Rare Books Blog

May 29, 2008

I recommend two recent meditations on the present and future roles of rare book libraries and special collections:

Both Darnton and Turner argue that today's digital information world makes rare books & manuscript collections more important, and not simply as mines for content creators.

Several of my favorite "oldies but goodies" in this vein are by Daniel Traister at the University of Pennsylvania.

Finally, two blogs worth checking out:

  • On Bibliophagist the rare book dealer Garrett Scott encourages "low-spot collecting" (see The Gee-Whiz Factor) and muses on The Modern American Library, as well as extolling the virtues of the Bug-House Poet.
  • BibliOdyssey, dedicated to "Books - Illustrations - Science - History - Visual Materia Obscura - Eclectic Bookart", is a consistently satisfying feast for the eyes and the mind, as well as an instructive exercise in data mining. The curator, Paul K. of Sydney, brings together an incredible variety of graphic material in books, manuscripts, advertising, and ephemera from around the world.

Rare Book Librarian

May 19, 2008

The Yale Law Library has finished cataloging the Roman-Canon Law Collection of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (ABCNY). This means that all of this rich and valuable collection is accessible to researchers via the Law Library’s online catalog, MORRIS.

A round of applause is due to Susan Karpuk and the two catalogers who worked under her direction on this project, Ruth Alcabes and Maureen Hayes. Susan described this cataloging project in a recent article, “Processing a Large Acquisition of 16th-19th Century Roman-Canon Law Books at the Yale Law Library,” LH&RB 14:1 (Winter 2008), which is available online at <http://www.aallnet.org/sis/lhrb/>.

The Law Library is grateful for the generous support from the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund, Yale Law School, for funding the acquisition and cataloging. Thanks also to Richard Tuske, Director of Library Operations at the ABCNY, and to the ABCNY’s Board of Directors, for making this acquisition possible.

The ABCNY’s Roman-Canon Law Collection contains 1197 titles in 1754 physical volumes, and arrived in August 2006 on permanent loan. Its acquisition represents a quantum leap in our already strong holdings in Roman and canon law, making the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection one of the premier libraries for research in European legal history.

The work pictured at right, Martin Sánchez’ Arbor dividui et individui (1538) is one of several that are the only copies in U.S. libraries according to WorldCat. The oldest imprint is a 1501 compilation of the regulations for the Papal Chancery. The collection also includes one manuscript volume, an 18th-century digest of Roman-Dutch law.

There are 80 volumes of the decisions of the Rota Romana, the Vatican’s highest court and for centuries one of Europe’s most important courts. There are 16 collections of consilia, the legal opinions given out (for a fee) by leading jurists at the request of institutions, rulers and others.

The collection is valuable not only for legal history but for the history of the book. Many of the early volumes retain their original bindings. Six of the volumes were once academic prizes, presented to outstanding students in the 17th-18th centuries in elegant bindings. The bindings and ownership marks suggest that most of the books were originally in German or Austrian collections. The ABCNY acquired many of the volumes in 1904 from the library of Konrad von Maurer (1823-1902), professor at the University of Munich and an influential historian of Scandinavian law.

I could go on and on about the treasures and curiosities in the ABCNY’s Roman-Canon Law Collection. I’ve highlighted some of the individual volumes in recent posts and there is more to come. For now, you can browse the entire collection via a collection-level record in our online catalog, MORRIS. Feel free to contact me with questions or comments.


Rare Book Librarian

May 10, 2008

Henry G. Manne, one of the founders of the Law & Economics movement, celebrates his 80th birthday on May 10, 2008. To mark this event, his sister-in-law Beverly M. Manne of Houston, Texas, has funded the acquisition of a book in his honor for the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection.

Professor Manne, Dean Emeritus of the George Mason University School of Law, is a distinguished alumnus of the Yale Law School (LL.M. ’53, S.J.D. ’66). His 1966 S.J.D. thesis at Yale Law School, Inside Information and the Entrepreneur, was the basis for his widely reviewed and controversial book, Insider Trading and the Stock Market (New York: Free Press, 1966). He is also known as an innovator in U.S. legal education.

The book that Ms. Manne and I selected to honor Professor Manne is Thomas Mortimer’s Every Man His Own Broker: or, a Guide to Exchange-Alley (London, 1765). This vade mecum for investors includes an overview of the laws governing brokers. Elizabeth Hennessy described Mortimer and his book in Coffee House to Cyber Market: Two Hundred Years of the London Stock Exchange (2001):

One of the most knowledgeable and persistent critics of brokers’ trade in securities was Thomas Mortimer whose book Every Man His Own Broker appeared in fourteen editions between 1761 and 1801, and was translated into German, Dutch, French and Italian. According to his own account he wrote because of an unhappy experience at Jonathan’s in 1756, and the work is certainly hostile to jobbers and speculators; like many of his contemporaries he was deeply perturbed by what he saw as unnecessary trading in Government funds. However, his detailed advice to the public on how to buy and sell successfully gives one of the best pictures of stock broking in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Professor Manne has provided an excellent capsule history of the Law & Economics movement in his online essay, An Intellectual History of the George Mason University School of Law. See also the biographical sketch of Professor Manne at the end.

Thanks to my fellow Texan, Ms. Beverly Manne, for her generous and thoughtful gift. And to Professor Manne, Happy 80th Birthday!


Rare Book Librarian

May 6, 2008

History of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue (1859) is a lengthy and detailed account of the arrest of John, a fugitive slave belonging to John G. Bacon of Kentucky who was residing in Oberlin, Ohio. John was liberated by a band Ohio citizens, led by Simeon Bushnell and Charles Langston. The two leaders were put on trial for interfering with the arrest of a fugitive slave, and the trial was followed by Ohio indictments against the slavehunters on kidnapping charges. All these events are narrated in detail in the 280-page book, as well as the mass meetings organized throughout the North by abolitionists to drum up support for the rescuers.

History of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue demonstrates that accounts of fugitive slave trials had become profitable publishing ventures. It was produced by a consortium of three publishers (John P. Jewett and Co. of Boston, Henry P.B. Jewett of Cleveland, and Sheldon and Co. of New York City). The American Antiquarian Society has a broadside advertisement for the book:

“AGENTS WANTED! To sell The History of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue!! A book that everybody wants! And will buy at the first opportunity! … We want agents enough to canvass every school-district in Ohio, and every state north of Mason’s and Dixon’s line. So saleable a book on such lucrative terms is offered only once in a long while, as everybody knows. Now is the time! Arrangements can be made for agencies west of Cleveland with H.P.B. Jewett, Cleveland; eastward, with John P. Jewett & Co., Boston. Any inquiries answered by Jacob R. Shipherd, Oberlin.”

The American Memory site at the Library of Congress provides the full text and images of History of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue

[From Race on the Stand: African-American History in the Law Library’s American Trials Collection, presented Feb. 20, 2008, at the Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University.]


Rare Book Librarian

May 5, 2008

The Arrest, Trial, and Release of Daniel Webster, A Fugitive Slave (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, 1859) is a journalistic narrative. The anonymous author records not only the trial, but the pre-trial proceedings, conversations with the sheriff, and the actions of the crowds that were on hand. The pamphlet provides evidence on the communications networks of abolitionists and how they rallied supporters to intervene in the proceedings. It preserves the voices of the participants, including Mr. Webster, who won his freedom in a hearing before a U.S. Commissioner.

Like many other accounts of fugitive slave trials, this pamphlet was published by an interest group, the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. It was inexpensive, quickly produced, and easily mailed.

[From Race on the Stand: African-American History in the Law Library’s American Trials Collection, presented Feb. 20, 2008, at the Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University.]


Rare Book Librarian

May 2, 2008

Early American trials is one of the collecting priorities for the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection. In the past two years we added over a hundred titles to an already large collection. About two dozen of these were trials involving African Americans, and nearly all are the only copies at Yale.

Trials involving African Americans figure prominently in the collection, because of their prominent role in American history and their continuing interest for researchers. I gave a presentation on them, Race on the Stand: African-American History in the Law Library’s American Trials Collection, on Feb. 20, 2008, for a Black History Month event organized by the Standing Committee on Professional Awareness of the Yale University Library.

Trial accounts are valuable and fascinating documents for several reasons. By recording testimony and court debates, they capture voices from the past. In contrast to appellate proceedings – where lawyers and judges are talking among themselves – trials capture a broader range of voices. Trial accounts are unique primary sources, capturing the proceedings in lower courts that usually can’t be found anywhere else. Through testimony and fact-finding, trials provide a window on social conditions, living conditions, and attitudes.

For African-American history in particular, battles over slavery and race were often fought in the courts.

What do I mean by “American trials”?  They are typically small, cheaply produced pamphlets like the 8-page item shown at right, Case of the Slave Isaac Brown: An Outrage Exposed (1847?).

The case itself involved a trumped-up charge that an African American in Pennsylvania was a fugitive from justice. Brown had been punished for an assault two years before in Maryland, and then sold to a planter in Louisiana. Somehow he made it to Pennsylvania. His former owner in Maryland obtained an arrest warrant. Two attorneys took Brown’s case and won his freedom. The case itself shows how both pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups made of the courts to further their goals.

The pamphlet itself demonstrates how trial pamphlets were used as propaganda, and also to publicize the tricks used by slave catchers. The anonymous author concludes:

“The case of Isaac Brown shows with what facility any honest citizen of Pennsylvania may be seized under a requisition from the Executive of another State, on some false and malicious charge …, banished from his native soil, tried among strangers before a foreign tribunal, and convicted and punished by the perjury of those who committed the crime, and who escape by fastening it upon him. It is a lesson to our Governor, our Courts and our People.”

Abolitionists are here telling their readers: “This could happen to YOU.” They argued that slavery laws threatened the white population as well as African Americans.

The American Memory site at the Library of Congress provides the full text and images of The Case of the Slave Isaac Brown.

I’ll be posting other examples from my presentation in the next several days. 


Rare Book Librarian

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