Rare Books Blog

May 4, 2009

Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), Les Reports de Edvvard Coke l’Attorney Generall le Roigne … (London, 1600?).

Sir Edward Coke’s Reports are perhaps the most influential reports in the history of English law, so much so that they are cited simply as “The Reports.” Their authority rests mainly on the high reputation of their author, and not on their accuracy or objectivity. Coke was not shy about inserting his own views, and set out not only to report the law but also to teach it. His vast learning spills out, rendering reports that are often disorderly.

The first volume of Coke’s Reports appeared in about 1600 (shown here), and met with such success that ten more volumes appeared in the next fifteen years. Legal historian T.F.T. Plucknett believes Coke may have been the first to report cases with the intent of publishing them soon after. When Coke was dismissed as a judge of King’s Bench in 1616, his political enemies (of which he had many) launched an investigation into alleged errors in the Reports, effectively halting his law reporting.

Coke on his Reports

“And now that I have taken upon myself to make a report of their arguments, I ought to do the same as fully, truly, and sincerely as possibly I can ; howbeit, seeing that almost every Judge had in the course of, his argument a particular method, and I must only hold myself to one, I shall give no just offense to any if I challenge that which of right is due to every Reporter, that is, to reduce the sum and effect of all to such a method as, upon consideration had of all the arguments, the Reporter himself thinketh to be fittest and clearest for the right understanding of the true reason and causes of the judgment and resolution of the case in question.” – Sir Edward Coke, Calvin’s Case, 8 Rep. 4a


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.

March 5, 2009

Here are a few of the highlights from our acquisitions in the past three months.

For our growing collection of illustrated law books:

We have acquired several law-related children’s books to join the Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection donated by Professor Morris L. Cohen, including:

The American Trials Collection grew by 28 titles, including:

Additions to our William Blackstone Collection included:

And a few odds & ends:


Rare Book Librarian

March 5, 2009

Close to 30 students from the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, Italy toured the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Room on March 4, 2008, during their visit to the Yale Law School. The students are jointly enrolled in the legal studies program at the University of Pisa.

After viewing our exhibit, The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library, they came into the Rare Book Room to see more of our Italian legal treasures. These included one of the first books printed in Naples, Tractatus seu apparatus de testibus by Albericus de Maletis (1471); a collection of portraits of early Italian jurists, Antoine Lafrery’s Illustrium jureconsultorum imagines (1566); Friar Paolo Attavanti’s Breviarium totius juris canonici (Milan, 1479), the first printed book with a portrait of the author; Antonino Ganini’s Il legista versificante (Naples, 1752), an elementary legal textbook in verse; Comentario sul codice criminale d’Inghilterra (Milan, 1813), an Italian translation of Book IV of Blackstone’s Commentaries; and Nuovo codice della strada (Milan, 1959), the Italian traffic code with humorous cartoons by the French illustrator Albert Dubout.

We had a great time. Thanks to all those who made the visit possible: Marina Santilli (Senior Research Scholar, Yale Law School); Caterina Sganga and Andrea Bertolini (LLM students at Yale Law School and graduate students at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna); and my Law Library colleagues Teresa Miguel, Dan Wade, Ryan Harrington, and Evelyn Ma.


Rare Book Librarian

February 9, 2009

Ten students from the Yale Law School’s Linkages Program visited the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Room on February 4. These law students from Argentina, Brazil and Chile spend three weeks participating in classes, conducting research, presenting papers, and taking field trips.

Their stop in the Rare Book Room was part of a tour of the Lillian Goldman Law Library. Among the items they saw was a fascinating Spanish incunable, Ordenanzas Reales de Castilla (Salamanca, 1500), in which an early owner used doodles to visually index the laws. They also saw the oldest item in the collection, which is two fragments of an illuminated 11th-century manuscript, recycled as binding material for our copy of the Flos testamentorum by Rolandinus de Passageriis (Padua, 1482), a guide to drafting wills.

To all our colleagues in the Linkages Program, ¡Bienvenidos!

Rare Book Librarian

January 26, 2009

Our books often have interesting stories behind them. One example is the fine set of Blackstone’s Commentaries (4 vols.; London, 1830) recently donated  by Mr. Mordecai K. Rosenfeld (Yale Law Class of 1954).

Mr. Rosenfeld is known for the witty and insightful essays he wrote for the New York Law Journal beginning in 1979. The story of our Blackstone begins when a collection of his essays was published in 1988 by the University of Georgia Press, under the title The Lament of the Single Practitioner: Essays on the Law. Here’s how Mr. Rosenfeld told the story in a 1990 essay, “Time to Answer”:

“The book … received, I am happy to say, much praise, but I shall recount only one instance, the praise that it received in an essay written for the Times (of London) Literary Supplement by a Mr. Eric Korn… I was so touched that my book would be mentioned in the TLS … that I wrote a note to thank the author. The note was written, of course, on my office stationery, and that, as we shall see, was my undoing.
     “A few days later I received a response from London. Mr. Korn wrote to me and asked if, perchance, I knew of a lawyer in New York who might help him with a legal problem. Not being able to say that I knew no one, I wrote back offering to undertake the task myself, whatever it was. The only condition I imposed was that I would not, under any circumstances, accept a fee.
     “My offer was promptly accepted. Mr. Korn, it seemed was not only an essayist but also an antiquarian book dealer. His book store … had participated in an Antiquarian Book Fair in New York and had sold a fine rare book to an apparently prosperous lady for $1,350. The apparently prosperous lady paid with two checks … on both of which she stopped payment as soon as Mr. Korn had left New York to return home. In accepting the case, I assumed that if I wrote a lawyer letter, payment would be prompt…”

However, collecting the payment turned out to be not so simple for Mr. Rosenfeld. He was obliged to sue in small-claims court, where he had never litigated. In “Time to Answer”, he recounts his embarrassment as he made several false starts. When he was finally ready to collect a default judgment, he had to ask the bank’s attorney, again, for guidance:

“He couldn’t believe that I didn’t know what had to be done, and inquired again if I was really a lawyer. When I assured him that I was, he asked which law school I had graduated from, but I was ashamed to tell him because my particular law school, Yale, takes inordinate (but undeserved) pride in the intellectual abilities of its graduates, and so I told him that, frankly, I couldn’t remember. Said Mr. Mancuso, ‘Mr. Rosenfeld, I’m not surprised.’”

The full story of Mr. Rosenfeld’s initiation into small-claims litigation is in “Time to Answer,” published in A Backhanded View of the Law: Irreverent Essays on Justice (Woodbridge, CT: Ox Bow Press, 1992). But the essay does not mention that Mr. Korn, in lieu of a fee, sent Mr. Rosenfeld the London 1830 edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries as a token of his gratitude. This is the set that Mr. Rosenfeld donated to the Lillian Goldman Law Library in October 2008. A few weeks later, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Korn at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair. He retains a high opinion of Mr. Rosenfeld’s legal abilities.

The 1830 Commentaries is a lovely set, still in its original boards and with the pages untrimmed. Our thanks to Mordecai Rosenfeld for this very welcome addition to our William Blackstone Collection, the world’s most comprehensive collection of Blackstone.

And for your reading pleasure, I highy recommend Mr. Rosenfeld’s essays in Lament of the Single Practitioner and Backhanded View of the Law, described by Eric Korn as “beautifully adept jabs at legal idiocies.”

Rare Book Librarian

January 3, 2009

Our Lewis Morris Collection is now part of the Libraries of Early America project on LibraryThing.com. As described by Jeremy Dibbell of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the coordinator of the Libraries of Early America Project, “Using the book-cataloging website LibraryThing.com, scholars from institutions around the country (including Monticello, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Boston Athenaeum, the Boston Public Library, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society and others) have begun the process of creating digital catalogs of early American book collections - the project covers anyone who lived in America and collected primarily before 1825.”

LibraryThing provides powerful tools for analyzing Morris’s library. The tag cloud, drawn from the subject headings in our catalog records, shows the subject strengths within the Morris Collection. You can also see how Morris’s library compares with other libraries, both early and modern. In addition, there is a biographical sketch and portrait of Morris.

Lewis Morris III (1726-1798), a 1746 graduate of Yale, was a prominent New York lawyer and statesman and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. His law library, consisting of 113 titles in 104 volumes, was donated to the Yale Law Library in 1960 by three of Lewis Morris’ descendents: A. Newbold Morris (Yale Law School Class of 1928), Stephanus Van Cortlandt Morris, and George L. Kingsland Morris. Over half the books in the collection are also inscribed by Morris’ grandfather, Lewis Morris I (1671-1746), who was chief justice of New York (1715-1733) and governor of New Jersey (1738-1746).

Libraries of Early America will soon add another of our collections, the John Worthington Collection. Worthington (1719-1800) was a wealthy and influential lawyer practicing in 18th-century Springfield, Mass., who served for many years as king’s attorney of western Massachusetts and high sheriff of Hampshire County.

Thanks to Jeremy Dibbell and his Libraries of Early America collaborators!



Rare Book Librarian

December 31, 2008

To ring in the New Year, I’d like to acknowledge the outstanding gifts to the Lillian Goldman Law Library’s Rare Book Collection in 2008.

I begin with a superb letter written by the great Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Marshall, in April 1835 (only a few months before Marshall’s death), to James Kirke Paulding, whose Life of Washington was published later that year. In the letter Marshall recounts how George Washington convinced him to begin his career in public service 37 years earlier. The letter is a gift from Charles J. Tanenbaum (LL.B. Yale 1937).

At right is an image of the last page with Marshall’s autograph; below is a transcription of the entire letter (postmarked Richmond, Virginia, April 4), followed by a list of resources.

J. K. Paulding esquire

New York


Your favor of the 22d of March was received in the course of the mail, but I have been confined to my room, and am only now resuming my pen.

The single difficulty I feel in complying with your request arises from my repugnance to any thing which may be construed into an evidence of that paltry vanity which, if I know myself forms no part of any character. To detail any conversation which might seem to intimate that General Washington considered my engaging in the political transactions of the United States an object of sufficient consequence to induce him to take an interest in effecting it, may look like boasting that I held a more favorable place in the opinion of that great man than the fact would justify. I do not however think that this, perhaps, fastidious feeling would justify a refusal to answer an enquiry made in terms entitled to my sincere acknowledgements.

All who were then old enough to notice the public affairs of the United states, recollect the arduous struggle of 1798 and 1799. General Washington, it is well known, took a deep interest in it. He believed that the real independence, the practical self government of our country, depended greatly on its issue[?] on our resisting the encroachments of France.

I had devoted myself to my profession, and, though actively and zealously engaged in support of the measures of his administration in the legislature of Virginia, had uniformly declined any situation which might withdraw me from the bar. In 1798 I was very strongly pressed by the federalists to become a candidate for Congress, and the gentleman of that party who had offered himself to the district [*], proposed to resign his pretensions in my favor. I had however positively refused to accede to the proposition, and believed that I could not be induced to change my determination. In this state of things, in August or September 1798 as well as I recollect, I received an invitation from General Washington to accompany his nephew, the late Judge Washington on a visit to Mount Vernon. I accepted this invitation and remained at Mount Vernon four or five days. During this time the walk and conversation in the Piazza mentioned by W. Lewis took place.

General Washington urged the importance of the crisis, expressed his decided conviction that every man who could contribute to the success of sound opinions was required by the most sacred duty to offer his services to the public and pressed me to come into the Congress of the ensuing year.

After the very natural declaration of distrust in my ability to do any good, I told him that I had made large pecuniary engagements which required close attention to my profession, and which would distress me should the emoluments derived from it be abandoned. I also mentioned the assurance I had given to the gentleman then a candidate, which I could not honorably violate.

He thought that gentleman would still willingly withdraw in my favor, and that my becoming a member of Congress for the present, would not sacrifice my practice as a lawyer. At any rate the sacrifice might be temporary.

After continuing the conversation for sometime, he directed my attention to his own conduct. He had withdrawn from office with a declaration of his determination never again, under any circumstances, to enter public life. No man could be more sincere in making that declaration, nor could any man feel stronger motives for adhering to it. No man could make a stronger sacrifice than he did in breaking a resolution thus publicly made, and which he had believed to be unalterable. Yet I saw him, in opposition to his public declaration, in opposition to his private feelings, consenting under a sense of duty, to surrender the sweets of retirement, and again to enter the most arduous and perilous station which an individual could fill.

My resolution yielded to this representation after remarking that the obligation which had controuled[?] his course was essentially different from that which bound me - that no other man could fill the place to which his country had called him, whereas my services could weigh but little in the political balance, I consented to become a candidate, and have continued, ever since my election, in public life.

This letter is intended to be private, and you will readily perceive the unfitness of making it public. It is written because it has been requested in polite and obliging terms, and because I am willing, should your own views induce you to mention the fact derived from W. Lewis, to give you the assurance of its truth.

With my great respect I am Sir

your obed.t serv.t

J Marshall

  • Three English law reports in our Rare Book Collections bear Marshall’s inscriptions and marginal notes: Hobart’s Reports (London, 5th ed. 1724), Strange’s Reports (London, 1755), and Vernon’s Chancery Reports (London, 1726-1728). We also have vol. 1 of the abridged edition of Marshall’s Life of George Washington (Philadelphia, 1832), inscribed by Marshall to his fellow Supreme Court Justice Smith Thompson.
  • James Kirke Paulding (1778-1860) was a prominent early American author who later served as Secretary of the Navy. See his biographical sketch in Wikipedia. There are several biographies of Paulding, the most recent being Ralph M. Aderman & Wayne R. Kime, Advocate for America: The Life of James Kirke Paulding (Susquehanna University Press, 2003).
  • The 1848 Aberdeen edition of Paulding’s Life of Washington is available in Google Books; a brief mention of Marshall’s meeting with Washington (without using Marshall’s name) is on pages 260-261.


Rare Book Librarian


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