Rare Books Blog

Institutiones imperiales. Paris:Jean Petit, 1510.
November 2, 2018
Justinian’s Institutes
In the year 533 the Emperor Justinian reformed legal education in the Eastern Roman Empire, proscribing a new five-year course of study. The Institutes was published to serve as textbook for first-year law students, a position which it maintained for centuries.




Institutiones [with the Novels and Tres Libri]. Manuscript, southern France, circa 1250.
In this large 13th century manuscript one can see a number of design features that became commonplace in legal publishing. Color titles, wide margins for notetaking, text in columns in the middle of the page surrounded by commentary, called gloss – itself a product of legal education – are all features that would carry over from the manuscript era into print.
Institutiones iuris civilis. Venice: Giunta, 1581.
This print edition of the Institutes is open to the same page – the beginning of Book Four – as the large manuscript copy. Published over 200 years after the manuscript copy, we can see many of the same features. The text is in middle of the page, surrounded by the gloss. The sections are still marked in red, while the hand drawn embellishments in the manuscript edition have been replaced by decorative woodcuts.
Institutiones imperiales. Paris:Jean Petit, 1510.

This truly pocket-sized copy of the Institutes would have been attractive for the student who needed a textbook that was both inexpensive and easily portable. Its minute size, however, did not stop its owner from making extensive use of the margins for notes. This is the only known copy of this edition.

Johann Friedrich Böckelmann. Compendium Institutionum Caes. Justiniani. Leiden: Felix López de Haro, 1681.

This abbreviated copy of the Institutes appeals directly to students. The illustration shows two paths available to the prospective student: in the path on the right – “either slowly or never” – a student struggles up a steep hill with a cumbersome basket full of books on their back. On the path on the left – “neither slowly, nor with difficulty” – the student proceeds along a series of well-defined steps with only a single book – this book – in hand.

Bartolomé Cartagena. Synopsis juris civilis. Cologne: Wilhelm Metternich, 1719.

This small volume of Roman law presents the most important parts of the Institutes as a series of easy-to-understand questions and answers – a format that proved popular for legal study guides.

Imperatoris Iustiniani Institutionum libri IIII. Passau, 1700.

An engraving of Justice adorns this small copy of the Institutes.

–Ryan R. Martins, Rare Book Fellow

“Learning the Law: The Book in Early Legal Education” is on display October 1 to December 14, 2018, 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.

A full catalogue of the exhibit can be found here: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/amlaw/18/

Guy Le Pape
October 12, 2018

When looking at a row of law books today, whether in a law library, a courthouse, or a student’s bookshelf, one might be struck by their apparent uniformity – row upon row of nearly identical volumes. This, however, was not always so. Throughout history, legal literature has taken an astounding variety of forms. Law books were more than just repositories of information, like any other tools of a trade, their use influenced their design.

This exhibit highlights the intimate connection between legal literature and legal education. It focuses on the way that the usage of one group in particular – students – helped shape both the content and the form of legal literature over the course of nearly 15 centuries of legal study.

The first case highlights three of the most important textbooks of in the history of legal education, Justinian’s Institutes, Littleton’s Tenures, and Blackstone’s Commentaries, and the various forms in which these essential texts were presented.

The second case looks at books as tools for the student – books whose form was very much a part of their function. While there were many such categories, we have selected four of particular use to law students: visual aids, notebooks, student guides, and legal dictionaries.

–Ryan R. Martins, Rare Book Fellow

“Learning the Law: The Book in Early Legal Education” is on display October 1 to December 14, 2018, 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

Frontispiece from "Repertorium aureum" (1495)
October 4, 2018

Through the centuries, legal education has both shaped legal literature and been shaped by it. “Learning the Law: The Book in Early Legal Education,” the latest exhibition from the Lillian Goldman Law Library’s Rare Book Collection, shows how the content and design of early law books were employed by both teachers and students.

The exhibition is curated by Ryan Martins (Law 2020), Rare Book Fellow, and Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian.

Three books dominated legal education in Western civilization for almost fifteen centuries: Justinian’s Institutes, Littleton’s Tenures, and Blackstone’s Commentaries. The exhibition shows how publishers adapted each of these works to meet the evolving needs of law students.

The exhibition also examines four genres of legal literature that served as tools for students: visual aids, notebooks, study guides, and law dictionaries.

“Learning the Law: The Book in Early Legal Education” is on display October 1 to December 14, 2018, 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>.

The student's law-dictionary (1740)

The student’s law-dictionary, or, Compleat English law-expositor (London, 1740)..

Bookplate of Jared Ingersoll Senior, an early New Haven lawyer
September 12, 2018

The Rare Book Collection recently acquired the first edition of Henry Ballow’s Treatise of Equity (London, 1737) because it is the first edition of a work that was the standard treatise on equity in the century before the publication of Joseph Story’s Commentaries on Equity Jurisprudence (Boston, 1836). In his History of English Law, William Holdsworth writes that Ballow on Equity “can be taken as a good starting point for the history of the development of many of the principles and rules of modern equity.”

What made this particular copy so desirable is its provenance. It bears the armorial bookplate of Jared Ingersoll Sr. (1722-1781), an early lawyer in New Haven. The shield includes the family motto: “Fama sed virtus non moriatur” (Fame, but not virtue, will die). Ingersoll also signed the title page and the signature on the title page “Jared Ingersoll’s Nove.r 1751”.

Jared Ingersoll was born Milford, Connecticut, and graduated from Yale College in 1742. He embarked on a legal career and was appointed King’s Attorney for New Haven County in 1751, around the time he acquired our book. Ingersoll acquired considerable notoriety when he returned from a trip to England in 1765 with an appointment as the Crown’s agent for collecting the hated Stamp Tax. He was reportedly burned in effigy in several towns, and a crowd of 500 intercepted him in Wethersfield, Connecticut, on his way to Hartford to seek refuge with the General Assembly, forcing him to resign his post. His other claim to fame is as the father of Jared Ingersoll, Jr., a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and an unsuccessful candidate for vice president in 1812 on the Federalist ticket.

For more information on Ingersoll, see his Wikipedia entry, which includes a portrait. He is the subject of a full-length biography: Lawrence Henry Gipson, Jared Ingersoll: A Study of American Loyalism in Relation to British Colonial Government (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1920).

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Cover to "Law's Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection"
April 24, 2018

I am extremely pleased and honored to announce that Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection (Clark, New Jersey: Talbot Publishing, 2017) has earned the 2018 Joseph L. Andrews Legal Literature Award from the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). The Joseph L. Andrews Legal Literature Award “recognizes a significant textual contribution to legal literature” based on the work’s creativity, originality, and judgment. It is the highest award bestowed by AALL for publications.

As many of you know, Law’s Picture Books is the catalogue of the landmark exhibition that the Lillian Goldman Law Library mounted at the Grolier Club in New York City, September 13 - November 18, 2017. The full-color, 220-page catalogue includes images and descriptions of each of the 140 volumes displayed at the Grolier Club, plus four introductory essays.

My profound thanks to…

  • My esteemed co-author, Mark S. Weiner, who collaborated with me for four years on this project, and with whom I share this award.
  • Greg Talbot of Lawbook Exchange for publishing the catalogue and for his advice.
  • Valerie Horowitz of Talbot Publishing, the publishing arm of Lawbook Exchange, for her superb editing and design.
  • The Charles J. Tanenbaum Fund, Yale Law School, and the Pine Tree Foundation for their generous support of the exhibition and its catalogue.

Thanks also to the Grolier Club’s director, Eric Holzenberg, Exhibition Coordinator Jennifer Sheehan, and Irene Tichenor of the Public Exhibitions Committee for hosting the exhibition; Jolande Goldberg of the Law Library of Congress and Erin Blake of the Folger Shakespeare Library for their excellent essays, and Library Director Teresa Miguel-Stearns for her unflagging support.

Law’s Picture Books joins an illustrious list of Andrews Award winners from Yale, including Ann Laeuchli’s Bibliographical Catalog of William Blackstone (2015), Morris Cohen’s Bibliography of Early American Law (1998), and Fred Shapiro’s Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations (1993).

Copies of Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection can be checked out from the Lillian Goldman Law Library, or can be purchased from Talbot Publishing.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Woodcut initial "F"
April 19, 2018

Those who monitor our Flickr site may have become aware of my latest obsession: woodcut and engraved initial letters. I am compiling examples from our Rare Book Collection in an album entitled “Decorative initials.”

The capital “F” at left is from a dissertation submitted to Leipzig University in 1721 for a doctorate in law (Alexander Augustus Arnold, Dissertationem juridicam De declinanda recognitione documentorum propter deficientem causam debendi in processu executivo (Leipzig: Immanuel Tietze, 1721)). German legal dissertations like this one are a rich source of woodcut initials and other decorative elements. The Law Library has thousands of these German legal dissertations. Written in Latin on topics that are now arcane and obsolete. For me, their typography and decorations are now their most interesting features. Several of them are featured in our current exhibition, “Law Books Bright and Beautiful.”

Decorated initials are still used in modern graphic design. They made their first appearance about fifteen hundred years ago and represent a survival from early Western manuscript culture. Their function has always been to mark the beginning or major divisions of a text. The more elaborate initials, adorned with gold leaf, are called illuminated initials, such as this one marking the opening of a 14th-century manuscript of the Constitutions of Pope John XXII:

Illuminated initial from a 14th-century canon law manuscript

Constitutiones cum apparatu Joannis Andree (14th century). Full image in Flickr.

Old habits die hard, among both publishers and readers. As a result, printed books from the first half-century of printing left spaces in the opening lines of text, which could be filled with illuminated initials like the ones found in medieval manuscripts:

Illuminated initial &quot;A&quot;, Germany, 1479.

Henricus de Segusio (Hostiensis), Summa super titulis Decretalium (Speier: Georgius de Spira, 1478-1479). Full image in Flickr.

Soon printers began using woodcut initials to take the place of the painted initials. They are called “historiated” initials when their decoration includes human or animal figures, such as this one from the “Law Books Bright and Beautiful” exhibit:

Woodcut initial &quot;I&quot;, Italy, 1556.

Manifesti et Cartelli passati tra gli Illust. Signori, il Signor Bartolomeo delli Marchesi del Monte Santa Maria, & il Sig. Conte Camillo Castiglione (Pesaro: Bartolomeo Cesano, 1556). Full image in Flickr.

In the late 17th century, printers began using copperplate engravings for initials, which provide much finer detail than woodcuts. Unlike woodcuts, however, engravings had to be printed on a different press, thus requiring patience and skill to print the engraved initial in the blank space left in the printed text. Below is one of the fine engraved initials from Thomas Madox’s History and antiquities of the Exchequer of the kings of England (London: J. Matthews, 1711). Note the faint marks around the edge left by the engraved plate:

Engraved initial &quot;H&quot;, England, 1711.

Thomas Madox’s History and antiquities of the Exchequer of the kings of England (London: Printed by J. Matthews, 1711). Full image in Flickr.

Decorated initials went out of fashion in the late 18th century as book design became more austere. They returned in modern times with the fine printing renaissance. Brian McGinty’s Haraszthy at the Mint (Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1975), also from the “Law Books Bright and Beautiful” exhibit, is an example:

Decorative initial &quot;T&quot;, California, 1975.

Brian McGinty, Haraszthy at the Mint (Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1975). Full image in Flickr.

I close with a couple more of my favorite woodcut initials from German legal dissertations. To learn more about woodcuts and engravings, there is no better starting place than “Woodcut, engraving, or what?”, an illustrated explanation by Erin Blake at The Collation, the excellent blog of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Woodcut initial &quot;E&quot;, Germany, 1736.

Christian Köhler, Dissertatio juridica de attestatis = Von Kundschafften (Halle: Hendel, 1736). Full image in Flickr.

Woodcut initial &quot;P&quot;, Netherlands, 1711.

Heinrich von Cocceji, Dissertatio juridica de momentaria possessione & lite vindiciarum (Leiden: Johan Elsevir, 1711). Full image in Flickr.

Woodcut initial &quot;M&quot;, Germany, 1745.

Knorr, Karl Gottlieb. Dissertatio De differentiis iuris Romani et Germanici in nobilitate adoptiva (Halle: Grunert, 1745). Full image in Flickr.

Students viewing early American legal manuscripts
April 6, 2018

The Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog marks its tenth anniversary this week. The first post was on a presentation to Professor James Whitman’s “Western Legal Traditions” class.

Exactly ten years later, the Rare Book Collection took part in another class session. This time it was the seminar on “Research Methods in American Legal History” taught by my colleague John Nann. After talking with the class about biographical and archival research, they visited the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Reading Room to see a sampling of our manuscript resources for American legal history, such as Aholiab Johnson’s account book for his law practice (see below). They were only the latest of several classes to make use of the collections this year.

I have always been eager to promote instructional use of our special collections. Lately, the increase in classroom use has influenced my efforts and perspectives on collection-building. For one thing, it puts duplicates in a whole new light. The texts of classic works of the common law, such as Bracton or Glanville or Fitzherbert’s Graunde Abridgment, no longer have the research value they once had since their text is readily available online. However, the original printed books remain highly valuable as teaching tools. Having duplicate copies of these works reduces wear and tear on individual copies.

The original printed books and manuscripts also make a visceral impact on students that a PowerPoint slide will never have. They are the tools of the students’ professional ancestors, and virtually our only tangible connections with them. We should conceive of rare book and manuscript purchases as investments in instructional technology, every bit as effective as “smart classrooms,” if not more so.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Pages from Aholiab Johnson's law practice ledger, 1840

Account book of Aholiab Johnson (1825-1840).


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