Rare Books Blog

May 5, 2009

Report of the Copy-Right Case of Wheaton v. Peters: Decided in the Supreme Court of the United States: with an Appendix, Containing the Acts of Congress Relating to Copy-Right (New York, 1834).

Henry Wheaton had been unofficial reporter of U.S. Supreme Court cases from 1816-1827. Although his Reports were considered comprehensive and accurate, they were also quite expensive, being swollen with Wheaton’s lengthy annotations. When Richard Peters took the post of court reporter, he took it upon himself to condense the reports of his three predecessors and to sell these condensed volumes for a tidy sum. Wheaton promptly sued. In this landmark copyright case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for Peters and held that “no reporter has or can have any copyright” in the Court’s opinions.

Although not named, Peters is the likely publisher of this report. The dedication to Chief Justice Marshall, “due to your unequalled ability and usefulness; to the greatness of your character; the purity of your motives; and the kindness of your judicial deportment,” has the ring of a grateful litigant.

This volume is part of the Walter Pforzheimer Collection of copyright law.

MIKE WIDENER
Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 5, 2009

John B. West & Co., The Syllabi, vol. 1, no. 1 (Oct. 21, 1876; reprint ed.; St. Paul, Minn., 1991).

John B. West & Co., The Northwestern Reporter, vol. 1 (1st ed.; St. Paul, Minn., 1879).

After the Civil War, the number of cases being reported rose astronomically. However, these case reports were still very slow to reach print; delays of months or years were not uncommon. Select reports sometimes appeared in newspapers but, as they were aimed at the general public, these were not always accurate. In 1876, John B. West began publishing The Syllabi, a weekly newsletter aimed at practicing attorneys in his home state of Minnesota. Its goal was to “furnish the legal profession of the state, with prompt and reliable intelligence.” It lasted for six months before evolving into book format, and then being renamed The Northwestern Reporter.

The Northwestern Reporter was the first of the National Reporter System case reporter series published by West Publishing Company. By 1887, eight years later, West reporters would cover every state jurisdiction. In addition to being timely and accurate, West reporters were the first to feature editorial enhancements such as summaries of court opinions. Although not present in this first volume, later volumes also incorporated Key Numbers from the new West Digest system.

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 5, 2009

William Tothill (1560-1627), The Transactions of the High Court of Chancery, Both by Practice and President (London, 1671).

Although reports of Chancery cases had occasionally appeared in manuscript Year Books and various printed case reports, Tothill’s Transactions of the High Court of Chancery (1st ed. 1649) was the first printed collection devoted exclusively to Chancery cases. Van Vechten Veeder described them as “extremely brief and unsatisfactory, often giving merely a bare statement of the facts of a cases and the final decree, without any indication of the grounds of the judgment” (“The English Reports, 1292-1865,” 15 Harvard Law Review 1, 112 (1901)). Decent Chancery reports did not appear until the dawn of the 18th century.

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 4, 2009

Case reports are a fundamental source for the study and practice of law in the Anglo-American common law system. “Landmarks in Law Reporting,” the Spring 2009 exhibition from the Lillian Goldman Law Library’s Rare Book Collection, illustrates the development of law reporting from the Middle Ages to modern times.

The exhibit begins with a manuscript collection of cases from the reign of Edward III, copied in about 1450. Also on display are first editions of the reports of Edmund Plowden (1571), considered the first modern-style reports) and Sir Edward Coke (1600), perhaps the most influential reports). Other “firsts” include the first American case reports (Ephraim Kirby’s 1789 reports of Connecticut cases) and the first U.S. Supreme Court reports (Dallas’ Reports, 1798).

Recurring themes in the exhibition include the gradual transformation from manuscript to print, the growth of legal publishing, the connections between law reporting and legal education, and the growing demands by lawyers for timely, well-organized reports.

The Rare Books Exhibition Gallery is located in the lower level of the Lillian Goldman Law Library (Level L2), directly in front of the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Reading Room. For those unable to visit the exhibit in person, stay tuned to the following postings here on the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog.

MIKE WIDENER
Rare Book Librarian

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks to the following for their assistance and advice in the research and preparation of this exhibit:

  • Morris L. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Law, Yale Law School
  • John H. Langbein, Sterling Professor of Law and Legal History, Yale Law School
  • Sabrina Sondhi, Special Collections Librarian, Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, Columbia University

Additional help in mounting the exhibit came from Brian Mendez and Fred Shapiro (Lillian Goldman Law Library), Joanne Kittredge (Yale Law School), and Emma Molina Widener (University of New Haven).

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

Image: Volume 2 of Alexander James Dallas, Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Several Courts of the United States, and of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1798), containing the first reports of U.S. Supreme Court cases.

May 4, 2009

[Year Books, 20-45 Edward III.] Liber Assisarum (manuscript in Law French, ca. 1450).

The origin of our case reports lies in the late 13th century, with what are now called the “Year Books.” The Liber Assisarum, shown here, is a collection of Year Book cases in the court of King’s Bench in 1347-1372.

The Year Books are quite different from modern case reports. They say little or nothing about the facts, or who won. What interested the anonymous reporters was the debate between advocates and judges, a sort of tentative oral pleading that has been compared to lightning chess. The Year Books seem to have had some connection (still unclear) with legal education at the Inns of Court, but they were also used by bench & bar.

As more or less verbatim records of legal debates between named individuals, the Year Books are virtually the only historical sources that capture voices from the Middle Ages.

Maitland on the Year Books

“Today men are reporting at Edinburgh and Dublin, at Boston and San Francisco, at Quebec and Sydney and Cape Town, at Calcutta and Madras. Their pedigree is unbroken and indisputable. It goes back to some nameless lawyers at Westminster to whom a happy thought had come. What they desired was not a copy of the chilly record, cut and dried, with its concrete particulars concealing the point of law: the record overladen with the uninteresting names of litigants and oblivious of the interesting names of sages, of justices and serjeants. What they desired was the debate with the life-blood in it: the twists and turns of advocacy, the quip courteous and the countercheck quarrelsome.” – Sir Frederick Maitland, 17 Selden Soc. xv.

MIKE WIDENER
Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 4, 2009

[Year Book, 27 Henry VIII.] De termino Pasche anno regni Regis Henrici Octaui. XXVII (London, 1556).

Printers began publishing Year Book cases in the 1480s. Two and a half centuries of Year Book reporting came to an end with the cases from 27 Henry VIII (1535), shown here. Lawyers, judges and students did not stop reporting cases. The transition from Year Book reports to our modern case reports was gradual, and coincided with a shift from oral to written pleadings.

MIKE WIDENER
Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 4, 2009

Edmund Plowden (1518-1585), Les Commentaries, ou Reportes de Edmunde Plowden un Apprentice de le Comen Ley (London, 1571) [with] La Second Part de les Reports, ou Commentaries … (London, 1610).

Edmund Plowden’s Commentaries was the first of the “nominative reporters,” reports cited by the reporter’s name. His reports claim many other “firsts.” They were the first to include the names of the parties in the headings, providing a citation method that lawyers follow to this day. Plowden was the first reporter to prepare his reports for the press. His was the first collection of leading cases, “annotated by an editor at the head of the profession, which by including the pleadings … enabled them to be studied in the context of litigation” (Biographical Dictionary of the Common Law). Reprinted numerous times, they were required reading for law students. In terms of their accuracy, organization, and balance, they were unsurpassed for centuries.

Highly respected and successful as a lawyer, Plowden was kept from the bench by his loyalty to the Catholic faith.

The copy on display is the first edition of 1571. An early hand altered the publication date to 1599, the date of the fourth printing; perhaps it was a bookseller “refreshing” his stock.

Commentaries on Plowden’s Commentaries

“In almost all of the Cases which I have undertaken to report, before they came to be argued, I had Copies of the Records, and took Pains to study the Points of Law arising thereupon, so that oftentimes I was so much Master of them, that if I had been put to it, I was ready to have argued when the first Man began; and by this Method I was more prepared to understand and retain the Arguments and the Causes of the Judgments. And besides this, after I had drawn out my Report at large, and before I had entered it into my Book, I shewed such Cases and Arguments, as seemed to me to be the most difficult, and to require the greatest Memory, to some of the Judges or Sergeants who argued in them, in order to have their Opinion of the Sincerity and Truth of the Report.” – Edmund Plowden, preface to his Commentaries

“What Coke was to hail as those ‘exquisite and elaborate’ Commentaries were thus quite unlike anything that had previously been produced. It was not just that they were the first reports which had been carefully prepared for the press and published in the reporter’s lifetime, … nor even that they included only cases that had been brought to final judgment… For the Commentaries was also a book of leading cases, annotated by an editor at the head of the profession, which by including the pleadings (previously collected only in books of entries) enabled them to be studied in the context of litigation.” – Biographical Dictionary of the Common Law

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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