Rare Books Blog

October 28, 2011

Our current exhibit, “The Remarkable Run of a Political Icon: Justice as a Sign of the Law”, is now available online. Up to now, you’ve been able to view the Rare Book Collection’s exhibits online via this blog. While the blog has been a great way to provide access to our exhibits, it has a problem as well: since the exhibits are posted to the blog in installments, the viewer sees them in reverse order.

The new stand-alone exhibit allows the viewer to see the exhibit in its original intended order. In addition, the “Contents” links on the left side of the screen enables the viewer to skip around the exhibit.

A big thank-you to Jason Eiseman, our Librarian for Emerging Technologies, who built the new stand-alone exhibit site.

In the next several weeks, we will add online versions of all the exhibits that have appeared on the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog. I will continue to post our future exhibits to the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog, but now the same exhibits will also be available on their own websites, where the viewer can see them as they were intended to be seen.

For those of you, my readers, who can visit our exhibits physically, there’s nothing like the real thing. I’m a huge fan of digital access, but it remains virtually impossible to communicate the size, scale, and dimensionality of the objects on display. Please come visit!


Rare Book Librarian

October 21, 2011

The latest addition to the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr galleries is a set dedicated to bookplates. The Bookplates set is a project of Drew Adan, Library Services Assistant in our Collections & Access department. He will be adding more images of bookplates in the coming weeks and months.

The set includes bookplates of the famous, such as the bookplate of Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780), author of Commentaries of the Laws of England, the most influential book in the history of Anglo-American common law. His bookplate is in a copy of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (4th ed.; London 1700), which we recently acquired for our Blackstone Collection:

We will also seek help in identifying bookplates, such as this colorful one found in the Summa aurea of Hostiensis (Lyon 1556):


Rare Book Librarian

October 10, 2011

One of my favorite recent acquisitions is a tiny pocket edition of Justinian’s Institutes, printed in 1510 by Jean Petit. It measures only 3.375 inches tall (9.5 centimetres). Our copy is bound in gilt tooled vellum over pasteboards, with much of the gold gilt rubbed off. The flyleaf bears an early owner’s inscription: “Ad usum Innocensi de Rosso”, and there are handwritten marginal notes throughout.

The Institutes is perhaps the most long-lived student textbook in history, used by students of Roman law for well over a millenium. It was originally promulgated as the authorized textbook of Roman law by the emperor Justinian in 533 A.D., and was still being used by law students in the 18th century.

To fit the Institutes in a pocket format, the publisher of the 1510 edition stripped away the medieval gloss that usually surrounded Justinian’s text. The full title, Institutio[n]es imperiales : sine [qui]bus legum humanarum sacrorum[que] canonum amator mancus est, could be roughly translated as “The Imperial Institutes, a book no law student should be without.”

At the foot of the title page are three maxims. “Cum bonis ambula” (“Keep company with good people”) is from Cato.  “Mors peccatorum pessima” (“The death of sinners is hard”) is from Psalms 34:21. “Sic utere tuo ut alieno non egeas” means something along the lines of “Do not steal.” These maxims also appeared on the title pages of other books printed in Paris in the early 16th century. Were they intended for the student’s moral edification, or perhaps to discourage book thieves? [Thanks to Susan Karpuk, the Law Library’s head cataloger, for help with the Latin translations.]

This is a very rare little book. The only other copy I could locate is at the Austrian National Library.

It is also, possibly, the earliest pocket edition of the Institutes. If someone can cite an earlier example, please let me know.

Rare Book Librarian

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