Rare Books Blog

December 21, 2010

I am one of many, many people who are mourning the loss of Morris L. Cohen, Emeritus Professor of Law at Yale Law School and the director of its Law Library from 1981 to 1991. I join with them in extending my condolences to his wife Gloria and their family. The Lillian Goldman Law Library has set up a tribute page with links to eulogies and other resources.

I beg leave to add a eulogy on behalf of the community of rare law book librarians and collectors that Morris so lovingly nurtured throughout his career. I take as my text the list of “bibliographic beatitudes” that Morris included in a 1982 article on our Blackstone Collection (“Blackstone at Yale,” Yale Law Report, Spring/Summer 1982, 18-20).

  • “Blessed are the book collectors for they preserve the printed word.” Morris and David Warrington (Librarian for Special Collections, Harvard Law Library) trained dozens of librarians and collectors through their week-long summer course, “Collecting the History of Anglo-American Law,” at the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School; note the glowing reviews in the course evaluations. He began the rare book collection at the University of Buffalo Law Library that now bears his name (the Morris L. Cohen Rare Book Collection). He played a major role in shaping the special collections of the law libraries he headed at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and here at Yale. The collection of law-related children’s books that Morris and his son Dan formed is inspired, creative book collecting at its finest, an example of what Colin Franklin called “book collecting as one of the fine arts.”
  • “Blessed are the library donors for they support the pursuit of knowledge.” Morris donated his collection of law-related children’s books to our Rare Book Collection, christened as the Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection. But he didn’t stop there; he asked me to continue adding to it, and I have gleefully complied. He loaned books for a number of exhibits, most notably to Boston College Law Library (“Collectors on Collecting” and “Law & Order Made Amusing“)and the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Morris was also a generous scholar, sharing knowledge and contacts. Several of his younger proteges will recall him going to bat for them at legal history conferences when their papers drew sharp responses.
  • “Blessed also are the bibliographers for they bring order to the works of scholarship and make them accessible.” The monumental seven-volume Bibliography of Early American Law (1998-2003) is perhaps the capstone of Morris’s illustrious career, the product of three decades of work by Morris and a legion of collaborators and research assistants. The annotations and superb indexes make it THE essential tool for researching early American legal literature. In publications such as “Administration of Rare Materials” (in Mueller & Kehoe, Law Librarianship, a Handbook, 1983), Morris literally wrote the book on rare law book librarianship, and promoted the importance of historical collections in academic law libraries. He was the leading evangelist for bringing rare law book collections out of storage rooms and directors’ offices and making them integral parts of academic law libraries. The Legal History & Rare Books Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries honored his contribution by establishing the Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition, “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.”

By his own standards, Morris Cohen was thrice-blessed. All who knew him were blessed as well.

Memory Eternal… 


Rare Book Librarian

Gloria & Morris Cohen at Morris’s 80th birthday party, 2 Nov. 2007.

December 9, 2010


Edward Gordon, my esteemed co-curator for our Fall 2009 exhibit, “Freedom of the Seas, 1609: Grotius and the Emergence of International Law,” has published an article based on the exhibit:

Edward Gordon, Grotius and the Freedom of the Seas in the Seventeenth Century, 16 WILLAMETTE JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW & DISPUTE RESOLUTION 252 (2008).

Gordon’s article is a much-expanded version of the introduction and captions he produced for the exhibit, which marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of Grotius’ Mare liberum. He writes,

“Mare liberum has become something of an icon in international law, not only for providing the first effective argument for the freedom of the seas in modern times, but in combination with Grotius’s more mature work, De jure belli ac pacis (1625), for reinvigorating the natural law of ancient times as a transcendent legal regime in the service of the common good.”

Gordon has provided a thorough, concise, and lively account of the origins of Grotius’s Mare liberum, the learned and passionate debates it engendered throughout Europe, and its continuing legacy in international law. Thanks, Ed!


Rare Book Librarian


At right: Portrait of Hugo Grotius from volume 1 of an anonymous commentary on Grotius, Hugonis Grotii, Belgarum phoenicis, manes ab iniquis obtrectationibus vindicati (Leipzig, 1727). The artist has placed Mare liberum just below the portrait on the right.

November 28, 2010

 The newest galleries in the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site feature two of the most heavily illustrated books in the history of legal literature, both by the Flemish jurist Joost de Damhoudere (1507-1581). Both were also among the most popular law books of their time, going through numerous editions in several languages.

Damhoudere’s Praxis rerum criminalium became the standard handbook of criminal law in northern Europe. We recently acquired the first edition, published in Louvain in 1554 under the title Enchiridion rerum criminalium. Our Flickr gallery, Enchiridion Rerum Criminalium (1554), presents all 54 of its woodcuts, which illustrate specific crimes and criminal procedure and also serve as documents of daily life in early modern Europe. Below is my personal favorite, illustrating the crime of dumping one’s garbage on passers-by. Praxis rerum criminalium was published 36 times between 1554 and 1660, and was translated from Latin into Dutch, French, and German.

The other gallery, Practique iudiciaire et causes civiles (1572), contains the 17 woodcuts from Damhoudere’s Practique iudiciaire et causes civiles (Antwerp, 1572), including the portrait of the author at right. It is the only French edition of Damhoudere’s Praxis rerum civilium, which was appeared in 14 editions between 1567 and 1660.

These two works must owe much of their popularity to their usefulness, but perhaps their illustrations also played a role in making them attractive to buyers. I know of few other early law books with so many illustrations, and none with such lively ones.


Rare Book Librarian


November 10, 2010

I have added several more images of Justitia (or Lady Justice, if you prefer) to the Justitia gallery in the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site. Below is one of them, taken from no. 3 of the Bollettino delle leggi della Repubblica Romana (Rome, 1798-1799).

Among the motives for building the Justitia gallery are the new book by Yale law professors Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis, Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms, due out shortly from the Yale University Press, and the Spring 2011 seminar on the same topic that Professors Resnik and Curtis will be teaching. The book features over 220 illustrations, including five taken from books in our Rare Book Collections, which are featured in our Representing Justice gallery.

In several recent posts in the Rechtsgeschiedenis blog, my Dutch colleague Otto Vervaart has written three recent posts on the value and use of legal iconography for historical research. These posts also provide a number of useful links to online resources for legal iconography. These links (and more) can also be found on the Digital Collections page of Vervaart’s Rechthistorie website. One of these resources, the Dutch Database for Legal Iconography (NCRD) at the National Library of the Netherlands, is currently restricted to library pass holders, but a librarian there has told me that early in 2011 the database will be opened to all users. Watch this space for an announcement.


Rare Book Librarian


October 28, 2010

There are two new sets of images in the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr galleries: Tractatus iuris (1549) and Tractatus universi iuris (1584-86). Apart from the title pages, you won’t see any pretty pictures in these image sets. What you will see are tables of contents and indexes of authors and titles for these two massive compilations of Roman and canon law scholarship. The images were cropped and edited for legibility, not for aesthetics. I scanned the images to save myself the trouble of wrestling these large and unwieldy volumes, but I hope researchers will benefit as well.

The 18-volume Tractatus ex variis iuris interpretibus (1549) was published by a consortium of Lyon printers. Its tall folios contains 458 separate works by over 200 different authors on virtually any topic of interest to lawyers and jurists of the time, and served as a sort of encyclopedia of the ius commune. Topics include arbitration, contracts, heresy, debt, adultery, taxation, judicial torture, banking, estates, criminal procedure, and the law of war, to name just a very few. Most of the leading authors of medieval and Renaissance jurisprudence are represented, including Baldus, Bartolus, Durandus, Odofredus, Jean Montaigne, Jacobus de Arena, Johann Oldendorp, and Guy de la Pape.

A much-expanded expanded edition, the 22-volume Tractatus universi iuris, was issued in 1584-86 by the Venetian publisher and bookseller Francesco Zilletti. It contains 754 titles by 362 authors, including several jurists who rose to prominence after the publication of the 1549 edition (i.e. Joost de Damhoudere, Benvenuto Stracca).

I hope that putting the author and title contents of these sets online will encourage others to study them. They are of interest for a number of reasons.

In connection with the history of the book, these were quite large and ambitious publishing ventures for their time. The 1549 Lyon edition required a consortium of printers, including Thomas Bertellus, Georges Regnault, and Pierre Fradin. It is tempting to speculate on a link between Pope Gregory XIII’s sponsorship of the 1584-86 Tractatus universi iuris and the fine the Inquisition levied against its printer, Francesco Zilletti, a couple of years earlier for selling prohibited books.

An analysis of how the contents changed between the 1549 and 1584-86 editions would shed light on developments in legal scholarship. My cursory look at the contents reveals signs of the Counter-Reformation. The 1549 Tractatus contained 13 articles by the German jurist Johann Oldendorp, who was also a leader in the Protestant Reformation, but in the 1584-86 edition Oldendorp is nowhere to be found.

Rare Book Librarian

October 25, 2010

The November 2010 issue of Smithsonian magazine, available online, has a feature article, “A Murder in Salem” by E.J. Wagner, on the notorious 1830 murder-for-hire of Captain Joseph White in Salem, Massachusetts and the several trials of its alleged perpetrators. The case spawned a slew of pamphlets and broadsides, and is cited as an inspiration for Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. (Thanks to PhiloBiblos, the blog of my colleague Jeremy Dibell, for bringing the article to my attention.)

Earlier this year the Rare Book Collection more than doubled its holdings on the Joseph White case with the acquisition of a collection formed by the Hon. Raymond S. Wilkins (1891-1972), a Salem native who served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts from 1956 to 1970. As a result, we now have ten of the twelve items on the White case listed in McDade’s Annals of Murder, and eleven of the fifteen items in Morris Cohen’s Bibliography of Early American Law (BEAL). Six of the titles in Wilkins’ collection are not in either McDade or BEAL:

 In addition, there is a collection of 26 letters, clippings, and other ephemera on the Joseph White case collected by Wilkins, some of it dealing with Wilkins’ unsuccessful effort to get a book on the case published by the Harvard University Press.

You can view the records for most of the Joseph White items by searching our online catalog, Morris, for the subject “White, Joseph, 1747 or 8-1830”.

Altogether, the collection provides rich and varied sources for research on the Joseph White murder.

Stay tuned for more “Research Opportunities.”



Rare Book Librarian

October 18, 2010

A video of Mark Zaid’s exhibit talk, “Superheroes in Court! Law, Lawyers and Comic Books,” is now available here, in the Yale Law Librarians channel at Vimeo.com. Zaid’s 52-minute presentation, recorded on Sept. 30, 2010, gives a brief overview of the history of comic books, and then delves into the various ways law and lawyers have been depicted in comics, as well as the influence of law on the comic book industry in areas such as copyright, trademark law, and censorship. Thanks to Dan Griffin of Yale Law School’s Information Technology Services, the video includes Zaid’s PowerPoint images. The video can also be viewed via the Law Library’s online catalog, MORRIS.

An report on Zaid’s talk is available in Scoop, a free e-newsletter for comic book collectors.

If that’s not enough, you can also listen to an interview with Mark Zaid, Dale Cendali (an intellectual property law attorney and comic book collector), and myself that aired on WNPR-FM’s “Where We Live” on October 4. Many thanks to the host, John Dankowsky, and the program’s producer, Josie Holtzman.

The exhibit, “Superheroes in Court! Lawyers, Law and Comic Books,” is on display Sept. 4-Dec, 16, 2010 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.


Rare Book Librarian


Subscribe to Rare Books Blog