Rare Books Blog

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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