Rare Books Blog

May 4, 2009

Case reports are a fundamental source for the study and practice of law in the Anglo-American common law system. “Landmarks in Law Reporting,” the Spring 2009 exhibition from the Lillian Goldman Law Library’s Rare Book Collection, illustrates the development of law reporting from the Middle Ages to modern times.

The exhibit begins with a manuscript collection of cases from the reign of Edward III, copied in about 1450. Also on display are first editions of the reports of Edmund Plowden (1571), considered the first modern-style reports) and Sir Edward Coke (1600), perhaps the most influential reports). Other “firsts” include the first American case reports (Ephraim Kirby’s 1789 reports of Connecticut cases) and the first U.S. Supreme Court reports (Dallas’ Reports, 1798).

Recurring themes in the exhibition include the gradual transformation from manuscript to print, the growth of legal publishing, the connections between law reporting and legal education, and the growing demands by lawyers for timely, well-organized reports.

The 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. For those unable to visit the exhibit in person, stay tuned to the following postings here on the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog.

Rare Book Librarian


Thanks to the following for their assistance and advice in the research and preparation of this exhibit:

  • Morris L. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Law, Yale Law School
  • John H. Langbein, Sterling Professor of Law and Legal History, Yale Law School
  • Sabrina Sondhi, Special Collections Librarian, Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, Columbia University

Additional help in mounting the exhibit came from Brian Mendez and Fred Shapiro (Lillian Goldman Law Library), Joanne Kittredge (Yale Law School), and Emma Molina Widener (University of New Haven).

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

Image: Volume 2 of Alexander James Dallas, Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Several Courts of the United States, and of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1798), containing the first reports of U.S. Supreme Court cases.

May 4, 2009

[Year Books, 20-45 Edward III.] Liber Assisarum (manuscript in Law French, ca. 1450).

The origin of our case reports lies in the late 13th century, with what are now called the “Year Books.” The Liber Assisarum, shown here, is a collection of Year Book cases in the court of King’s Bench in 1347-1372.

The Year Books are quite different from modern case reports. They say little or nothing about the facts, or who won. What interested the anonymous reporters was the debate between advocates and judges, a sort of tentative oral pleading that has been compared to lightning chess. The Year Books seem to have had some connection (still unclear) with legal education at the Inns of Court, but they were also used by bench & bar.

As more or less verbatim records of legal debates between named individuals, the Year Books are virtually the only historical sources that capture voices from the Middle Ages.

Maitland on the Year Books

“Today men are reporting at Edinburgh and Dublin, at Boston and San Francisco, at Quebec and Sydney and Cape Town, at Calcutta and Madras. Their pedigree is unbroken and indisputable. It goes back to some nameless lawyers at Westminster to whom a happy thought had come. What they desired was not a copy of the chilly record, cut and dried, with its concrete particulars concealing the point of law: the record overladen with the uninteresting names of litigants and oblivious of the interesting names of sages, of justices and serjeants. What they desired was the debate with the life-blood in it: the twists and turns of advocacy, the quip courteous and the countercheck quarrelsome.” – Sir Frederick Maitland, 17 Selden Soc. xv.

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

March 5, 2009

Here are a few of the highlights from our acquisitions in the past three months.

For our growing collection of illustrated law books:

We have acquired several law-related children’s books to join the Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection donated by Professor Morris L. Cohen, including:

The American Trials Collection grew by 28 titles, including:

Additions to our William Blackstone Collection included:

And a few odds & ends:



Rare Book Librarian

March 5, 2009

Close to 30 students from the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, Italy toured the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Room on March 4, 2008, during their visit to the Yale Law School. The students are jointly enrolled in the legal studies program at the University of Pisa.

After viewing our exhibit, The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library, they came into the Rare Book Room to see more of our Italian legal treasures. These included one of the first books printed in Naples, Tractatus seu apparatus de testibus by Albericus de Maletis (1471); a collection of portraits of early Italian jurists, Antoine Lafrery’s Illustrium jureconsultorum imagines (1566); Friar Paolo Attavanti’s Breviarium totius juris canonici (Milan, 1479), the first printed book with a portrait of the author; Antonino Ganini’s Il legista versificante (Naples, 1752), an elementary legal textbook in verse; Comentario sul codice criminale d’Inghilterra (Milan, 1813), an Italian translation of Book IV of Blackstone’s Commentaries; and Nuovo codice della strada (Milan, 1959), the Italian traffic code with humorous cartoons by the French illustrator Albert Dubout.

We had a great time. Thanks to all those who made the visit possible: Marina Santilli (Senior Research Scholar, Yale Law School); Caterina Sganga and Andrea Bertolini (LLM students at Yale Law School and graduate students at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna); and my Law Library colleagues Teresa Miguel, Dan Wade, Ryan Harrington, and Evelyn Ma.


Rare Book Librarian


February 9, 2009

Ten students from the Yale Law School’s Linkages Program visited the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Room on February 4. These law students from Argentina, Brazil and Chile spend three weeks participating in classes, conducting research, presenting papers, and taking field trips.

Their stop in the Rare Book Room was part of a tour of the Lillian Goldman Law Library. Among the items they saw was a fascinating Spanish incunable, Ordenanzas Reales de Castilla (Salamanca, 1500), in which an early owner used doodles to visually index the laws. They also saw the oldest item in the collection, which is two fragments of an illuminated 11th-century manuscript, recycled as binding material for our copy of the Flos testamentorum by Rolandinus de Passageriis (Padua, 1482), a guide to drafting wills.

To all our colleagues in the Linkages Program, ¡Bienvenidos!

Rare Book Librarian

January 26, 2009

Our books often have interesting stories behind them. One example is the fine set of Blackstone’s Commentaries (4 vols.; London, 1830) recently donated  by Mr. Mordecai K. Rosenfeld (Yale Law Class of 1954).

Mr. Rosenfeld is known for the witty and insightful essays he wrote for the New York Law Journal beginning in 1979. The story of our Blackstone begins when a collection of his essays was published in 1988 by the University of Georgia Press, under the title The Lament of the Single Practitioner: Essays on the Law. Here’s how Mr. Rosenfeld told the story in a 1990 essay, “Time to Answer”:

“The book … received, I am happy to say, much praise, but I shall recount only one instance, the praise that it received in an essay written for the Times (of London) Literary Supplement by a Mr. Eric Korn… I was so touched that my book would be mentioned in the TLS … that I wrote a note to thank the author. The note was written, of course, on my office stationery, and that, as we shall see, was my undoing.
     “A few days later I received a response from London. Mr. Korn wrote to me and asked if, perchance, I knew of a lawyer in New York who might help him with a legal problem. Not being able to say that I knew no one, I wrote back offering to undertake the task myself, whatever it was. The only condition I imposed was that I would not, under any circumstances, accept a fee.
     “My offer was promptly accepted. Mr. Korn, it seemed was not only an essayist but also an antiquarian book dealer. His book store … had participated in an Antiquarian Book Fair in New York and had sold a fine rare book to an apparently prosperous lady for $1,350. The apparently prosperous lady paid with two checks … on both of which she stopped payment as soon as Mr. Korn had left New York to return home. In accepting the case, I assumed that if I wrote a lawyer letter, payment would be prompt…”

However, collecting the payment turned out to be not so simple for Mr. Rosenfeld. He was obliged to sue in small-claims court, where he had never litigated. In “Time to Answer”, he recounts his embarrassment as he made several false starts. When he was finally ready to collect a default judgment, he had to ask the bank’s attorney, again, for guidance:

“He couldn’t believe that I didn’t know what had to be done, and inquired again if I was really a lawyer. When I assured him that I was, he asked which law school I had graduated from, but I was ashamed to tell him because my particular law school, Yale, takes inordinate (but undeserved) pride in the intellectual abilities of its graduates, and so I told him that, frankly, I couldn’t remember. Said Mr. Mancuso, ‘Mr. Rosenfeld, I’m not surprised.’”

The full story of Mr. Rosenfeld’s initiation into small-claims litigation is in “Time to Answer,” published in A Backhanded View of the Law: Irreverent Essays on Justice (Woodbridge, CT: Ox Bow Press, 1992). But the essay does not mention that Mr. Korn, in lieu of a fee, sent Mr. Rosenfeld the London 1830 edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries as a token of his gratitude. This is the set that Mr. Rosenfeld donated to the Lillian Goldman Law Library in October 2008. A few weeks later, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Korn at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair. He retains a high opinion of Mr. Rosenfeld’s legal abilities.

The 1830 Commentaries is a lovely set, still in its original boards and with the pages untrimmed. Our thanks to Mordecai Rosenfeld for this very welcome addition to our William Blackstone Collection, the world’s most comprehensive collection of Blackstone.

And for your reading pleasure, I highy recommend Mr. Rosenfeld’s essays in Lament of the Single Practitioner and Backhanded View of the Law, described by Eric Korn as “beautifully adept jabs at legal idiocies.”

Rare Book Librarian

January 3, 2009


Our Lewis Morris Collection is now part of the Libraries of Early America project on LibraryThing.com. As described by Jeremy Dibbell of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the coordinator of the Libraries of Early America Project, “Using the book-cataloging website LibraryThing.com, scholars from institutions around the country (including Monticello, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Boston Athenaeum, the Boston Public Library, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society and others) have begun the process of creating digital catalogs of early American book collections - the project covers anyone who lived in America and collected primarily before 1825.”

LibraryThing provides powerful tools for analyzing Morris’s library. The tag cloud, drawn from the subject headings in our catalog records, shows the subject strengths within the Morris Collection. You can also see how Morris’s library compares with other libraries, both early and modern. In addition, there is a biographical sketch and portrait of Morris.

Lewis Morris III (1726-1798), a 1746 graduate of Yale, was a prominent New York lawyer and statesman and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. His law library, consisting of 113 titles in 104 volumes, was donated to the Yale Law Library in 1960 by three of Lewis Morris’ descendents: A. Newbold Morris (Yale Law School Class of 1928), Stephanus Van Cortlandt Morris, and George L. Kingsland Morris. Over half the books in the collection are also inscribed by Morris’ grandfather, Lewis Morris I (1671-1746), who was chief justice of New York (1715-1733) and governor of New Jersey (1738-1746).

Libraries of Early America will soon add another of our collections, the John Worthington Collection. Worthington (1719-1800) was a wealthy and influential lawyer practicing in 18th-century Springfield, Mass., who served for many years as king’s attorney of western Massachusetts and high sheriff of Hampshire County.

Thanks to Jeremy Dibbell and his Libraries of Early America collaborators!



Rare Book Librarian


Subscribe to Rare Books Blog