Rare Books Blog

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.

Parte presa nell'eccellentiss. Senato, 1620, adì 9 aprile, in materia che si possi condennar alla Galea anco per manco tempo de disdotto mesi (Venice, 1620)
October 29, 2019

For the second year in a row, a publication of our Rare Book Collection has earned an award from the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). The exhibition catalogue for our Fall 2016 exhibition, Representing the Law in the Most Serene Republic: Images of Authority from Renaissance Venice, is the winner of the 2019 Publication Award from AALL’s Academic Law Libraries Special Interest Section. The award is bestowed annually to recognize a “significant contribution to scholarly legal literature.”

The exhibition, and its catalogue, were co-authored by Christopher W. Platts and myself. Platts is presently Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art at Vassar College, and was a Ph.D. student in History of Art here at Yale when the exhibition appeared. The idea for the exhibition was Christopher’s, as was the bulk of the writing, research, and selection of items.

The catalogue explores how the Venetian Republic – a prosperous and powerful state in early modern Europe – cultivated a mythical image of stability, liberty, and beauty. Focusing primarily on the outstanding holdings of Italian law books in the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection, the publication presents 25 objects of remarkable splendor and historical significance. These include illuminated manuscripts, illustrated books, prints, drawings, coins, and medals, nearly a dozen of which were borrowed from other Yale art and library collections.

The catalogue also introduces the most significant offices and symbols of the Venetian state, and explains how laws were crafted, debated, publicized, and flouted. The protagonists of the stories recounted herein are the doge (duke) and highest magistrates of Venice, the governors appointed to rule the Republic’s far-flung territories, the lawmakers in the Senate, and the lawbreakers consigned to prison or to the galleys – all of them illustrated in finely executed representations in various media.

A digital version of the print catalogue is available in the Law Library’s Yale Law School legal Scholarship Repository:

The previous award from AALL was the 2018 Joseph L. Andrews Legal Literature Award for Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection (Michael Widener & Mark S. Weiner, eds.; Clark, NJ: Talbot Publishing, 2017).

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Institutio in potestatem civitatis Bergomi data Laurentii Venerio ab Andrea Griti duce Venetiarum. 1524.

Institutio in potestatem civitatis Bergomi data Laurentii Venerio ab Andrea Griti duce Venetiarum. 1524. Manuscript on parchment. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Farmworkers' strike in California, around 1968
October 14, 2019

As Hispanic Heritage Month draws to a close, this is an opportune moment to highlight recent acquisitions that form part of that heritage. These works illustrate the span of the Rare Book Collection’s Hispanic holdings.

The image at right comes from a bilingual pamphlet, “Right to work” laws– a trap for America’s minorities / “El derecho a trabajar”– una trampa para los minorías EE UU (Delano, California, 1968?), authored by two of the leading civil rights activists of the 20th century, Cesar Chavez and Bayard Rustin, and jointly published by the organizations they led, namely the United Farm Workers AFL-CIO and the A. Philip Randolph Institute. The pamphlet denounces “right-to-work” laws as anti-democratic, “destroying the institution of collective bargaining, and thus keeping minority workers at the bottom of the economic ladder.”

Another recent adition to our Law & Modern Social Movememts Collection is The Sleepy Lagoon Case (Los Angeles: Citizens’ Committee for the Defense of Mexican-American Youth, 1942). Following a party the night of August 2, 1942 at the Sleepy Lagoon Ranch near Los Angeles, a young man named José Díaz left the party and was later found dead on the road. A police round-up followed, and 17 Mexican American youths were convicted of murder and assault on flimsy evidence. The convictions were widely viewed as evidence of racism. The pamphlet opens with an introduction by film director Orson Welles, and closes with the exhortation: “You can help to crush the Axis Fifth Column in our midst by helping to free the 17 boys convicted in the Sleepy Lagoon Case. Much Axis propaganda has been made over these unjust convictions.”

Moving back in time is Lamentos del Sargento Ignacio Jiménez (Mexico City, 1912), a broadside of verse in which Sargent Jiménez bids his family farewell as he awaits execution for the murder of his commanding officer, and urges others to not follow his bad example. The broadside is adorned with a woodcut by the famous Mexican illustrator José Guadalupe Posada.

A much earlier Mexican acquisition is Relación jurídica de la libertad de la muerte intentada contra la persona del R.P. Fr. Andres Picazo (Mexico City, 1769). W.S. Cotter Rare Books, who sold us this item, provides a helpful summary: “On the 11th of February, 1769, a certain Manuel Carrera, burdened with the task of arranging the repair of a watch owned by the convent of San Francisco in the city of Querétaro, approached Father Andres Picazo in his chambers at the Church of the Province of San Pedro and San Pablo of Michoacan, and, following a dispute over just what the watch required, shot, stabbed, and pistol-whipped the good Father, whose only act of defense was to pray to the Holy Image of Our Lady of Pueblito. Father Picazo survived. The present pamphlet comprises a graphic account of the assault, a thorough narrative of Carrera’s subsequent attempted-murder trial, and a history of the Lady of Pueblito as intercessor and converter of idolators.”

Early modern Spain produced some of Europe’s most influential jurists. One of these was Balthazar Ayala (1548-1584), whose De jure et officiis bellicis et disciplina militari libri III (Antwerp, 1597) argued that civilians cannot be intentionally targeted by military forces. First published in 1582, this work was reprinted in 1648 and 1793.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Caricature of Queen Caroline
September 16, 2019

Two centuries ago Queen Caroline of England was put on trial for adultery by her husband George IV, provoking an unprecedented media frenzy. Two Yale libraries, the Lewis Walpole Library and the Lillian Goldman Law Library, are marking the bicentennial of the trial with a joint exhibition, “Trial by Media: The Queen Caroline Affair.”

The colorful exhibition is on display September 9 through December 19 in the Yale Law School. It is co-curated by Cynthia Roman, Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Paintings at the Walpole, and Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian at the Law Library.

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 connection with the exhibition, there will be a mini-conference the afternoon of October 4 in the Yale Law School, with panels focusing on the legal and media aspects of Queen Caroline’s trial. An online version of the exhibition is under preparation. In addition, many of the Law Library’s holdings on the Queen Caroline trial are represented in an album on the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site.

“Trial by Media: The Queen Caroline Affair” is on display 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 Susan Walker, Head of Public Services, Lewis Walpole Library, phone (860) 677-2140 and email susan.walker@yale.edu, or Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian, Lillian Goldman Law Library, phone (203) 432-4494 and email mike.widener@yale.edu.

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


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