Rare Books Blog

250 Years of Blackstone's Commentaries exhibition
September 22, 2015

Our first traveling exhibition, “250 Years of Blackstone’s Commentaries,” is now on display in the library of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, in London. There is no more fitting location than this, since the Middle Temple was the Inn of Court that Sir William Blackstone belonged to.

Renae Satterley, Deputy Librarian of the Middle Temple, reports that over 2,400 visitors saw the exhibition during the weekend of September 18-19, during an open house co-sponsored by the Middle Temple, the Inner Temple, Temple Church, and the Royal Courts of Justice, “Revealing Magna Carta.” This was part of an even larger city-wide event, Open House London. A gallery of photos of the Middle Temple’s open house is on Flickr.

The exhibition will remain on view until late November in the Middle Temple Library. To visit the exhibition, please contact Renae Satterley (phone: 020 7427 4830) to schedule an appointment, since access to the library is normally restricted to members of the Inns of Court.

In December, the exhibition will travel to the Sir John Salmond Law Library at the University of Adelaide. It will remain on display there through February 2016, and will coincide with the 34th Annual Conference of the Australia and New Zealand Law and History Society.

250 Years of Blackstone’s Commentaries” marks the 250th anniversary of the publication of Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, the single most influential book in the history of Anglo-American law. It features over 40 items from the Yale Law Library’s Blackstone Collection, the largest and most comprehensive collection of Blackstone’s works in the world. The exhibition was curated by Professor Wilfrid Prest of the University of Adelaide and Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian at the Yale Law Library.

A full-color catalog of the exhibition may be downloaded for free from the Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository.

A special thanks to my colleague at the Middle Temple, Renae Satterley, for making this Blackstone homecoming possible.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Blackstone exhibit at the Middle Temple Library

Visitors viewing the Yale Law Library exhibition, “250 Years of Blackstone’s Commentaries,” in the Middle Temple Library in London, 19 September 2015. ©Paul Clarke by permission of Inner and Middle Temple.


Decretales Gregorii IX (Venice, 1514)
September 9, 2015

The Pope is universally known as the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church. But it is often forgotten that for much of the papacy’s history the Pope was the most important judicial and legislative authority in western Europe.

A new exhibition at the Yale Law Library, “The Pope’s Other Jobs: Judge and Lawgiver,” illustrates the Pope’s legal responsibilities throughout history using rare books and a medieval manuscript from the Law Library’s outstanding collection. It is curated by Anders Winroth, Forst Family Professor of History, Yale University, and Michael Widener, the Law Library’s Rare Book Librarian. Winroth is one of the world’s leading authorities on medieval canon law.

“In the Middle Ages, canon law (the law of the church) took center stage as a most sophisticated legal system, not only inspiring much secular law but also becoming recognized as the sole authority in several legal fields, such as the law of marriage, the law of just war, and the legal implications of oaths,” said Winroth. The books and manuscripts in the exhibition show how the papacy has shaped areas as diverse as human rights, international boundaries, due process, and marriage law. Many of the legal rights that Americans take for granted, such as the presumption of innocence and the right against self-incrimination, are rooted in the decrees and judicial decisions of medieval popes.

The exhibition is on display September 8-December 15, 2015, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, located on Level L2 of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School (127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT).  It will also appear here in the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

The Great Charter called in Latyn Magna Carta (London, 1542).
August 29, 2015

The Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site passed two milestones this summer, reaching over 3,000 images and over a million views. The site also sports a number of new albums that are worth pointing out.

In conjunction with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the Magna Carta album features many of our editions of Magna Carta, volumes including Magna Carta, and commentaries on Magna Carta by authorities such as Bracton, Blackstone, and Coke. There is a miniature 14th-century manuscript of Magna Carta, our earliest printed edition (shown at left), and a 1965 5-cent U.S. commemorative stamp. The album is a work in progress, so stay tuned for additions.

My library colleagues have mounted an excellent and informative exhibit, “Magna Carta: History, Legacy and Idea,” in the library’s main reading room. It is on view until October 31 and well worth a visit.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


Inscription on book given to Simeon E. Baldwin by Emily Gerry, 1864.
July 27, 2015

A digital version of the exhibit “Evidence of Women: Women as Printers, Donors, and Owners of Law Texts” is now available online through the library’s eYLS portal. This digital version includes the images and labels of all of the books displayed in the exhibit. It also includes source citations for those who want more information.


- ANNA FRANZ, Rare Book Fellow

Evidence of Women exhibit
June 26, 2015

Yale Law Library exhibit: “Evidence of Women”


New Yale Law Library exhibit…




Women printed, donated, and owned law books – from manuals to treatises to codes – long before women entered legal practice. From queens to unknown women, from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, this exhibit provides a glimpse of women’s involvement with law books both inside and outside of official structures.

The exhibit, “Evidence of Women: Women as Printers, Donors, and Owners of Law Texts,” is curated by Anna Franz (Rare Book Fellow, Yale Law Library). It is on display through August 25, 2015, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, located on Level L2 of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School (127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT).

This exhibit provides further evidence of women’s long involvement with the law even at times when they could not practice it. Since the exhibit represents only a small sampling from the vast corpus of law texts, it prompts reflection on the potential depth and breadth of women’s interactions with the law as producers, transmitters, and consumers, instead of as objects or eventually practitioners of law. It especially highlights women’s importance in the dissemination of law texts through their substantial and sustained role as printers and sellers of law books.

For more information, contact Anna Franz at (203) 432-5678, email anna.franz@yale.edu, or Mike Widener at (203) 432-4494, email mike.widener@yale.edu.

- ANNA FRANZ, Rare Book Fellow

Packing list by Nathan Sanford?
June 24, 2015

To help you pack for your summer travels, consider this list written in the front of a copy of Jacob’s Law Grammar, perhaps by Nathan Sanford himself. Some essentials:

Table Cloaths

4 Cravats

2 Pair of Draws

2 Vests

Pair of Stockings

2 Shifts

Short Gowns

Pocket handkerchiefs

2 Frocks



Happy packing!

- ANNA FRANZ, Rare Book Fellow

Murillo Velarde's Practica de testamentos (1755)
June 12, 2015

One of our latest acquisitions is a book I’ve sought for over twenty years, ever since my days at the University of Texas Law Library. It is Pedro Murillo Velarde’s Practica de testamentos (Mexico City, 1755), a pocket-size form book on the drafting of wills. The legal historian Hans W. Baade describes Practica de testamentos as a work of “towering importance.” In “The Form of Marriage in Spanish North America,” 61 Cornell Law Review 1 (1975), Baade wrote “It seems likely that the Practica was carried by priests, as occasion demanded, along with their breviaries, and that the wills drafted in Spanish North America followed, by and large, Murillo Velarde’s precedents.” As evidence of its influence in the Spanish Southwest, the opening chapter of the Kearney Code of Laws for the Government of the Territory of New Mexico (1865) states:

“The laws heretofore in force concerning descents, distributions, wills and testaments, as contained in the treatise on these subjects, written by Pedro Murillo [Velarde] De Lorde, shall remain in force so far as they are in conformity with the Constitution of the United States and the state laws in force for the time being.”

Practica de testamentos was first published in Manila in 1745. Our 1755 edition was the first of a dozen editions published in Mexico City, the last one appearing in 1869. It was one of the earliest books printed in New Mexico, with editions printed in Santa Fe in 1850, 1870, and 1884. It was also published in Guatemala (1753) and Buenos Aires (1792).

The author, Pedro Murillo Velarde (1696-1753), was a Jesuit priest who spent almost his entire career in the Philippines. He served as professor of canon law and theology in the University of Manila, as well as in numerous offices with the Jesuits. Murillo Velarde was a prolific author. His two-volume Cursus juris canonici, hispani, et indici, a textbook on canon law as practiced in Spain and its overseas empire, was considered the best 18th-century Spanish treatise on canon law. It was published in Madrid in 1743, 1763, and 1791.

Murillo Velarde  also authored an impressive ten-volume Geographía historica (Madrid, 1752). His map of the Philippines, Carta hydrographica y chorographica de las Yslas Filipinas (Manila, 1734), described in a June 9, 2015 CNN report as the “Mother of all Philippine maps” and the “Holy Grail of Philippine cartography,” is being submitted to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in The Hague as evidence by the Philippines in a dispute with China over islands in the South China Sea.

Following the title page in the 1755 Practica de testamentos is a proverb in Spanish, with advice for those writing their last wills:

Dispón tus cosas de suerte,
Que te dén vida en la muerte.

[Dispose wisely of your wealth
So that it gives you life in death.]

— MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


Subscribe to Rare Books Blog