Rare Books Blog

Printer's device of Peter Schoeffer, 1476
February 25, 2021

My interest in law book illustrations has led me to study and collect other graphic elements in early printed law books. Some of the most lovely and charming of these are printers’ devices, also known as printers’ marks. A printer’s device is a trademark of sorts, serving both as a marketing tool and a copyright notice of sorts, warning potential interlopers of the printer’s property interest in the work.

I have assembled over 330 examples of printers’ devices from our Rare Book Collection in the Printers’ devices album on our Flickr site. The images are titled and sorted by place of publication - printer/publisher, year. The captions give the complete bibliographic citation for the source of the image. Most online collections of printers’ devices give the device alone, usually in black and white. I present the images in full color at the highest resolution available, making it possible to distinguish between woodcuts and engravings. I include the imprint when it is adjacent to the device, to provide additional context. The examples that follow include links to their Flickr images and to their records in our online catalog, MORRIS.

The very first printer’s device, shown above, was that of Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer, who took over Johann Gutenberg’s press. Fust was Gutenberg’s financial backer and Schoeffer was his apprentice. The device first appeared in their 1457 Mainz Psalter. Our example comes from Schoeffer’s 1476 edition of the Constitutiones of Pope Clement V (also known as the Clementines), one of the foundational texts of canon law.

The earliest printers’ devices were a variety of craftperson’s marks. Some were similar to those used by silversmiths, often in the form of monograms (here is one example), while others replicated the signs hanging at the doors of printers’ shops, which served as addresses in the time before numbered street addresses. Both these elements are incorporated in the device of Richard Tottel, the London printer who held the monopoly on English common law books in the latter 16th century, located “in Fletestrete within Temple Barre, at the signe of the hand & starre.”

Printer's device of Richard Tottel, 1556

Curiously, of the hundreds of law books that Tottel published between 1552 and 1593, his 1556 edition of Year Book cases from Michaelmas term, 4 Henry VI, is the only appearance of his printer’s device I can find.

My interest in printers’ devices grew out of efforts to collect images of Justitia in law books. I’ve amassed close to a thousand examples in the Flickr site, in illustrations as well as in decorative elements such as headpieces, tailpieces, initials, and title page vignettes (including printers’ devices). Somne printers might have used the figure of Justitia to market their books to the legal profession, but her use was never limited to law books or legal audiences. One example is the device of Wolfgang Endters, part of a family of Frankfurt printers active in the 17th century. The device appears on the title page of Marcantonio Pellegrini’s De fideicommissis (1645). As described in the excellent Pitts Theology Library Digital Image Archive:

This printer’s device … illustrates a life lived with perserverance by the figures representing Truth and Justice placing a crown on a skull. The Latin inscription above the device “Persevera usque ad finem et coronaberis” translates “Persevere until the end and you shall be given a crown” (cf. Revelation 2:10). A Latin motto beneath the device “Assuesce et persiste” also states “Become accustomed and persist”.

Printer's device of Wolfgang Endters, 1645

In the 16th century printers’ devices migrated from the colophons at the end of the text to the title pages, and became progressively more ornate. While the majority are woodcuts, engraved devices became increasingly common in the 17th and 18th centuries. Engravings provided much finer image detail, but were also more expensive. They required separate presses for the letterpress and the engraving, and skill by the printer to place the engraving in the correct location on the page.

There is a wonderful variety to printer’s devices. In artistic quality they range from the humble to the elegant. There are rebuses, cityscapes, religious images, allegorical images, and images from classical mythology. They are populated by printers, readers, writers, sculptors, farmers, shepherds, and sailors. The animals that appear range from the wild to the domestic to the imaginary: lions, eagles, dolphins, snakes, cows, roosters, hens, geese, dogs, cats, salamanders, griffins, and unicorns. And trees, lots of trees. Their subject matter can be whimsical, motivational, or patriotic. Images that were once legible to their viewers are now obscure. Some are miniature masterpieces.

Printers’ devices were first and foremost marketing tools. However, in looking at them as a group it is impossible to ignore their aspirational aspect. Printers had commercial ambitions, but they also sought to portray themselves as actors in the world of learning and culture.

I will conclude with just two of my personal favorites. The device of Giacomo Antonio Bagnoli appears in the third volume of Scipione Rovito’s Consiliorum seu iuris responsorum (Naples, 1669). The goggle-eyed cormorant is utterly charming, and the device as a whole, with its vigorous lines, is the perfect example of why I love woodcuts as an art form.

Printer's device of Giacomo Antonio Bagnoli, 1669

I’m a big fan of sailing ships. I immediately fell in love with the engraved device of Horace Boissat and Georges Remeurs that appears in their 1661 Lyon edition of the collected works of the Spanish jurist Antonio Gómez.

Printer's device of Horace Boissat and Georges Remeus

To research our printers’ devices I made extensive use of the CERL Thesaurus (Consortium of European Research Libraries) and the Pitts Theology Library Digital Image Archive (Emory University). I recommend both of them highly.

In closing, I realize that cropping printers’ devices from the title pages and colophons where they appear takes them out of their original context, but it also allows them to shine as gems of the graphic arts.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

P.S. If you’re interested in the decorations of early printed books, you might enjoy these other image albums on our Flickr site:

José Calvo González
September 15, 2020

“Sostener entre las manos un libro antiguo es como sustentar el tiempo.”
[“An ancient book is like a time machine in your hands.”]
     – José Calvo González

My late friend José Calvo González was not well known in the U.S., but in Portugal, Latin America, and his native Spain he was the leading scholar in the law and literature field. As Professor of the Philosophy of Law at the Universidad de Málaga, he published dozens of books and articles, among them Borges en el espejo de los juristas (2016) and El alma y la ley: Tolstói entre juristas (2010). In addition to publishing, he tirelessly promoted the work of others through collective works such as La cultura literaria del derecho: alianzas transatlánticas (2019), and in his lively blog, Iurisdictio-lex Malacitana.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to José because of his enthusiastic support for our Rare Book Collection over the years. He was directly responsible for several of my acquisitions of illustrated law. José was a committed bibliophile, and we shared an interest in the illustrated law books that I have pursued for our collection. Indeed, two of my final purchases for the Rare Book Collection are books that José alerted me to. One of these is De iure maritimo & navali (Stockholm, 1651) by Johann Loccenius. This work on comparative maritime law has a lovely added engraved title page, showing Justitia standing in the prow of a sailing ship.

The other book is the two-volume Institutiones romano-hispanae (Valencia, 1788-1789) by Juan Sala Bañuls. It came to my attention when José told me about the first edition of the work, published under the title Vinnius Castigatus, which he owned. He described it to me as an effort to “hispanicize” the commentary on Justinian’s Institutes by the Dutch jurist Arnold Vinnius, a popular textbook that was nevertheless suspect in Catholic Spain because Vinnius was a Protestant. The frontispiece shows Justitia handing the Siete Partidas (the medieval Spanish law code) to the Spanish king and the Institutes to the Roman emperor. José captioned the image, “Con la justicia se afirma el trono” (“Justice affirms the throne”), i.e. that justice is the basis for the monarch’s authority and for law in general. As a visual metaphor for the importance of legal literature, the image has few equals.

José also had an eye for law-related popular and children’s literature. Thanks to him, our Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection has El Juez (“The Judge”), part of the popular Lucky Luke series of comic books by the Belgian cartoonist Morris, in both a Spanish translation and the original French. Other titles José led me to included Les arrêts illustrés (2017) by Astrid Boyer, and a 4-volume set of Les tribunaux comiques by Jules Moinaux (1882-1889).

Although José Calvo’s main work was in law and literature, he made a number of significant contributions to book history. Letra y duelo: imprentas de viudas en Málaga (siglos XVII-XIX), the catalogue of an exhibition he organized in 2009, is an innovative study of the role of women in printing and publishing in early modern Málaga. The catalogue is now available online, thanks to the Ayuntamiento de Málaga. In another exhibition catalogue, El derecho escrito: la cultura del libro e impresos jurídicos en las colecciones privadas malagueñas, siglos XVI-XIX (2005), he studied legal culture of the 16th-19th centuries through the books that local jurists left behind. In addition, he marked the 30th anniversary of his law school at the Universidad de Málaga with a catalogue of their rare book collection, In theatro librorum: fondo antiguo en la Blblioteca de la Facultad de Derecho (2009). All three are gifts to the Law Library from their distinguished author.

In addition to supporting our Rare Book Collection with gifts and guidance, José was a tireless supporter of our public programming, giving wide publicity to our exhibitions and publications through his blog. He took great pleasure in encouraging and promoting the work of others. The Law Library and I are among many, many individuals and institutions who are indebted to him for his enthusiastic support.

José and I were friends for twenty years, yet I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person until his visit to the Law Library exactly one year ago. Along with his friends and my wife, we spent several wonderful hours with the books in our Rare Book Collection. It was a long-awaited and memorable event, one of the highlights of my career. I regret that there won’t be another.

Adiós, hermano.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

José Calvo González (seated) with friends in the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Room, 14 September 2019. Photo courtesy of Raoul Osorio Berardinetti.

José Calvo González (right) with Mike and Emma Widener, 14 September 2019. José was moved by Emma’s story of her daughter Clara’s encounter with Jorge Luis Borges.

No Imprisonment for Debt, 1844
August 6, 2020

The Rare Book Collection’s digital collection in the Law Library’s Scholarship Repository grew by a fifth in July, with the addition of 27 additional digitized works. They include eighteen broadsides from across Europe and North America. They are among the 151 titles freely available as high-quality PDF documents in the Yale Law Special Collections section of the Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository.

A broadside is a large sheet printed on one side, much like a poster. Long ago they were an inexpensive and effective means of disseminating official announcements, news, and popular literature. In the case of law, governments used broadsides to broadcast new laws and regulations. Broadsides from the popular press published accounts of notorious trials, public executions, and commentary (often anonymous) on news events, helping to form public perceptions of the legal system and legal issues.

Since broadsides were designed for display in public places, their survival rate is quite low, making them especially valuable as historical sources. Their rarity is born out by the sample of eighteen broadsides we digitized from our collection. Ten of them are the only known copies, according to searches in the OCLC FirstSearch database and the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog (KVK). Another seven are one of only two known copies.

These broadsides date from as early as 1619 to as late as 1912. They include a dozen documenting trials in Great Britain, North America (including Mexico), and Italy, three from our Italian Statute Collection, and four satires of the legal profession and current events. In the summaries below, clicking on the title will take you to the Scholarship Repository where you can read and download the PDF. You will also find a link to the catalog record in our online catalog, MORRIS. Thanks to my colleagues Cesar Zapata and Yuksel Serindag for their help.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


BRITISH TRIALS

The account of the trial of Jas. Byrne at Dublin, Oct. 28, 1811, charged on the oath of the Bishop of Clogher, with accusing him of an abonimable crime: with an account of the dreadful floggings he underwent. London: Printed and sold by J. Catnach, 2 Monmouth-Court …, [1822]. 46 x 41 cm. The only known copy.

“In 1811, in Dublin, James Byrne accused Percy Jocelyn, Bishop of Clogher (at that time Bishop of Ferns) of making sexual advances towards him. … Jocelyn in turn accused Byrne of extortionary libel. … The proceedings were grossly biased in favor of the Bishop. Byrne was sentenced to public flogging, ‘to be whipped three times’ and imprisoned for two years. It was reported that after the first flogging, where ‘he was bled and tortured until the last spark of life and feeling had nearly become extinct’, he was persuaded to recant his accusation on the promise that the other floggings would not follow. The text on the broadside consists of the prosecution’s statement to the jury and the sentence in the 1811 trial. Following that is the reportage is taken from the Dublin Morning Post in 1822, recounting Byrnes’s ordeal in 1811.”–Robert H. Rubin Books (vendor; quoted with permission).

The trials, confessions, &c. of Miss Blandy for poisoning her own father; John Swann and Miss Jefferies for the murder of her uncle : being the most shocking murders ever known for many ages. London, 1752?. 37 x 25 cm. The only known copy. The murder trials of Mary Blandy, John Swann, and Elizabeth Jeffries were two of the most sensational and widely publicized trials in 18th-century Britain. This crude broadside is a two-for-one.

Caroline, Queen, consort of George IV, King of Great Britain, 1768-1821. The Queen’s letter to the King. London: R. Walwyn, printer, [1820]. 51 x 37 cm. The only known copy. This is one of our items featured in the recent exhibition, “Trial by Media: The Queen Caroline Affair.”

Trial and sentence of Franz Müller for the murder of Mr. Briggs, on the North London Railway. [1864?]. 50 x 38 cm. The only known copy. This murder was the first to take place on a British train, and reflects public anxiety about this new mode of transportation.

Trial and sentence of Joseph Connor for the murder of Mary Brothers, at no. 11, George Street, St. Giles’s, on Monday, March 31st. London: BIRT, printer, 39 Great St. Andrew Street, Seven Dials, [1845]. 51 x 38 cm. One of two known copies.


NORTH AMERICAN TRIALS

Lamentos del Sargento Ignacio Jimenez: sentenciado a la ultima pena. [Mexico City?]: Imprenta de Antonio Vanegas Arroy, 1912. 30 x 21 cm. One of two known copies.

Sargent Ignacio Jiménez was accused of murdering his commanding officer. In this broadside he bids farewell to his family and urges others to not follow his bad example. The woodcut is attributed to José Guadalupe Posada, Mexico’s most famous illustrator.

Lines written on the death of Sarah M. Cornell. 1833?. 43 x 20 cm. One of three known copies. Sarah Cornell was a “mill girl” whose body was found hanging from a pole. She was found to have been pregnant, and a suspected suicide became a murder investigation, leading to the arrest of the Rev. Ephraim K. Avery, a Methodist minister of Bristol, Rhode Island. Public outrage greeted Avery’s aquittal, as seen in this broadside.

Important decision in reference to trade marks. Reported for the “Express.” Court of Chancery, New York. J. & P. Coats v. Shepard and others, of the firm of Hollbrook, Nelson, & Co., New York. September 1, 1845. New York: Published by Townsend & Brooks, 1845. 33 x 18 cm. One of two known copies. After winning this trademark infringement lawsuit, the Scottish thread manufacturer J. & P. Coats, published the court’s decision as both an advertisement of its goods and a veiled warning to competitors.


ITALIAN TRIALS

Veridica descrizione, e ragguaglio distinto della Promulgazione delle colpe, e dell’abjura solenne, e della condanna di galera fulminata dal Santo Tribunale dell’Inquisizione di Brescia, contro Giuseppe Beccarelli da Vrago d’Olio, li 13. settembre 1710. In Brescia: Per Gio. Maria Rizzardi, con licenza de’ superiori, 1710. 52 x 37 cm. One of two known copies.

This broadside documents a trial by the Inquisition of a priest named Guiseppi Beccarelli, who confessed under torture to the heresy of quietism. The woodcut’s alphabetic key identifies all the participants, including the presiding officer, Cardinal Gianalberto Badoaro.

Sopra definitiva relazione di questa Regia Curia Pretoria … [Pavia, Italy: publisher not identified], 1763. 36 x 23 cm. The only known copy. Ambrogio Giuseppe Ferrara, a.k.a. Lumellino, was sentenced to death for a crime spree that included two murders, destruction of his victims’ corpses, attempted murder, kidnapping, trafficking in stolen goods, assault, possession of prohibited weapons, and organized crime. The illustration depicts Lumellino’s beheading, scheduled for Deceember 12, 1763 in Pavia. The broadside was published by a Catholic confraternity dedicated to caring for condemned criminals in their last moments.

Arese, Giovanni Benedetto Borromeo, 1679-1744. Essendo stato questa mattina dal senato eccellentissimo sentenziato il Co: Galleazzo Boselli Bergamsco ad essergli tagliata la testa sopra il Corfo di Porta Tosa. Milan, 1705. 31 x 18 cm. The only known copy. The broadside proclaims the death sentence of Galeazzo Boselli, for execution on December 22, 1705. The large woodcut depicts the beheading of John the Baptist, the patron saint of the confraternity that cared for condemned criminals in Milan.


ITALIAN STATUTES

Bergamo (Italy). Li rettori avviso. In Bergamo: Per li Fratelli Rossi stampatori camerali, 1766. 37 x 24 cm. The only known copy. The regulation attempts to control the spread of disease among livestock.

Bologna (Italy). Notificazione sopre I coloni, che ai santi prossimi mutano colonia: il Senato di Bologna. In Bologna : Nella stamperia camerale, 1796. 46 x 34 cm. The only known copy. The broadside sets out measures imposed to address cattle plague, which killed 19,000 head in Bologna in 1796.

Genoa (Italy). Prohibitione de coltelli. In Genoa : Per Gio. Maria Farroni, 1646. 42 x 30 cm. One of two known copies. The Republic of Genoa bans a specific type of dagger in this proclamation, illustrated in a woodcut, noting that it is designed solely for stabbing and not cutting.


SATIRICAL BROADSIDES

Jurisprudentes prudentes jure vocantur, tam bene cum studeant provideantq[ue] sibi. Juristen und Advocaten mussn erweicht werdn mit Ducaten. Consten sie ungern helffen in noth, und gewint gar nichts die arm Rott. Germany?: Gedruckt im Jahr nach Christi Geburt, 1619. 39 x 33 cm. The only known copy.

This broadside takes aim at lawyers and their greed. The Latin verse at the top can be translated: “Lawyers are prudent, provident beside / for prudently they for themselves provide.” The lively illustration shows a parade of poor clients seeking the lawyer’s services. Of particular interest is the bags hanging from the walls, which were the lawyer’s filing system for documents.

The great riot: vox populi, vox dei: intense excitement in Hartford, troops called out! Hartford?, 1877. 37 x 24 cm. One of two known copies. This broadside lampoons the financial scandal involving the Charter Oak Insurance Company by depicting a “riot”: “All the Saloons ordered to be kept open until the excitement shall have been numbered among the things that were.” “Fire department had been ordered to wet down any and all incendiary speeches.”

O.K. OLL for Kleveland, no imprisonment for debt. Hartford?, 1844. 48 x 8 cm. The only known copy. The broadside announces a rally to support the reelection of Chauncey Fitch Cleveland as governor of Connecticut, who promised to abolish imprisonment for debt. The broadside includes John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “The Prisoner for Debt.”

Democrat Salt River excursion! Incidents of the annual voyage to the old stamping ground. Vain attempts to get in the mayor’s office.–The democracy and the police Philadelphia, Tuesday, October 10, 1871. Philadelphia: The Philadelphia Post, 1871. 46 x 38 cm. One of two known copies. A satire on Philadelphia politics.

Fitzherbert, New boke of iustices of peace (1554)
April 28, 2020

If distance or the coronavirus shutdown prevented you from viewing our Spring 2020 exhibition, “Precedents So Scrawl’d and Blurr’d: Readers’ Marks in Law Books,” there is good news. The exhibition is now online, as part of the Yale University Library’s Online Exhibitions website.

The 39 volumes in the exhibition, spanning seven centuries and three continents, were selected for their research potential and for the insights they provide into the roles law books have played in people’s lives. The marks left by readers document the lived experience of the law, and remind us that law is above all a human endeavor. The exhibition is the latest in a series that examine law books as physical artifacts, and the relationships between their form and content.

The exhibition’s title comes from John Anstey’s verse satire of the legal profession, The Pleader’s Guide (1796): “Precedents so scrawl’d and blurr’d / I scarce could read one single word.”

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Sir Thomas Littleton, Les tenures du monsieur Littleton (London: Richard Tottel, 1583).

Gastaldi's treatise on quarantines
April 3, 2020

To mark the 12th anniversary of the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog, I direct your attention to a book of ours that is, unfortunately, rather timely. The book is Girolamo Gastaldi’s Tractatus de avertenda et profliganda peste politico-legalis (Bologna, 1684), a massive folio of almost a thousand pages that is considered one of the most important early treatises on quarantines.

The book publishes the text of over 260 public health regulations (in Italian and Latin) for the city of Rome, covering not only quarantines but also topics such as architectural prevention measures, public notices, food markets, hospitals, prisons, travel restrictions, beggars, cemeteries, and the Jewish Ghetto of Rome. The book also includes an account of the plague which devastated Italy in 1656, and a medical commentary on the plague.

Cardinal Gastaldi (1616-1685) wrote from experience. As the commissioner of public health under Pope Alexander VII, he was in charge of Rome’s response to the 1656 plague epidemic. His efforts were considered a resounding success because only 4,500 died in Rome (about 8% of the population), compared to the 150,000 who died in Naples and 50,000 in Genoa, representing over half of their respective populations. As a result of his work, Gastaldi received the cardinal’s hat in 1673 and was named archbishop of Benevento in 1680.

Gastaldi’s treatise adds to our collection of early Italian statutes, but those who know me won’t be surprised to learn that I acquired the book as much for its illustrations as for its text. A few of the 47 engraved plates are shown below. There is a map of the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome, and a more detailed map of the area around St. Paul’s Outside the Walls (San Paolo fuori le Mura), one of Rome’s four Papal Basilicas and the largest church in Rome after St. Peter’s Basilica. Since it was “outside the walls” of the city, St. Paul’s was considered an appropriate site for the burial of plague victims.

Of special interest are the engravings of the several gates to the city of Rome, which were critical points for enforcing the quarantine. Some of them, like the Porta San Sebastiano, are still important landmarks in Rome, while others like the Porta Angelica were demolished long ago.

For a summary of the 1656 plague in Rome and Gastaldi’s efforts, see Pierina Ferrara, “Women in Times of Plague: Economic Conditions and and Social Change in 17th Century Rome,” in I Congresso Histórico Internacional - As Cidades na História: População (2012), volume 3, pages 373-385.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Map of the Trastevere neighborhood, Rome, 1655
A map of the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome at the time of the 1656 plague epidemic, with north to the left. The gray area at the upper left is the Jewish Ghetto. See a high-resolution image in our Flickr site.

Map of St. Paul's Outside the Walls, Rome
The area around the Papal Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls (San Paolo fuori le Mura), with north at the bottom. The basilica encloses the tomb of St. Paul the Apostle. The mass graves for plague victims are marked “C” and “F”. See a high-resolution image in our Flickr site.

Porta San Sebastiano, Rome, 1655
The 1700-year old Porta San Sebastiano, sitting astride the Appian Way, was the principal gateway into the city of Rome for centuries. Today it is the largest and best-preserved gate in the Aurelian Walls.

Porta Angelica, Rome, 1655
The Porta Angelica, built in the 1560s, was once a principal entry point for pilgrims. Located just outside the northeast walls of the Vatican, it was demolished in 1888.

Gastaldi, Tractatus de avertenda et profliganda peste politico-legalis, 1684
Girolamo Gastaldi, Tractatus de avertenda et profliganda peste politico-legalis (Bologna: Manolessi, 1684).

Trial by Media: The Queen Caroline Affair
March 25, 2020

Trial by Media: The Queen Caroline Affair,” the joint exhibition of the Lewis Walpole Library and the Lillian Goldman Law Library’s Rare Book Collection, is now available online in the Yale University Library Online Exhibitions site. The colorful exhibition documents the media frenzy provoked two centuries ago by the attempt of King George IV of England to divorce his consort Queen Caroline on the grounds of adultery.

Drawing on the Lewis Walpole Library’s strengths in graphic satire and the Law Library’s collections of trial accounts and illustrated legal texts, “Trial by Media” examines the role of print media in documenting the Queen Caroline affair and shaping public perceptions. The items range from mocking caricatures to political screeds and sober, journalistic accounts. Today these sources serve as a lens for studying gender roles, class divisions, publishing, political satire, and British politics.

In addition to digital text and images of the Fall 2019 exhibition, the digital version includes a collection of ten scholarly essays, many of which were presented at an October 4, 2019 conference in the Yale Law School. There is also a bibliography of works on the Queen Caroline Affair.

A special attraction of the online exhibit is a digital reproduction of the Humphrey Shop Album, created by prominent London satiric print publisher George Humphrey (1773?-1831?) to market prints to his clients. Virtually all of its 131 hand-colored prints are contemporary satires of the Queen Caroline scandal by artists such as George Cruikshank, Robert Cruikshank, and Theodore Lane. The survival of this shop album in its original binding is itself extraordinary, as most such albums have been broken up and sold as individual prints by later dealers. The album is one of the treasures of the Lewis Walpole Library.

“Trial by Media: The Queen Caroline Affair” was co-curated by Cynthia Roman, Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Paintings at the Lewis Walpole Library, and Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian at the Lillian Goldman Law Library. The online exhibition was designed by Kristen McDonald of the Lewis Walpole Library.

The political queen that Jack loves: with thirteen cuts (London: Printed and published by Roach & Co., 1820). Illustrations by George Cruikshank. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

Detail from Justinian's Institutes (Venice, 1476)
March 4, 2020

Books are the lawyer’s tools and the law student’s laboratory, and nothing brings this home better than the marks that they leave in their books. Over 30 such annotated and inscribed books from the Lillian Goldman Law Library are on display in “Precedents So Scrawl’d and Blurr’d: Readers’ Marks in Law Books,” the Spring 2020 exhibition from the library’s Rare Book Collection.

Exhibition curator Mike Widener, the Law Library’s rare book librarian, selected items that offer both research potential and insights into the roles that law books have played in people’s lives. The marks left by readers document the lived experience of the law, and remind us that law is above all a human endeavor.

The exhibition’s title comes from John Anstey’s verse satire of the legal profession, The Pleader’s Guide (1796): “Precedents so scrawl’d and blurr’d / I scarce could read one single word.”

Many of the volumes illustrate the work of lawyers, law students, law professors, and authors throughout the centuries. Doodles suggest the writers taking a break from dreary legal studies. Scraps of poetry can be sources for literary scholars. Readers also used their books to record events, ranging from a drunken outburst in the New Jersey assembly to a famous naval battle of the War of 1812 and the beheading of Henry VIII’s fifth queen.

These books represent a small fraction of the annotated books in the Yale Law Library’s rare book collection. They demonstrate the value of collecting these artifacts, and constitute the Law Library’s invitation to explore them further.

“Precedents So Scrawl’d and Blurr’d” is the latest in a series of exhibitions that examine law books as physical artifacts, and the relationships between their forms and content. It is on display March 2 to June 17, 2020, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, located on Level L2 of the Yale Law School (127 Wall Street, New Haven CT). The exhibition is open to the general public 10am-6pm daily, and open to Yale affiliates until 10pm.

For more information, contact Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian, phone (203) 432-4494 and email <mike.widener@yale.edu>.

A true and perfect relation of the whole proceedings against the late most barbarous traitors (London, 1606)

This book documents the trial of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators. An early owner wrote his review on the flyleaf:

This is a relation (as the Title Page calls it) and not a Tryal, for no Witnesses are produced in it — It would have been far more Satisfactory to the Reader; if the Evidence had been inserted in the manner it is [in] the State Tryals; where you have the very Words of the Witnesses, and the Cross-Examinations of them by the Prisoners. But here you have little more than the Inditements, & the Harangues of the Lords Commissioners & the Attorney General.

Dr. Cowel in his Interpreter under the word Heyreloom calls this Speech a Divine Speech.

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