Rare Books Blog

August 28, 2019
Call for Nominations for the Connecticut Supreme Court Historical Society’s Collier Prize
Beginning in Spring 2020, the Connecticut Supreme Court Historical Society will institute an
annual Christopher Collier Prize with a $1,000 award to historians, legal scholars, political
scientists or others who have contributed an important work or works to advance the study
of American legal and constitutional history that has Connecticut connections. The prize is
named in honor of former Connecticut State Historian, University of Connecticut history
professor, Connecticut Supreme Court Historical Society vice president and author
Christopher Collier, whose research, writing and editing over a long career broadened
knowledge of the founding of American constitutional government, Connecticut’s role in the
creation of the U.S. constitutional system, and the development of Connecticut’s own
constitutional and legal order. The prize will recognize and encourage scholars whose
publications, teaching and/or public exhibits have furthered American and Connecticut legal
and constitutional history in Professor Collier’s prolific and innovative spirit. The society will
consider any academic or independent historians, political scientists, law professors,
judges, lawyers, students and others whose work (including work in progress) may be
worthy of this prize.
For the 2020 award, the society invites nominations to be submitted to the society’s Collier
Prize Committee by December 1, 2019. Nominations, which should be no more than
1,000 words, should identify the nominee’s current employment (if applicable) or
background, describe the work that he or she is presently working on and/or has recently
contributed to the study of American legal-constitutional history and its Connecticut
connections, and briefly explain why the nominee deserves the prize. Self-nominations are
permitted and should include curriculum vitae or a resume covering the self-nominee’s
work. The Collier Prize Committee may, in its discretion, request additional information as
part of its evaluation process. The society will award the prize and its $1,000 stipend at its
spring 2020 annual meeting, which the society expects that the recipient will attend.
The Collier Prize Committee prefers that nominations be submitted electronically to the
Collier Prize Committee c/o Attorney Jeffrey J. White, jwhite@rc.com, Robinson &
Cole LLP, 280 Trumbull Street, Hartford Connecticut 06103 no later than December 1,
2019. Nominations will be accepted by mail if electronic transmittal is not practical.
Law's Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection, by Michael Widener and Mark S. Weiner
May 13, 2019

A year and a half later the Law Library’s landmark exhibition, Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection, and its catalogue continue to reverberate, this time in Austria. My co-curator and co-author Mark S. Weiner had the opportunity to speak on the exhibition to a class at the University of Salzburg, and sent this report.

Law’s Picture Books in Austria—in Miniature

Earlier this month I visited Salzburg, Austria as part of the Fulbright Intercountry Lecturing Program. Fresh air, friendly people—and, yep, it really does look like “The Sound of Music”:

During my visit, I had the chance to speak about Law’s Picture Books in a class taught by Kristin Albrecht in the Department of Legal Philosophy at the University of Salzburg. The department is headed by Prof. Stephan Kirste, who had hosted me as a Fulbrighter in Salzburg back in 2015.

It was incredibly fun to talk with students, faculty, and community members about the exhibit, and to share the conceptual logic behind the work that Mike Widener and I produced. Best of all, Frau Albrecht arranged something truly special for the occasion: a visit by Renate Schönmayr, who heads up the law library. She brought a score of gorgeous treasures from her collection for everyone to hold, examine, and discuss—and, as always, books worked their magic. I mean, even in facsimile there’s nothing quite looking at the Sachsenspiegel:

Frau Schönmayr selected the books based on the conceptual organization of our exhibit: its functional division into ten separate purposes that law book illustrations serve. And Frau Alrecht helpfully printed out the names of those purposes on colorful sheets of paper and tacked them to a bulletin board at the front of the seminar room. The class was like visiting the exhibition in miniature!

There were so many delightful books for everyone to contemplate, and the room was abuzz with conversation, as well as oohs and ahhs. I was especially charmed by this image of Justicia from an ex libris plate, which Frau Schönmayr used to illustrate the exhibition case “Symbolizing the Law”:

Frau Schönmayr has built a basic search function within the Salzburg law library database that enables users to search for books by ex libris plates, making it even easier for students and scholars to pursue work in this growing field.

So here’s to one more successful collaboration between scholar and librarian, working together in the public legal humanities. With thanks to the Fulbright program.


Renate Schönmayr, director of the University of Salzburg Law Library, and Mark S. Weiner.

The "harboring case" and Negro History Week (1954?)
February 25, 2019


This year we mark African-American History Month by featuring recent acquisitions that document less well-remembered episodes in African-American history, most of them from the Red Scare that followed World War II.

The “harboring case” and Negro History Week (Los Angeles: Civil Rights Congress, 1954?) seeks support for five defendants accused of “harboring” leaders of the Communist Party USA, comparing them to the abolitionists who harbored Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. “They dared to associate with those whose only ‘crime’ has been to oppose the McCarthyite hysteria and witch-hunts,” says the pamphlet. “They never harbored anything but ideas of peace, democracy and full freedom for the Negro people.” The title recalls the origin of African-American History Month as Negro History Week, first celebrated in 1926 in the second week of February.


The Ingrams / by Harry Raymond, Mason Roberson. 1948

Harry Raymond & Mason Roberson, The Ingrams (San Francisco: Daily People’s World, 1948?).

The Ingrams shall not die! 1948.

Harry Raymond, The Ingrams shall not die!: story of Georgia’s new terror (New York: Daily Worker, 1948).

Two recent acquisitions concern the case of Rosa Lee Ingram and her sons, a case that generated nationwide press coverage in the post-war years. Rosa Lee Ingram was a widow sharecropper with twelve children in Ellaville, Georgia. She and two of her sons were sentenced to the electric chair, essentially for defending themselves from a brutal attack by a white neighbor. They were convicted by an all-white jury in a one-day trial, having met their attorney only the morning of the trial. The NAACP and the Civil Rights Congress pursued appeals of the convictions, but it was the efforts of African American women’s organizations that are credited with winning commutation of the sentences to life in prison in 1949, and the Ingrams’ release on parole in 1959. Our two pamphlets were produced by the Communist Party, which at that time often competed with the NAACP for leadership in the civil rights movement. For a detailed account of the Ingram case, see Charles H. Martin, “Race, Gender, and Southern Justice: The Rosa Lee Ingram Case,” American Journal of Legal History 29:3 (July 1985), 251-268; available in JSTOR or HeinOnline. For a brief account, see the article in BlackPast.org.


Defend the negro sailors on the U.S.S. Philadelphia. 1940.

Albert Parker, Defend the negro sailors on the U.S.S. Philadelphia (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1940?).

Defend the negro sailors on the U.S.S. Philadelphia (1940?) arose from a protest by fifteen African American sailors. In an open letter to the Pittsburgh Courier they wrote: “We sincerely hope to discourage any other colored boys who might have planned to join the Navy and make the same mistake we did. All they would become is seagoing bell hops, chambermaids and dishwashers.” The letter led to their dishonorable discharge, but also to protests from other Navy mess men and from the African American community, and to meetings of NAACP leaders with President Roosevelt. Doris Kearns Goodwin mentions the incident in No ordinary time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; the home front in World War II (2013).


These are a few of the resources on African American history in the Law Library’s Rare Book Collection. To explore the collection’s resources, search for the subject “African Americans” or a related subject heading in the library’s catalog, MORRIS. You can also browse the albums for African American History, the Amistad Case, or Law and Modern Social Movements in the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site. Or, ask one of our librarians.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Scottish herringbone binding, early 18th century
February 12, 2019

The Rare Book Collection’s current exhibition, “Legally Binding: Fine and Historic Bindings from the Yale Law Library,” can now be viewed online in our Flickr site, in the Legally Binding album.

The album contains images of all 34 volumes displayed in the exhibition, plus three more that were cut from the physical exhibition for lack of space. The Flickr captions contain the text from the exhibition labels, as well as links to the catalog records for each book. For some of the books, the Flickr album contains images of both front and back covers, which were impossible to display in the exhibit cases.

This is an opportunity to point out two excellent online databases of historical bindings that include items from our Rare Book Collection.

“Legally Binding: Fine and Historic Bindings from the Yale Law Library” is on display through May 24 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery on Level L2 of the Yale Law School.

In closing, I and my co-curator, Michael Laird of Michael Laird Rare Books, wish to thank the following individuals for their contributions to the exhibition.

  • William E. Butler, Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University
  • Scott Husby, Princeton University Library (retired)
  • Shana Jackson, Lillian Goldman Law Library
  • Ryan Martins, Yale Law School
  • Pamela Rentz, Lillian Goldman Law Library
  • Yuksel Serindag, Lillian Goldman Law Library
  • Eric White, Princeton University Library
  • Benjamin Yousey-Hindes

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Binding with arms of Cardinal Francesco Ricci
February 4, 2019

Many of the historic volumes in the Lillian Goldman Law Library are significant not only for their texts, but for their extraordinary bindings. Over thirty of these are featured in the Rare Book Collection’s Spring 2019 exhibition, “Legally Binding: Fine and Historic Bindings from the Yale Law Library.”

The curators of the exhibition are Michael Laird, owner of Michael Laird Rare Books in Lockhart, Texas, and Michael Widener, the Law Library’s Rare Book Librarian. They selected bindings for their beauty, craftsmanship, functionality, and historical significance.

“These bookbindings tell stories about the people who owned them, read them, or sold them at some point in their long histories,” write Laird and Widener. “The bindings reflect the time and place of their creation, and reveal attitudes about the legal texts they continue to protect. They also illustrate chapters in the history of book binding.”

The examples date from the Middle Ages to the late nineteenth century, and from across Europe and the Americas. They include bindings prepared for students, lawyers, public officials, noblemen, wealthy magnates, a book collector, an Italian cardinal, a chained library in England, the tourist trade in China, the Queen Regent of Spain, the English diarist John Evelyn, and a palace of the Tsar of Russia.

“Legally Binding” is the latest in a series of exhibitions that examine law books as physical artifacts, and the relationships between their forms and content.

“Legally Binding: Fine and Historic Bindings from the Yale Law Library” is on display February 4 to May 30 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>.

Batton Lash
January 26, 2019

Our Rare Book Collection aggressively collects the works of several authors. Most of them are English lawyers and judges from long ago, most notably Sir William Blackstone. The exception is the comics author Batton Lash, a Brooklyn native. Our collection of his Supernatural Law comics is the most complete of any library in the world. I am sad to report that Batton Lash passed away January 12, after a long battle with brain cancer.

Supernatural Law documents the exploits of Wolff & Byrd, “Counselors of the Macabre.” The duo made their debut in 1979 in a comic strip for The Brooklyn Paper, which also ran in The National Law Journal from 1983 to 1997. In 1994 Lash and his wife Jackie Estrada founded Exhibit A Press and published over 50 bimonthly issues of Supernatural Law, including several starring Wolff & Byrd’s legal secretary, Mavis. They have also issued 17 trade paperbacks, such as The Gods Must be Litigious (2010) and the most recent, Supernatural Law: Grandfathered In (2018). Three of the titles have been translated into French and Spanish. Estrada and Lash also authored an excellent bibliography, The Supernatural Law Companion: A Reader’s Guide to Wolff & Byrd (2015), complete with back stories and anecdotes. Lash relied on a lawyer friend, Mitch Berger, to vet the comic for legal accuracy.

Batton Lash was known as an innovator in the comics world. Exhibit A Press was a pioneering venture in self publishing. Lash was one of the first comics artists to publish online, at http://supernaturallaw.com/. His colleagues dubbed him the unofficial “Mayor of San Diego Comic-Con.”

The Yale Law Library’s collection grew out of my parallel interests in legal illustration and law & popular culture. Supernatural Law comics were included in our 2010 exhibition, “Superheroes in Court: Lawyers, Law and Comic Books,” and in our 2017 exhibition at the Grolier Club in New York City, “Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection.”

Batton Lash’s death prompted an outpouring of eulogies in social media, where friends and colleagues remembered him as witty, unfailingly kind, and as a very sharp dresser. The Comics Reporter has compiled links to dozens of eulogies. See especially the obituaries in The Brooklyn Paper, The San Diego Reader, The Comics Journal, and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

I regret that I never had the privilege of meeting Batton Lash in person. My deepest condolences to his widow, Jackie Estrada, and to all who knew and loved him.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Batton Lash, Zombie Wife, and Other Tales of Supernatural Law (San Diego: Exhibit A Press, 2014).

Printing and the Mind of Man
December 19, 2018

‘Tis the season for making lists. One popular way of taking stock of the past year is through lists of the year’s “greatest hits.” My colleague Fred Shapiro recently issued the 2018 edition of his annual list of most notable quotes, and lists of the year’s best (or worst) books and movies abound.

“All time greatest” lists are also popular and even useful pastimes. The book world is well supplied with such lists. Perhaps the most influential is Printing and the Mind of Man (2nd ed. 1983), which began as the catalogue of a 1963 exhibition in London. It has become a guide and yardstick for collectors.

For those who prefer round numbers for their lists, the Grolier Club has produced several “Grolier hundred” bibliographies, in conjunction with exhibitions, showcasing the 100 most famous books in fields including science, medicine, children’s literature, and English literature.

So what are legal literature’s greatest hits? We have a few lists to choose from. “Five books stand out pre-eminently in the history of English law,” wrote Sir William Holdsworth in Some Makers of English Law (1966):

  1. Ranulf de Glanvill, Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Anglie (late 12th century, first print edition 1554)
  2. Henry de Bracton, De legibus & consuetudinibus Angliae (13th century; first print edition 1569)
  3. Thomas Littleton’s Tenures (1st ed. 1482)
  4. Sir Edward Coke, The first part of the Institutes of the lawes of England (1st ed. 1628)
  5. Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (1st ed. 1765-69)

For American law, we have the list of ten greatest American law books compiled by legal historian Bernard Schwartz in A Book of Legal Lists (1997):

  1. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, The Federalist (1788)
  2. James Kent, Commentaries on American Law (1826-30)
  3. Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833)
  4. Thomas M. Cooley, A Treatise on the Constitutional Limitations which Rest upon the Legislative Power of the American Union (1868)
  5. Christopher Columbus Langdell, A Selection of Cases on the Law of Contracts (1871)
  6. Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Common Law (1881)
  7. Benjamin N. Cardozo, The Nature of the Judicial Process (1921)
  8. Jerome N. Frank, Law and the Modern Mind (1930)
  9. James C. Carter, Law: Its Origin, Growth and Function (1907)
  10. Richard A. Posner, Economic Analysis of Law (1973)

The 424 entries in Printing and the Mind of Man (PMM) include nine law books:

  1. Justinian’s Institutes (1468), PMM 4
  2. Littleton’s Tenures (1482), PMM 23
  3. Bracton’s De legibus & consuetudinibus Angliae (1569), PMM 89
  4. Grotius’ De Jure Belli ac Pacis (1625), PMM 125
  5. Coke on Littleton (1628), PMM 126
  6. Montesquieu’s De l’Esprit des Loix (1748), PMM 197
  7. Beccaria’s Dei Delitti e delle Pene (1764), PMM 209
  8. Blackstone’s Commentaries (1765-69), PMM 212
  9. The Federalist (1788), PMM 234

The most wide ranging and comprehensive list I’ve seen is The Formation and Transmission of Western Legal Culture: 150 Books that Made the Law in the Age of Printing (Serge Dauchy et al. eds., 2016).

I find all of these lists interesting, useful (for teaching and for collection development), and unavoidably debatable. Their capacity for provoking debate is in fact one of their virtues. My primary objection to all these law lists is that they exclude tools such as law dictionaries and abridgments, practical literature such as form books, and legislative works such as the Code Napoleon, all of which have had enormous influence on the law, the law’s practitioners, and the law’s subjects. In addition, none of them venture outside the confines of western civilization.

In devising a new list, issues would include:

  • Chronological limits.
  • Geographic boundaries.
  • Size. (I’m partial to 100).
  • What constitutes a “book”? Does Magna Carta or the U.S. Constitution qualify?
  • What constitutes a “law book”?
  • Do we include codes or other legislative works?
  • Do we include tools such as law dictionaries, abridgments, form books, or practice guides?
  • What constitutes “great” or “influential”?

Finally, there is the question of who does the selection. I’m in favor of a mixed group of librarians, historians, collectors, and practitioners. If the discussion doesn’t produce a bibliography or an exhibition, it would at least be fun.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


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