Rare Books

The Rare Book Collection houses materials that require special handling because of their rarity, condition, monetary value, or special research value.  It includes early and modern printed books as well as manuscripts. The Rare Book Collection supports the legal history curriculum in the Yale Law School, and research in legal history and related fields by students and faculty of Yale Law School and Yale University and by researchers from the scholarly community worldwide.  The collection also supports an active exhibition program, other outreach activities, and digital initiatives.

Collection Scope

The collection has particularly strong holdings in Anglo-American law, Roman law, canon law, and early modern Italian law.  Its most significant components include:

  • The William Blackstone Collection, the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of the published works of Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780), author of Commentaries on the Laws of England, the most influential book in the Anglo-American common law tradition.
  • The Founders Collection, books that were once owned by the founders of the Yale Law School (Seth Staples, Samuel Hitchcock, and David Daggett) and that formed the original nucleus of the school’s law library.
  • The Faculty Collection, monographs published by Yale Law School faculty.
  • Legal manuscripts from the twelfth to the twentieth centuries, including medieval treatises, English case reports, early American lawyers’ account books, and nineteenth-century student notebooks from the law schools at Yale, Columbia, and Litchfield, Connecticut.
  • Approximately 4000 published trial accounts, with a special emphasis on American trials.
  • Italian municipal statutes from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries (800 printed volumes and 55 manuscripts), probably the largest such collection in the Western Hemisphere.
  • The Roman-Canon Law Collection of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, on deposit since 2006, totaling over 1600 volumes.
  • The German Law Collection of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, 826 volumes acquired in 2007.
  • The Walter L. Pforzheimer Collection of books and manuscripts on copyright.
  • The Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection, over 200 law-related children’s books, the gift of Morris L. Cohen, Professor Emeritus and Librarian Emeritus, Yale Law School.
  • The eighteenth-century law libraries of Lewis Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and John Worthington, an attorney in Springfield, Mass.

The Law Library is the official archival repository for the Supreme Court bobblehead dolls produced by the journal The Green Bag.

Current Collecting Fields

The Rare Book Collection actively collects materials in the following fields:

  • The works of William Blackstone (including variant editions), reprint editions, autograph manuscripts by Blackstone, student notebooks on Blackstone’s Commentaries, works based on Blackstone, works about Blackstone, and ephemera relating to Blackstone.  As funds permit, we also acquire second copies of Blackstone editions with contemporary bindings, significant annotations, or other copy-specific features that enhance the collection’s research value for legal history and bibliography.
  • American trials, including accounts prepared for the legal profession and popular accounts.  We acquire individual manuscripts, small manuscript collections, and ephemera documenting individual trials. Excluded are large modern collections of litigation materials.  Also excluded are appellate briefs, except those relating to historically significant events.
  • Illustrated law – law books with illustrations, or books with illustrations about the law. These include illustrations of legal concepts or illustrations of technical matters covered by the law (as found in books on mining law, water law, or patent and trademark litigation), as well as satirical images, illustrated trials, or collections of legal portraits. Law books with allegorical frontispieces or engraved title pages are of interest if the image has some legal content. Excluded are law books where the only illustration is a frontispiece portrait of the author.
  • Italian statutes – statutes and ordinances of Italian cities, towns, city-states, and kingdoms from before Italian unification, generally from northern Italy and the Papal States, and including both printed books and manuscripts.  Of  secondary interest are statutes of guilds and general treatises on Italian law.  As the collection grows and funds permit, we will also acquire books and manuscripts on the law of southern Italy (Kingdom of Sicily and Kingdom of Naples).
  • Yale Law School – books, student notebooks, and ephemera with significant connections to the Yale Law School, and also all serials and pamphlets published by the Yale Law School.
  • Connecticut law – both printed books and manuscripts, including notebooks of students at the Litchfield Law School.
  • Important editions of the classic works in English, American, Roman, canon, and European law.
  • The history of the legal profession, including printed books, printed ephemera, and manuscripts.
  • Law-related children’s books.
  • Out-of-print monographs authored by Yale Law School faculty (current monographs are routinely acquired for the Faculty Collection along with other copies for the circulating collection).

General Policies

We strongly prefer printed books with artifactual value, such as contemporary bindings, significant bindings, marginal annotations, and provenance markings. We strongly prefer materials not already represented in digital collections, or with copy-specific features that set them apart from copies available online. We typically do not acquire items already held by other Yale University Library collections, with the exception of materials for the William Blackstone Collection. When acquiring materials from dealers outside the United States, we insist on obtaining all required export licenses and we scrupulously adhere to the letter and spirit of applicable cultural heritage laws.