Rare Books Blog

Decretales Gregorii IX (Venice, 1514)
September 9, 2015

The Pope is universally known as the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church. But it is often forgotten that for much of the papacy’s history the Pope was the most important judicial and legislative authority in western Europe.

A new exhibition at the Yale Law Library, “The Pope’s Other Jobs: Judge and Lawgiver,” illustrates the Pope’s legal responsibilities throughout history using rare books and a medieval manuscript from the Law Library’s outstanding collection. It is curated by Anders Winroth, Forst Family Professor of History, Yale University, and Michael Widener, the Law Library’s Rare Book Librarian. Winroth is one of the world’s leading authorities on medieval canon law.

“In the Middle Ages, canon law (the law of the church) took center stage as a most sophisticated legal system, not only inspiring much secular law but also becoming recognized as the sole authority in several legal fields, such as the law of marriage, the law of just war, and the legal implications of oaths,” said Winroth. The books and manuscripts in the exhibition show how the papacy has shaped areas as diverse as human rights, international boundaries, due process, and marriage law. Many of the legal rights that Americans take for granted, such as the presumption of innocence and the right against self-incrimination, are rooted in the decrees and judicial decisions of medieval popes.

The exhibition is on display September 8-December 15, 2015, 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).  It will also appear here in the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Inscription on book given to Simeon E. Baldwin by Emily Gerry, 1864.
July 27, 2015

A digital version of the exhibit “Evidence of Women: Women as Printers, Donors, and Owners of Law Texts” is now available online through the library’s eYLS portal. This digital version includes the images and labels of all of the books displayed in the exhibit. It also includes source citations for those who want more information.


- ANNA FRANZ, Rare Book Fellow

Evidence of Women exhibit
June 26, 2015

Yale Law Library exhibit: “Evidence of Women”


New Yale Law Library exhibit…




Women printed, donated, and owned law books – from manuals to treatises to codes – long before women entered legal practice. From queens to unknown women, from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, this exhibit provides a glimpse of women’s involvement with law books both inside and outside of official structures.

The exhibit, “Evidence of Women: Women as Printers, Donors, and Owners of Law Texts,” is curated by Anna Franz (Rare Book Fellow, Yale Law Library). It is on display through August 25, 2015, 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).

This exhibit provides further evidence of women’s long involvement with the law even at times when they could not practice it. Since the exhibit represents only a small sampling from the vast corpus of law texts, it prompts reflection on the potential depth and breadth of women’s interactions with the law as producers, transmitters, and consumers, instead of as objects or eventually practitioners of law. It especially highlights women’s importance in the dissemination of law texts through their substantial and sustained role as printers and sellers of law books.

For more information, contact Anna Franz at (203) 432-5678, email anna.franz@yale.edu, or Mike Widener at (203) 432-4494, email mike.widener@yale.edu.

- ANNA FRANZ, Rare Book Fellow

Packing list by Nathan Sanford?
June 24, 2015

To help you pack for your summer travels, consider this list written in the front of a copy of Jacob’s Law Grammar, perhaps by Nathan Sanford himself. Some essentials:

Table Cloaths

4 Cravats

2 Pair of Draws

2 Vests

Pair of Stockings

2 Shifts

Short Gowns

Pocket handkerchiefs

2 Frocks



Happy packing!

- ANNA FRANZ, Rare Book Fellow

Stephan Kuttner (1907-1996)
May 20, 2015

The Lillian Goldman Law Library joins with the Stephan Kuttner Institute of Medieval Canon Law in celebrating the return of its library to Yale University this week. The grand opening is part of an international conference, “Rem non novam nec insolitam aggredimur.”

In conjunction with the grand opening, the Law Library is pleased to launch its “Guide to Using the Stephan Kuttner Institute of Medieval Canon Law Library.” The guide was prepared by our 2015 Rare Book Fellow, Anna Franz.

The “Guide” gives an overview of the collection and its history, and then describes each of its components. The most significant of these is the collection of over 700 microfilm, microfiche, and photocopy reproductions of medieval canon law manuscripts. In one location researchers can consult manuscripts from libraries scattered across Europe and North America. The Kuttner Institute’s book collection of over 2200 volumes is a valuable reference tool for those using the manuscripts and for anyone studying the history of canon law (browse the collection via this link). The collection also contains over 15,000 offprints of journal articles, many of which are still not available online and which constitute an extensive repository of scholarship.

The “Guide” also directs researchers to the Law Library’s own extensive collections on canon law, including current scholarly monographs and the Rare Book Collection’s rich canon law holdings.

The Law Library is delighted to take custody of the Kuttner Institute’s library and looks forward to assisting its users. If the “Guide” doesn’t answer all your questions, ask one of us!

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Handbuch aller unter der Regierung des Kaisers Joseph des II, volume 15 (1789)
May 14, 2015

In my search for law books with illustrations, I have never come across botanical illustrations until now. The plant depicted here is belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade. The leaves and berries are highly toxic, although the plant is also used in a wide variety of medicines.

The illustration is found in volume 15 of the Handbuch aller unter der Regierung des Kaisers Joseph des II. für die K.K. Erbländer ergangenen Verordnungen und Gesetz in einer sistematischen Verbindung (Vienna: J.G. Moesle, 1785-1790), an 18-volume compilation of the legislation of Emperor Joseph II of Austria (1741-1790), the brother of Marie Antoinette. The illustration is for a law that required teachers to warn their students about belladonna and other dangerous plants, following a number of deadly incidents. It gives instructions on how to identify belladonna, and describes the symptoms of belladonna poisoning. It is part of a set of public health regulations. (Thanks to Otto Vervaart and Mark Weiner for translation help.)

The Handbuch contains the enormous legislative output of the reform-minded Joseph II. He freed the serfs, abolished the death penalty, ended press censorship, instituted religious toleration, and reformed public administration, among other things. Many of his reforms were rolled back after his death. All 18 volumes are available online, courtesy of the National Library of Austria.

One unusual and attractive feature of the Handbuch is that each of the 18 volumes has a different allegorical frontispiece and engraved border on the title page. You can view all of the frontispieces in an album on our Flickr site. Below is the frontispiece of the last volume, volume 18, published in the year that Joseph II died. It shows a soldier mourning his leader’s death.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Statuta terrae Bassani marchionatus (1615)
May 3, 2015

The Yale Law Library’s collection of early Italian statutes is the largest outside of Italy. One of its strengths is its manuscripts. A list of them, “Manuscripts in the Italian Statute Collection, Yale Law Library,” is now available in the Yale Law Special Collections section of the Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository.

The list is arranged alphabetically by jurisdiction (usually a city or town). It gives descriptions of 74 manuscripts. Most of them are municipal statutes that govern both civil and criminal matters. A few contain the statutes of guilds (pharmacists of Naples), or statutes covering specific subject areas such as criminal law (Bregaglia Valley), commercial law (Città di Castello, Florence, Montefortino), fishing (Perugia), tariffs (Bologna), or agriculture (Tivoli). They date mainly from the 15th to 18th centuries.

One example is shown at left: the 1615 compilation of the statutes of Bassano del Grappa, a city in northwest Italy that was part of the Republic of Venice for much of its history. Ernest Hemingway lived in Bassano while he was driving an ambulance in World War I.

The list also includes 24 print titles because they contain significant additions in manuscript. Printed editions of municipal statutes were expensive to publish and had a limited market, so only the most important and populous cities, such as Milan and Venice, published frequent updated editions. For printed statutes in other cities, it was easier and less expensive to update the copies in manuscript. Below is one example from Novara, Statuta civitatis Novariae (1719). From a book history perspective, these volumes are interesting because they straddle the boundary between manuscript and print.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian



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