The origins of star paging

Anyone who uses modern American case reports, either print or online, is familiar with “star paging”: “A method of referring to a page in an earlier edition of a book, esp. a legal source. This method correlates the pagination of the later edition with that of the earlier edition” (Black’s Law Dictionary, 3rd Pocket Ed. 2006).

My friend and colleague Fred Shapiro has discovered that the first use of the term “star paging” appears to be in 1850, in the front matter to the 4th edition of Joseph R. Swan’s Treatise on the Law Relating to the Powers and Duties of Justices of the Peace and Constables, in the State of Ohio (Columbus: I.N. Whiting, 1850). A form of star paging, with the original page numbers in [square brackets] became common after 1770: Burrow’s Reports (2nd ed. 1771), Jenkins’ Exchequer Reports (3d ed. 1777), and the 12th ed. of Blackstone’s Commentaries (London, 1793-95) are all early examples. The 1680 edition of Coke’s Reports claims to use a similar system, but there are large gaps in the bracketed page numbers in the margins and one is not sure what to make of it.

However, by far the earliest example of star paging I can find is in a 1596 edition of Year Book cases from the reign of Edward III: Anni decem priores, Regis Edwardi Tertii… (London: Jane Yetsweirt, 1596). Here is an example: the number “20” in the margin between rules is the original page number, and to the left of the number is the ” * ” sign in the text.

I discovered it thanks to a reference in Ian Williams, “ ‘He Creditted More the Printed Booke’: Common Lawyers’ Receptivity to Print, c.1550-1640,” 28 Law & History Review 39 (2010), at 57. Yetsweirt used star paging again the following year in another collection of Year Book cases, but the use of star paging seems to have fizzled out until the later 18th century.

If anyone has evidence of earlier use of star paging, I’d love to hear about it.

MIKE WIDENER
Rare Book Librarian

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