Rare Books Blog

We accuse : Bill Epton speaks to the court (front cover)
April 21, 2015

…50 years ago.

NEW YORK - Bill Epton stood before the court at his sentencing hearing and delivered the fiery speech “We accuse.” In it Epton, a community organizer, accused the government of violating his First Amendment rights and of committing crimes against humanity both at home and abroad. His political party published the speech a few days later and we recently acquired a copy.

Initially indicted by a grand jury for criminal anarchy, Epton was later convicted of “advocating” criminal anarchy and sentenced to a year in prison for every twelve counts found against him. This all happened because he and his lawyer led a protest march in defiance of a city-wide ban on demonstrations.

Why the protest? On July 16, 1964, an off-duty white police officer had shot and killed a 15-year old African-American boy in Harlem.

- ANNA FRANZ, Rare Book Fellow

Hic iacet lepus, rabbit drawn in the margins of a canon law text.
March 27, 2015

Part of the fun in dealing with older materials is coming across the occasional doodle or illustration added to the margins. This charming little creature comes from Decisiones antiquae et novae Rotae romanae (Old and new decisions of the Roman Rota), edited by Wilhelm Horboch sometime in the late 14th century, though our edition was printed around 1477.

The inspiration for the rabbit comes from the text directly to the right of the picture “…vbi iacet lepus…” (where the rabbit lies), and the annotator helpfully captioned his work at the bottom of the page with “Hic jacet lepus” (here lies the rabbit). Now, this particular rabbit is lying in the middle of a piece of canon law about privileges and confused jurisdictions, which begs the question – why the rabbit? Well, if the results of searching on Google can be trusted, “hic iacet lepus” is a colloquialism for “here’s the solution.”

Who knew rabbits were so handy?

- ANNA FRANZ, Rare Book Fellow

Page from a notebook belonging to Stephan Kuttner, listing variant readings in texts of the Council of Trent.
March 16, 2015

Among the Kuttner Institute materials recently deposited here are two pieces indicative of the work the Institute continues to support – creating editions of Medieval Canon Law.

The first picture, a page from a notebook used by Stephan Kuttner, shows his notes on variant readings found in texts of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), and they occupy the top half of the page. The bottom half has his thoughts regarding which of the texts he consulted served as the source for the other texts, visually expressed by the tree in the bottom right corner of the page.

Some of a page of variant readings of texts of Pseudo-Isidore

This second picture demonstrates another method of tracking variant readings. A scholar working on Pseudo-Isidore used sheets of graph paper (taped together to form pages of over three-and-a-half feet in length) to list changes between manuscripts line by line. Painstaking labor with a rather cumbersome physical result, but still a good way to see copy errors and textual corruption at work.

- ANNA FRANZ, Rare Book Fellow

Blackstone's Commentaries (1765)
March 5, 2015

This year is the 250th anniversary of the publication of Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, the single most influential book in the history of Anglo-American law. The Yale Law Library, home to the world’s largest collection of Blackstone’s works, is marking the anniversary with an exhibition, “250 Years of Blackstone’s Commentaries.”

More than 40 items, all from the Yale Law Library’s collection, depict the origins of the Commentaries, its remarkable success as a textbook, and its impact on both legal and popular culture. The items include a volume annotated by one of Blackstone’s students, a legal treatise with Blackstone’s own handwritten marginalia, the first English editions of the Commentaries, early Irish and American pirated editions, abridgments, teaching aids, student manuscripts, critiques, translations (into French, German, Italian, and Chinese), and a 1963 liquor advertisement.

The exhibition is curated by Wilfrid Prest and Michael Widener. Prest, Professor Emeritus of History and Law at the University of Adelaide, is the author of William Blackstone: Law and Letters in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 2008), the definitive biography of Blackstone, and numerous other works on Blackstone. Widener is the Rare Book Librarian at the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, and is on the faculty of the Rare Book School, University of Virginia.

The exhibition is on display through June 2, 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). The exhibition will then travel to London, where it will be on view September through November 2015 at the library of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, which was Blackstone’s Inn of Court. From December 2015 to February 2016 it will be at the Sir John Salmond Law Library, University of Adelaide.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Yale Law Library will host a talk on April 17 by Cristina Martinez of Carleton University, who contributed “Blackstone as Draughtsman: Picturing the Law” to the collection edited by Prest, Re-Interpreting Blackstone’s Commentaries (2014). Her talk will be accompanied by Mark Weiner’s video, “Blackstone Goes Hollywood,” which includes an interview with Prest.

A catalogue of the exhibition will be published, with the generous support of William S. Hein & Co.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Wedding poem used as binding material
March 4, 2015

Forget little bottles of bubbles or bags of candy, couples getting married in early-modern Germany printed books to celebrate the wedding.

This interesting piece, a poem likely from such a book, comes to us as part of the binding for a volume of two commentaries on Roman law published in Lyon in 1590. The sheet with the poem is simply the top of the many sheets of paper pasted together to form the board for the back cover (appropriately called ‘pasteboard’). It is only visible because the paste-down, paper that would normally cover the folded edges of the leather binding, is missing.

The binding is alum-tawed skin with blind stamping and rolls, that is, the same style seen in the Reflections on Bindings Exhibit, making it contemporary to the printing. This is an important detail in trying to find information about the poem, since the inscription on the front, dated to February, 1676, could lead one to think that the book was bound on that occasion and so hamper investigation.

Despite missing most of the poem, this scrap of printer’s waste contains a lot of information to try and solve the puzzle it presents. We have four personal names and three place names:

  • Christoph Neander (groom), head of the school in Lübben
  • Margaret Hoffman (bride), daughter of Martin Hoffman, late pastor of a church in Zinna
  • Jacob Patoch (author) of Kottbus, head of Scholae Patriae

All of the towns listed are in what is now eastern Germany (mostly south and east of Berlin). Tracking the people named proves harder – only the groom appears to have left a trace. He may be the Christoph Neander who served as a professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Frankfurt (Oder) in the early 1600s. However, the scanty evidence prevents any firm identification.

As mentioned above, writing and publishing books celebrating a couple’s marriage was a common practice in early-modern Germany. Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg has a robust digital collection of 16th-18th century prints, and searching “nuptial” and then filtering for wedding books (Gelegenheitsschrift:Hochzeit) gives a sense of how wide-spread the practice was. Christoph and Margaret were in good company, but apparently printed too many copies, so that Jacob’s poem wound up in the scrap heap, and then on our shelves.


Morris L. Cohen
January 14, 2015

The Legal History and Rare Books (LH&RB) Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), in cooperation with Cengage Learning, announces the Seventh Annual Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition. The competition is named in honor of Morris L. Cohen, late Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law School.

The competition is designed to encourage scholarship and to acquaint students with the AALL and law librarianship, and is open to students currently enrolled in accredited graduate programs in library science, law, history, and related fields. Essays may be on any topic related to legal history, rare law books, or legal archives. The winner will receive a $500.00 prize from Cengage Learning and up to $1,000 for expenses to attend the AALL Annual Meeting, July 18-21, 2015, in Philadelphia. The runner-up will have the opportunity to publish the second-place essay in LH&RB’s online scholarly journal Unbound: An Annual Review of Legal History and Rare Books.

The entry form and instructions are available at the LH&RB website: http://www.aallnet.org/sections/lhrb/awards. Entries must be submitted by 11:59 p.m., March 16, 2015 (EST).

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634)
November 29, 2014

Books from our Rare Book Collection once again are the stars in a video by my friend Mark Weiner. The latest video is titled “On Looking into Coke’s Reports” and the stars are the two most important works authored by the famous English jurist Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634): The First Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England (3rd ed.; London, 1633), commonly known as Coke on Littleton; and the first volume of Coke’s Reports, Les Reports de Edward Coke l’Attorney Generall le Roigne (London, 1601?). In supporting roles are some of the manuscript case reports that once belonged to Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676), another great English judge who authored the landmark treatise on English criminal law, Pleas of the Crown (1678).

In his Worlds of Law blog, Weiner writes that his video essay “is about rare books, jazz, the passage of time, and old movies … and the law reports of the great jurist Edward Coke.”

— MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


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