Rare Books Blog

October 27, 2017

Visual Culture and Legal Norms:
What Can We Learn from Law’s Picture Books?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017
12:00 - 1:30pm
Room 127, Sterling Law Building

Over the past decade, the Lillian Goldman Law Library has assembled a unique collection of over fifteen hundred illustrated law books, spanning eight centuries and six continents. The collection is the subject of two ongoing exhibitions, “Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection” at the Grolier Club in New York City through November 18, and “Around the World with Law’s Picture Books” in the Law Library through December 15. How do these illustrations provide windows into legal norms and aspirations? Join exhibit curators Mike Widener (Rare Book Librarian) and Mark Weiner ‘00 (legal historian, Professor of Law at Rutgers), together with Judith Resnik (Arthur Liman Professor of Law) and Laura Wexler (Professor of American Studies) for a lively discussion.

The event is sponsored by the Lillian Goldman Law Library, the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law, the Yale Women Faculty Forum, and Public Humanities at Yale.

Lunch will be served. Following the talks, Widener will give a guided tour of “Around the World with Law’s Picture Books,” which he co-curated with Emma Molina Widener.

Widener and Weiner will be giving their final lunchtime gallery tour of the Grolier Club exhibition on Thursday, November 2, 1:00 - 2:00pm at the Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, New York City. The Grolier Club exhibition has been praised as “fascinating” by the New Yorker, “eye-opening” by the Wall Street Journal, and “courageous” by the Frankfurter Allgemeine.

One final notice: Weiner & Widener are conducting a virtual tour of the “Law’s Picture Books” exhibition at the Concurring Opinions blog.

Sir Edward Coke
October 26, 2017

The largest gift of rare books in recent memory arrived this weekend with the 2017 Yale Law School Alumni Reunion. The Lillian Goldman Law Library was honored to receive the collection of early English law books assembled by Professor Robert H. Freilich. He made the gift to mark the 60th anniversary of his graduation from Yale Law School in 1957.

Highlights of the collection include:

  • Bracton’s De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae (1569).
  • Glanville (1604).
  • Britton (1640).
  • Kitchin’s Jurisdictions (1657).
  • Littleton’s Tenures (1671).
  • Coke’s Institutes, First Part (1639), Second Part (1671), Third Part (1648), and Fourth Part (1648).
  • Coke’s Three Law Tracts (1764).
  • Coke’s Reports, Fourth Part (1604), and Quinta Pars (1607).
  • Fitzherbert’s Novel Natura Brevium (1635).
  • Blackstone’s Commentaries (1774).

Professor Freilich credits the inspiration to collect early English law books to the course he took on “Future Interests” taught by Professor Ashbel Green Gulliver in 1956. As Professor Gulliver wrote in Cases and Materials on the Law of Future Interests (1959):

“This is the oldest living graduate of our law. Unusual devotion to stare decisis and the theory of adoption of English common law have resulted in the retention in American jurisdictions of concepts formulated long ago on the other side of the Atlantic. … [I]t is impossible to understand modern law, whether changed or unchanged, without a fairly thorough comprehension of the English evolution down through the centuries.”

The opportunity to begin collecting early English law presented itself in London several years later, when Freilich was a visiting professor at the London School of Economics. He came across Frognal Rare Books, operated by the late Lady Edith Finer, and began buying the most significant early works on English law, especially land law.

As a Professor of Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Professor Freilich taught the three branches of property (Estates and Future Interests; Transactions; and Land Use) from 1968 to 2004. Since moving to Los Angeles in 2005, he continues to teach separate courses in Future Interests and Land Use at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law as a Visiting Professor. His publications include Land Use: Cases and Materials (7th ed. 2017) and From Sprawl to Sustainability: Smart Growth, New Urbanism, Green Development, and Renewable Energy (2nd ed. 2010).

The Lillian Goldman Law Library is grateful for Professor Freilich’s splendid gift, and eager to place it at the service of the Yale Law School’s legal history curriculum.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Professor Robert Freilich (far right) talks to his classmates from the Yale Law School Class of 1957 about the collection of early English law books he donated to the Lillian Goldman Law Library.

September 11, 2017

Two new Yale Law Library exhibits…

Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection

Around the World with Law’s Picture Books

Most people would not look for illustrations in law books. However, two exhibitions from the Yale Law Library challenge the stereotype of legal literature as a dreary expanse of dry text.

“Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection,” opening September 13 at the Grolier Club in New York City, features 140 books and manuscripts containing a surprising and beguiling range of images that symbolize, describe, teach, argue, or criticize the law. It is curated by Michael Widener, the Law Library’s rare book librarian, and Mark S. Weiner, a legal historian, filmmaker, and professor on leave from Rutgers Law School, who blogs at WorldsOfLaw.com.

A companion exhibition, “Around the World with Law’s Picture Books,” is at the Yale Law Library in New Haven, Connecticut, through December 15, and showcases illustrated law books from fifteen countries on six continents in ten different languages. It is curated by Michael Widener and Emma Molina Widener.

The two exhibitions draw on a unique collection of over a thousand volumes assembled in the past decade by Michael Widener, the Yale Law Library’s rare book librarian. They were originally published for lawyers, law students, lay readers, and even children. Often they were tools in the workshops of legal practice. “These images provide insight into ideas about the nature of law and justice, and also about the image of the law and the legal profession, in the eyes of the profession itself and the general public,” writes Widener. Today they will surprise and delight both book lovers and the legal community.

Accompanying the Grolier Club exhibition are five short videos created by Weiner through his production company Hidden Cabinet Films:

The Grolier Club exhibition was made possible through the support of the Charles J. Tanenbaum Fund, Yale Law School, and a generous gift from the Pine Tree Foundation. The videos were funded with a generous gift from John Robinson Block.

A 220-page, full-color catalogue of “Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection” is available from Talbot Publishing, and can be ordered via this link. It includes essays by Widener, Weiner, Jolande Goldberg (Law Library of Congress), and Erin Blake (Folger Shakespeare Library).

“Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection” is on display September 13 - November 18 in the Grolier Club’s main gallery at 47 East 60th Street in New York City. The gallery is open 10am to 5pm Monday - Saturday except holidays, and admission is free. Widener and Weiner will be conducting exhibition tours on September 21, October 5, and November 2, 1-2pm.

“Around the World with Law’s Picture Books” is on view through December 15 in the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School (Level L2, Sterling Law Building, 127 Wall Street, New Haven CT). It is open to the public 10am-6pm daily except holidays.

For more information, contact Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian, phone (203) 432-4494, email <mike.widener@yale.edu>.

August 16, 2017

Final preparations are underway for our major exhibition, “Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection,” curated by myself and Mark Weiner (Yale Law Class of 2000). It will display 140 books, drawn exclusively from the Yale Law Library’s collections, at the Grolier Club in New York City. While the exhibition won’t open until September 13 - November 18, the full-color, 220-page catalogue of the exhibition is available now. Here is the announcement from Talbot Publishing, the publishing arm of Lawbook Exchange:

“Illustrated law books” may seem like an oxymoron. After all, law is conceptual, analytic, and so very wordy! Yet for the past decade, over a thousand illustrated law books have been assembled in the Yale Law Library – spanning eight centuries and four continents. Law’s Picture Books began as a major exhibition of that collection at the Grolier Club in New York City, curated by Rare Book Librarian Michael Widener and legal historian Mark S. Weiner. In challenging the stereotype of legal literature as a dreary expanse of dry text, this book will surprise and delight both bibliophiles and members of the legal community.

This handsome full-color book is enhanced by the essays “Collecting Yale Law Library’s Picture Books,” (Michael Widener), “Reflections on an Exhibition,” (Mark S. Weiner), “Ars Memoria in Early Law: Looking Beneath the Picture,” (Jolande E. Goldberg, Law Library of Congress), and “Law’s Picture Books and the History of Book Illustration,” (Erin C. Blake, Folger Shakespeare Library).

Details on purchasing a copy are available on the Talbot Publishing website. My thanks to Greg Talbot, president of Lawbook Exchange, and Valerie Horowitz, managing editor, for making this publication possible. Thanks also to my co-curator and co-author, Mark Weiner, as well as to Jolande Goldberg and Erin Blake for their excellent essays.

In addition, a companion exhibition, “Around the World With Law’s Picture Books,” will be on display in the Yale Law Library September 1 - December 15, curated by myself and my wife, Emma Molina Widener. It will showcase the geographic scope of our illustrated law book collection, in contrast to the functional approach in the Grolier Club exhibition.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

August 8, 2017

Preparations for our upcoming exhibition, “Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection,” together with two overseas trips, have kept me from the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog for a while.

“Law’s Picture Books,” curated by me and Mark S. Weiner, opens on September 13 at the Grolier Club in New York City, and will be on display through November 18. It will feature 140 illustrated law books from our Rare Book Collection.

Additional details are coming, including a schedule of programming associated with the exhibition. I gave a preview of the exhibition when I delivered the 2017 Rare Books Lecture at the University of Melbourne Law School on May 18. The lecture is now available in a video online.

A special thanks to Carole Hinchcliff, Law Librarian at the University of Melbourne, for the honor of the invitation and the splendid hospitality. It was one of the highlights of my career.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Constitución política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos (1917)
April 3, 2017


The ninth anniversary of the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog is a fitting opportunity to mark a much more momentous anniversary, the centennial of the Mexican Constitution of 1917. Although amended a few hundred times, this constitution is still in effect today. It is among the most significant legacies of the Mexican Revolution.

The Mexican Constitution of 1917 remains one of the most progressive constitutional and legislative documents of the 20th century. It created a minimum wage, the right to strike, and an eight-hour work day decades before the United States adopted similar laws. It also implemented a strict separation of church and state, land reforms, and term limits for the president and legislators.

The Rare Book Collection recently acquired a superb collection of over 60 titles relating to the Mexican Constitution of 1917. Included are several early printings, such as this one published in San Antonio, Texas, a city that served as a refuge for Mexican political exiles during the revolution.

The constitution was produced by a convention convened by Venustiano Carranza, the victorious leader of the revolutionary forces. Several of the titles in the collection document the debates which produced the constitution, such as this one:

Following the adoption of the Constitution of 1917, there was a flurry of constitution-making in Mexican states, such as the constitution of Yucatán.

For fuller accounts of the Mexican Constitution of 1917, see:

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Woof Moo Grr
February 1, 2017

A charming exhibit of animals pictured in law books opens February 1, courtesy of the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection. Titled “Woof, Moo & Grr: A Carnival of Animals in Law Books,” the exhibit is narrated from the perspective of the animals themselves and is aimed at animal lovers of all ages.

Twenty books from around the world will be on display, more than half of them printed before the nineteenth century and the earliest published in 1529. They feature illustrations of a wide variety of animals that visitors may be surprised to find in the pages of serious legal literature.

The exhibition is curated by Mark S. Weiner, a writer, filmmaker, and professor on leave from Rutgers Law School. Weiner holds a J.D. from Yale Law School and a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University.

“Law is a serious business,” said Weiner, “which is why it’s important to find a chance to laugh. The exhibit looks at the different roles that animals play in legal literature, and it quietly explores the relation between law and the imagination.”

“Woof, Moo & Grr” is on display from February 1 through May 31, 2017, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, in the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, at 127 Wall Street in New Haven. It is open to the general public 10am-6pm, seven days a week, and open to Yale affiliates until 10pm.

The images and text from the exhibit are also available online, in the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site.

For more information, contact Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian, at (203) 432-4494, email <mike.widener@yale.edu>.


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