Rare Books Blog

Novae narrationes (1561)
January 3, 2017

The Rare Book Collection is honored to be the recipient of a bequest from the estate of Professor S. F. C. Milsom (1923-2016): the 1561 Richard Tottel edition of the Novae Narrationes. What makes the gift special is the stature of its donor, the book’s connection to Milsom’s career, and Milsom’s connection to the Yale Law School.

Professor Milsom (“Toby” to his friends and family) has been called the “dominant intellectual voice in English legal historiography” for the last fifty years by his colleague David Ibbetson. In a eulogy to Milsom, Sir John H. Baker said, “He was perhaps the last writer in legal academia whose works could be regarded as literature.” Milsom is best known for his groundbreaking book, Historical Foundations of the Common Law (2nd edition 1981).

Milsom’s first publication in legal history was Novae Narrationes (1963), Volume 80 in the Publications of the Selden Society series. The Novae narrationes was a collection of model oral pleadings (“narrationes” or “counts”) which initiated litigation, dating from the reign of Edward I in the late 13th century. As Milsom described them, “The count became the formal opening gambit in a game in which many moves were possible, and dexterity in making these moves became the preoccupation of the bar.” The 1561 printed edition of the Novae narrationes was the last of four printed editions. The volume’s immaculate condition suggests that Milsom did not use it in his original research for the Selden Society volume, but he knew its contents intimately and it undoubtedly held a special place in his affections.

Milsom’s academic career was primarily in his native England, at Oxford, the London School of Economics, and finally at his alma mater, the University of Cambridge, where he was Professor of Law from 1976 until his retirement in 1990. Milsom was in great demand as a visiting professor at U.S. law schools, and nowhere more than at the Yale Law School, where he was a visiting professor from 1968 to 1986. He recalled his time at Yale in an oral history interview: “It’s always fun, because the students have no idea at all about legal history, and don’t really want to know. But they … ask very difficult questions, and that’s good, makes one think.”

Lesley Dingle and Daniel Bates provide a thorough and lively account of Milsom’s career in the Eminent Scholars Archive of the Squire Law Library, University of Cambridge. It includes a bibliography of Milsom’s writings and videos of his oral history interviews.

The book itself is a fine copy. It boasts a Riviere binding and the bookplate of Thomas Jolley, whose enormous book collection was dispersed in a series of Sotheby’s auctions from 1843 to 1855. It consists of three works: (1) the Novae narrationes; (2) Articuli ad narrationes novas, a commentary on the first work, and (3) Diversite des courtes & lour iurisdictions, a guide to court procedure. All of these would have been useful works for a practicing lawyer, and the small format would have made the book handy in court. The table at the end of the second work has been annotated in an early hand; see the image below.

One final point of interest… The book was published by Richard Tottel, who held the patent for printing English law books from 1552 to his death in 1594. Among other things, Tottel is known for spelling his own last name 11 ways, including two different ways in this one book: “Tottell” on the title page and “Tottil” in the colophon.

The Law Library thanks Mr. Charles Perrin, the administrator of Professor Milsom’s estate, and Sir John Baker for their help in effecting Professor Milsom’s bequest.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


 Cuba y sus jueces, by Raimundo Cabrera (1895)
November 15, 2016

A number of our recent acquisitions are in the field of Cuban law. Here are some of the highlights.

Raimundo Cabrera (1852-1923), Cuba y sus jueces: rectificaciones oportunas (8. ed.; Filadelfia: Cía. Lévytype, 1895).
Cabrera was a jurist, writer, journalist, and a leader in the fight for Cuban independence. His book is an extended argument for Cuban home rule. This edition was probably published in Philadelphia because the armed struggle for Cuban independence was in full swing by 1895. An English translation, Cuba and the Cubans, was issued the following year by the same publisher.

Vicente Blasco Ibáñez (1867-1928), ¿Toros? (Habana: Compañía Editora de Libros y Folletos, 1940).
The text is a short story by Blasco Ibáñez, a prominent Spanish writer. There is an epigraph, “¿Permitiremos en nuestra Cuba un espectáculo tan cruel y anticubano?”, which in English is “In our Cuba, will we permit such a cruel and anti-Cuban spectacle?” The front cover is inscribed “Sr. Segundo Curtis / Ministro de Gobernación / Habana Oct. 1951”. Only two other U.S. libraries report owning copies.

13 leyes de gobierno revolucionario (Ministerio de Estado República de Cuba, 1960?). DALA Suplemento; no. 1.
This publication of the Departamento de Asuntos Latinoamericanos, aimed at a Latin American audience, gives special prominence to the agrarian reform laws. Only two other U.S. libraries report owning copies. The introduction states: “Economic underdevelopment has been the fundamental cause of the problems of social injustice, political instability, administrative corruption, and cultural backwardness that we Cubans have suffered, and the legal dispositions recently enacted have been aimed at eliminating this condition of inferiority, the cause of our ills, by transforming the semi-feudal economic structure we inherited from the colony.” [MW translation]

Mario Díaz Irizar, Comentarios a las leyes de marcas y patentes (Habana: Imprenta V. Alvarez Hno. y comp., 1917).
This treatise on Cuban trademark and patent law features dozens of stunning full-color illustrations of Cuban trademarks, including 22 leaves of plates. Only four other U.S. libraries have copies.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Illustration from Mario Díaz Irizar, Comentarios a las leyes de marcas y patentes (1917).

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)
September 21, 2016

Representing the Law in the Most Serene Republic:
Images of Authority from Renaissance Venice

The Venetian Republic, a prosperous and powerful state in Renaissance Europe, cultivated an image of stability and liberty. This image-making is on display in a new Yale Law Library exhibition, “Representing the Law in the Most Serene Republic: Images of Authority from Renaissance Venice.”

The exhibition draws on the outstanding collection of Italian law books in the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection, along with drawings and medals from the Yale University Art Gallery and reproductions from the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

The exhibition is on display through December 15, 2016. It was curated by Christopher Platts (History of Art, Yale University) and Michael Widener (Rare Book Librarian, Yale Law Library).

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Venice played a central role in the political and economic affairs of Europe, ruling an empire that extended through northern Italy, the Adriatic, and the eastern Mediterranean. By the year 1500, Venice could claim that it had been a sovereign republic for more than a millennium. Venice was so highly esteemed for its stable government, selfless leaders, and free citizens that it came to be known as “La Serenissima,” the Most Serene Republic.

The exhibition introduces the most significant offices and symbols of the Venetian Republic, and explains how laws were crafted, debated, publicized, and frequently broken. The protagonists are the doge and highest magistrates of Venice, the governors appointed to rule the Republic’s territories, the lawmakers in the Senate, and the lawbreakers, illustrated in finely executed drawings, prints, and numismatic portraits.

“Representing the Law in the Most Serene Republic” is on view daily through December 15, 2016 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, located on Level L2 of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School (127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT). Excerpts will also appear here in the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Actus potestatis supra civitatem Veronae Foederico Rhenerio ab Andrea Griti duce Venetiarum data (1530).

Drawing from Argumentum Institutionum imperialium (1519)
August 9, 2016

This drawing is found in one of our recent acquisitions. What makes it special is that the book is the very first law book printed by a woman: Argumentum Institutionum imperialium, an edition of Justinian’s Institutes printed in Paris in 1519 by Charlotte Guillard. A translation of the imprint at the bottom of the title page, shown below, reads: “Sold in Paris by the widow of the late Master Berthold Rembolt at the sign of the Golden Sun in the rue St. Jacques.” The book dealer who sold us the book, David Alexander Rueger of Antiquariat Inlibris, wrote me that the drawing “has no place in a legal textbook, and is ever-so-tempting to relate to the printer herself.”

The Argumentum Institutionum imperialium is a sophisticated publication, printed in red and black with notes by the legal scholar Jean Chappuis. An acrostic on the title page spells out the book’s title, INSTITUTIONES.


In early modern craft guilds such as printing, it was not unusual for widows to take over the businesses of their late husbands. Charlotte Guillard was not the first woman printer, but she is the consensus choice as the first woman printer of importance. She married Rembolt in 1502 and took over the business upon his death in 1518. The year after publishing the Institutes, Guillard married another prominent Paris printer, Claude Chevallon, a union that was perhaps as much a business merger as a domestic partnership. When Chevallon died in 1537, Madame Guillard once again took over the business. This time she appeared by name in the imprint, not simply as Chevallon’s widow. In the last two decades of her life, she published 158 religous, legal, and scientific works, including Church Fathers in the original Greek.


Law was one of Madame Guillard’s specialties, including canon law and several multivolume editions of the Corpus Juris Civilis edited by the humanist Gregor Haloander. Below is one example from our collection, Digestorum seu Pandectarum (Paris, 1552), volume 3 of 4. “Printed by Charlotte Guillard, widow of Claude Chevallon, & Guillaume Desboys, under the Golden Sun in the rue St. Jacques.”


Charlotte Guillard was not just a figurehead. Business records and statements by contemporaries prove that she was a highly respected publisher of scholarly works in a competitive Paris market. For a full account of her career, see Beatrice Beech, “Charlotte Guillard: A Sixteenth-Century Business Woman,” Renaissance Quarterly 36:3 (Autumn, 1983), 345-367. For more on women as publishers of legal literature, see our recent exhibition, “Evidence of Women: Women as Printers, Donors, and Owners of Law Texts,” curated by our 2015 Rare Book Fellow Anna Franz.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


Veridica descrizione, e ragguaglio distinto della Promulgazione delle colpe, e dell'abjura solenne, e della condanna di galera fulminata dal Santo Tribunale dell'Inquisizione di Brescia, contro Giuseppe Beccarelli (1710)
July 28, 2016

One of my favorite acquisitions at this spring’s New York Antiquarian Book Fair was an Italian broadside with an enormous woodcut of an Inquisition trial. The trial took place in Brescia in 1710. The defendant was a priest, Giuseppe Beccarelli, accused of promoting the heretical doctrine of Quietism, as well as sodomy. At the end of the trial he renounced a long list of principles, and spent the last six years of his life in prison. Ours may be the only surviving copy; no other copies are listed in WorldCat or other union catalogs.

Britannica Online describes Quietism as “A doctrine of Christian spirituality that, in general, holds that perfection consists in passivity (quiet) of the soul, in the suppression of human effort so that divine action may have full play.” The main proponent of Quietism was a Spanish priest active in Rome, Miguel de Molinos, whose teachings were condemned in 1687.

An alphabetic key beneath the woodcut identifies all the main participants, including the presiding officer, Cardinal Gianalberto Badoaro, the accused (“Il Beccarello”), the inquisitors, clergy, local officials, nobles, and finally, at the extreme edges, the general public (“Popolo”).

A detailed description of Beccarelli’s trial can be found in The Inquisitor in the Hat Shop: Inquisition, Forbidden Books, and Unbelief in Early Modern Venice by Federico Barbierato (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012).

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Veridica descrizione, e ragguaglio distinto della Promulgazione delle colpe, e dell’abjura solenne, e della condanna di galera fulminata dal Santo Tribunale dell’Inquisizione di Brescia, contro Giuseppe Beccarelli da Vrago d’Olio, li 13. settembre 1710 (Brescia: Gio. Maria Rizzardi, 1710); 52 x 37 cm.

May 10, 2016

Putting Together a Book Exhibit,” a video teaser for our 2017 exhibition in New York City, has won the Best Video prize in the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) “Day in the Life” contest. The annual competition recognizes photos and videos that capture the spirit of law librarianship.

The video was produced by my colleague and exhibition co-curator Mark Weiner (Yale Law School Class of 2000). It shows us preparing a section of our exhibition, “Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection.” The exhibition is scheduled to run September 17-November 18, 2017, at the Grolier Club in New York City. The exhibition will include over 150 volumes from our collection of illustrated law books.

Putting Together a Book Exhibit” is only the latest in a series of videos on law books that Mark has produced which feature books from our Rare Book Collection. You can see the rest at Mark’s Worlds of Law website. They include “Blackstone Goes Hollywood,” “On Looking into Coke’s Reports,” “The Sound of One Book Clapping,” “The Beauty of the Code,” “A Philosophical Approach to Judicial Bobbleheads,” and my personal favorite, “Water, Paper, Law.”

Thanks to all my AALL colleagues who voted for our entry, and a special thanks to Mark Weiner, whose artistry and skills were the winning combination. Mark is planning a much bigger video production for the exhibit itself.

You can see all the “Day in the Life” winners on the AALL website, and view the video below.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian




Tom Mooney fundraising stamps
March 19, 2016

In conjunction with its ongoing exhibition, “Free Tom Mooney! The Yale Law Library’s Tom Mooney Collection,” the Law Library is sponsoring a talk by exhibition co-curator Lorne Bair, owner of Lorne Bair Rare Books.

Bair will deliver his talk, “A Martyr to the Cause: The Mooney Trial, the Communist Party, and the Pleasures of Propaganda,” at noon on Thursday, March 24, in Room 129 of the Sterling Law Building, Yale University. The public is invited, and a light lunch will be served.

The exhibition is co-curated by Lorne Bair, Hélène Golay (also of Lorne Bair Rare Books), and Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian at the Yale Law Library. A hundred years ago, San Francisco authorities framed the radical labor organizer Tom Mooney for murder following a bombing. Drawing on the Law Library’s extensive collection, the exhibition tells the story of Mooney’s 22-year campaign for exoneration that made him an international celebrity.

The exhibition is on display through May 27 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, located on level L2 of the Lillian Goldman Law Library. A catalogue of the exhibit is available online.

Lorne Bair has been an antiquarian bookseller for the past two decades. His firm, Lorne Bair Rare Books, is based in Winchester, Virginia, and specializes in radical history and the literature of American social movements. He is a member of the Board of Governors of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America and is co-director of the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, where he has been on the faculty since 2010.

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


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