a thorough bibliography. Our rare book collection owns very few of the examples in the Modena website, so I have new titles to pursue!

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