Rare Books Blog

October 4, 2008

The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library


Trento (Italy). Libro de Statuti et Ordini delli Signori Sindici della Magnifica Communità, & Città di Trento (Trent, 1640). Acquired with the Arthur Hobson Dean Purchase Fund in International Law, January 2008.

(View Trento on a map.)

This recent acquisition is a first edition of the city laws of Trento, which were issued under the authority of Cardinal Carlo Madruzzo in 1640. Madruzzo oversaw the revision of statutes that had been issued originally by Cardinal Bernhard von Cles in 1528. This copy is originally from the library of the very same Cardinal Madruzzo and bears his signature on the title page.


Exhibit Curators


“The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library” is on display October 2008 through February 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

October 4, 2008

The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library


Beginning in the eleventh century, scholars in what is today northern Italy began to rediscover the Roman legal tradition as expressed in the Emperor Justinian’s sixth-century Corpus iuris civilis. In the centuries that followed, jurists, merchants, clergymen, and civic leaders all across the Italian Peninsula pragmatically integrated Roman law with the long-held customary laws of their own towns and cities. Over time a new and dynamic system of civil law emerged, one which continues to evolve to this day. The works featured in this exhibition are simultaneously examples of—and evidence for—the flourishing of Italian civil law in the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries.

The Yale Law Library’s collection of early Italian city statutes contains codes from over three hundred and eighty municipalities—including major cities such as Milan, Bologna, Rome, and Venice as well as tiny villages like Bellosguardo, Crasciana, and Montebuono. Regardless of their size, all of these municipalities took pride in their laws, and looking at the title pages one can sense the important role that these codes played in defining a municipality and its citizens.

As you explore the exhibition in the posts that follow, note the ways that the books’ owners marked and annotated them; the coexistence of printed and hand-written statutes; and the transition from the Latin of jurists and scholars to the Italian of merchants and politicians.

The Law Library’s Italian statute collection provides a rich resource not only for legal history, but also for the history of reading, print culture, manuscript culture, bookbinding, Italian social history, political history, and much more. In addition, the books are fascinating cultural artifacts. We welcome you to make use of them.

Exhibit Curators

“The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library” is on display October 2008 through February 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

Image at right: Sicily (Kingdom). Regni Sicilie constitutiones per excellentissumum j.v.d. do. Andream de Isernia (Naples, 1533).

October 2, 2008

Now on exhibit…

Oct. 2008 – Feb. 2009

Rare Book Exhibition Gallery

Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library

Yale Law School

An exhibition highlighting the Lillian Goldman Law Library’s outstanding collection of early Italian city statutes inaugurates the Law Library’s new, state-of-the-art exhibition gallery. The exhibition, “The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library,” debuts during the Yale Law School’s annual Alumni Weekend, Oct. 3-4, 2008.

The Law Library’s collection of Italian “statuta” is rivaled by few other U.S. libraries and surpassed by none. These municipal codes governed the dozens of Italian city-states that arose in the Middle Ages and persisted until the reunification of Italy in the late 19th century. The collection contains over 900 volumes of printed books and 60 bound manuscripts, dating from the 14th to 20th centuries, and representing over 380 municipalities and jurisdictions. In their mixing of Roman law, local law, and pragmatic innovations, the Italian municipal statutes became the prototype of European civil law.

The new Rare Books Exhibition Gallery is located in the lower level of the Lillian Goldman Law Library (Level L2), directly in front of the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Reading Room. The exhibition cases are climate-controlled and protect the exhibit items from damage by ultra-violet light.

The exhibition was curated by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes, doctoral candidate in medieval history at Stanford University, and Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian.

For those unable to visit the exhibit in person, the exhibit will appear in installments here on the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog.

For more information, phone me at (203) 432-4494 or email me at .[at]yale.edu>


Rare Book Librarian

September 30, 2008

The new exhibit cases for the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection arrived on Thursday, September 25. The two state-of-the-art exhibit cases measure slightly over 8 feet wide and 3 feet deep. They were built by SmallCorp of Greenfield, MA, the same company that recently built new exhibit cases for the Yale University Art Gallery. Humidity levels are controlled by silica gel tiles, and the plexiglass tops filter out harmful ultraviolet light.

The cases are located at the entrance to the Paskus-Danziger Rare Books Reading Room, on Level L2 of the Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Thanks go out to all the folks who helped: Joseph Chadwick (Project Manager, Yale University Facilities), Femi Cadmus (Associate Librarian for Adminsitration, Lillian Goldman Law Library), Bonnie Collier (former Associate Librarian for Adminsitration, Lillian Goldman Law Library), Clark Crolius (Installations Manager, Yale University Art Gallery), Professor Blair Kauffman (Director, Lillian Goldman Law Library), Kevin Rose (Building Manager, Yale Law School), Van Wood (SmallCorp), Maria Zawadzki (H2Z Design), Paula Zyats (Assistant Chief Conservator, Yale University Libraries).

The inaugural exhibition is now being installed, and will debut during Yale Law School’s Alumni Weekend. Stay tuned for the announcement!

Rare Book Librarian

Kevin Rose, Joe Chadwick and the Physical Plant crew install the new exhibit cases.

Margot Curran (Exhibits Conservator, Yale University Libraries) installs
the new exhibit with (far left) Benjamin Yousey-Hindes, Rare Books intern
and guest exhibit curator.

September 20, 2008

The sesquicentennial of the infamous Dred Scott decision was marked in 2007. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that slaves were property and not citizens; they could not bring suit in federal court; and because slaves were private property, the federal government could not revoke a slave owner’s right to own a slave based on where he lived. The decision threatened to open U.S. territories to slavery, and was one of the preludes to the Civil War.

The decision itself was published in several editions, and is widely accessible. It generated a large amount of pamphlet literature, which is not so accessible. An example from the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection is A Legal Review of the Case of Dred Scott, by John Lowell and Horace Gray. (In 1881 Gray became a U.S. Supreme Court Justice and in 1898 authored a decision that a child born in United States to foreign parents is automatically a citizen of the United States.)

Our copy is inscribed, “Hon. Roger S. Baldwin with the authors’ compliments.” Roger Sherman Baldwin (Yale 1845) served Connecticut as governor and U.S. Senator, and was one of the attorneys who defended the African captives in the Amistad case. It was one of thousands of volumes donated to the Yale Law Library by his son, Simeon E. Baldwin (Yale 1861), one of the most outstanding professors in the history of the Yale Law School. The inscription illustrates how pamphlets like this one were part of the information networks among anti-slavery lawyers and activists.

For more information, see the Wikipedia articles on Roger Sherman Baldwin and Simeon E. Baldwin, and the accompanying links. There are a number of excellent websites on the Dred Scott decision. An excellent starting place is the Library of Congress Web Guide on Dred Scott v. Sandford.

Rare Book Librarian

August 29, 2008

A recent addition to our collection of illustrated law books is Johann Werle’s Album Juridicum (Augsburg, 1733), a collection of legal maxims arranged by topic. The frontispiece depicts the author seated in his library as a latter-day St. Jerome. He points to a diagram outlining the book’s contents.

At the top of the diagram is the Latin maxim, “Bibliotheca sola non sufficit; unde disce piger”, which, roughly translated, means “A library alone is not enough; learn, you lazy man!” Words to live by.

Rare Book Librarian

August 22, 2008

John Cowell’s The Interpeter, or Booke Containing the Signification of Words was the most respected English law dictionary of the 17th century, despite the controversy that greeted its appearance in 1607. It went through eight editions between 1607 and 1727, testimony to its popularity and usefulness.

However, the early editions have an interesting quirk. The entry for “Testament (testamentum)” directs the reader to “See Will”, but when you turn to the W’s, there is no entry for “Will”! Cowell has sent his readers down a blind alley, or what librarians and indexers call a “blind reference.”

This is a particularly surprising error given the author. John Cowell (1554-1611) was a doctor of civil law, or a “civilian” in the nomenclature of English law, in contrast to the practitioners of the English common law who practiced in the common law courts. Civilians practiced in the ecclesiastical courts of England, and thus wills and estates were part of the bread-and-butter of their practice. For a civilian like Cowell to completely omit any coverage of testaments and wills is odd, to say the least.

Even odder is that for decades no one bothered to fix the error. The 1637 and 1658 editions of The Interpeter were basically reprints of the 1607 edition. Finally, in 1672, Thomas Manley of the Middle Temple published an enlarged edition with a half-column definition for “Testament” and a brief paragraph for “Will.”

Thanks to my friend Mr. Harold I. Boucher of San Francisco for calling to my attention the case of Cowell’s missing “will.” Mr. Boucher, a retired attorney, has himself published both on Cowell (King James’s Suppression of The Interpreter and Denouncement of Dr. Cowell, 1998) and on the history of wills (California Living Trusts and Wills: What You Must Know Before You Make a Will, 1994; How to Live and Die with California Probate, 1970).

The image of the title page from the 1607 edition of The Interpreter comes from the John Cowell page in the Law Dictionary Collection website provided by Rare Books & Special Collections, Tarlton Law Library, University of Texas at Austin. It appears here with their permission and with my thanks to Elizabeth Haluska-Rauch, Head of Special Collections.


Rare Book Librarian


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