Rare Books Blog

Know your rights comix (Oakland, Calif.: Midnight Special Law Collective, 2004?)
March 28, 2018

The Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site recently passed the 5,000-image mark. This seems like a good time for an update on additions to the site, and improvements to its organization.When you visit our Flickr site, your first stop is the Photostream, which is simply all 5,100+ images in the order they have been added to the site, beginning with the most recent. By clicking on the Albums tab, you will see the images organized into 118 albums (some individual images are in several albums).

For even broader categories, click the “View collections” link. The 118 albums are grouped into the following six collections (again, some albums are in more than one collection).

Lizzie Nutt's Sad Experience (1886)

N. L. Dukes, Lizzie Nutt’s sad experience (Philadelphia: Barclay & Co., 1886).


A number of new albums have been added. These include:

  • Law & Modern Social Movements features examples of a new collecting area, focused on the legal aspects of social and political movements in the 20th and 21st centuries. Topics include civil rights, labor movements, Red Scare trials, capital punishment, police brutality, abortion, the Second Amendment, jury nullification, law reform, property rights, the war on drugs, immigration, and more, from across the political spectrum. It includes professional literature, children’s books, and ephemera such as pamphlets, brochures, and broadsides.
  • Trials: Barclay & Co. contains images from the popular trial accounts published by Barclay & Co. of Philadelphia. Barclay was one of the pioneers of the “true crime” genre. Its trial accounts were usually illustrated and always sensationalized. Some of the details were pure fiction masquerading as fact. See the article by Thomas M. McDade, “Lurid Literature of the Last Century: The Publications of E. E. Barclay,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 80:4 (Oct. 1956), 452-464.
  • Connecticut law & legal history showcases another of the Rare Book Collection’s strengths.
  • Two albums contain images from the 1575 German editions of Joost de Damhoudere’s popular handbook on criminal law, Praxis rerum criminalium (1575), and its companion volume on civil law, Practica, gerichtlicher Handlunge in burgerliche Sachen (1575).
  • Regles du droit francois displays the seven charming ink-and-gouache portraits that adorn a manuscript copy of a printed book, the 1732 edition of Claude Poquet de Livonniere’s Regles du Droit Francois. The book was seemingly prepared to entice the son of a French nobleman to study French law.
  • Religious images are not uncommon in early printed law books. They can be of value for research and often have considerable artistic value. So far, the images are entirely Christian, but I hope to find images relating to other faiths in our collection.

I welcome comments and suggestions.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Statuto del Santo Monte (1690)

Santo monte della pietà di Reggio, Statuto del Santo Monte (In Reggio: Per Prospero Vedrotti, 1690), which can be found in the Italian statutes and Religious images albums on our Flickr site.


Detail from opening page, Statuta civitatis Verone (1475)
February 28, 2018

Although law books may not be known for their beauty, two dozen lovely exceptions are on display in the Lillian Goldman Law Library. “Law Books Bright and Beautiful: Examples from the Yale Law Library Collection” is on display February 26 - June 1, 2018, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, located on Level L2 of the Yale Law School (127 Wall Street, New Haven CT).

The exhibition was curated by Rare Book Librarian Mike Widener. He selected the books for the beauty of their typography, decoration, or overall design.

The volumes range from a 13th-century illuminated manuscript to modern fine press books on famous American trials. Other volumes include the mining laws of New Spain (1783), the statutes of Verona (1475), and a stunning book of French customary law (1540) printed on parchment with initials in gold leaf. Three of the books were chosen for their colorful endpapers.

Images from the exhibition are being uploaded to an album on the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site, “Law Books Bright and Beautiful.” Images from other beautiful law books will be added as time allows.

“Law Books Bright and Beautiful” is the latest in a series of exhibitions aimed at promoting the study of law books as objects. It follows two exhibitions dedicated to illustrations in law books. Bindings will be showcased in an upcoming exhibition.

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

Senlis (France). Les coustumes des duchez contez & chastellenies du bailliage de Senlis. Paris: Galliot du Pre & Jean Andre, 1540.

Portrait of Cinque, from Documents relating to the Africans taken in the Amistad (1840)
February 1, 2018

In honor of Black History Month, the Lillian Goldman Law Library is pleased to make publicly available one of the most comprehensive contemporary accounts of the case of the Amistad captives. Documents Relating to the Africans Taken in the Amistad was originally published as a 16-page special issue of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Reporter, a monthly newspaper published in New York City by the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.

Dated December 1840, the “Extra” begins with a lengthy account of the Amistad incident by Judge William Jay, one of the society’s founders. It reprints court documents, official correspondence, and records from the Spanish and British governments. In addition there are biographical sketches of the captives, and a facsimile reproduction of a letter from one of the youngest captives, Ka-Le, to Lewis Tappan, the society’s founder.

Documents Relating to the Africans Taken in the Amistad is one of several historic publications in the American Trials section of the Yale Law Library Special Collections documents collection, part of eYLS, the Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository.

ConnecticutHistory.org has put together a thorough guide to online resources on the Amistad case.

To find all of the Law Library’s holdings on the Amistad case, do a subject search for “Amistad (Schooner)” in our online catalog, MORRIS.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

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



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