Rare Books Blog

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.


Anna Franz
February 11, 2015

The Lillian Goldman Law Library welcomes Anna Franz as its 2015 Rare Book Fellow. Anna is our second Rare Book Fellow. She earned a Master’s in Library & Information Science from Wayne State University. She has a Ph.D. and M.A. in Medieval Studies from the University of Toronto, where she also taught Latin to graduate students. Her dissertation, “Agobard of Lyon: An Exploration of Carolingian Jewish-Christian Relations,” displays her mastery of early medieval law.

Anna’s training in canon law, and her skills in Latin, will be put to good use as she develops a research guide for the library of the Stephan Kuttner Institute of Medieval Canon Law, which is now on deposit in the Yale Law Library. In addition, for the next six months she will be involved in all aspects of special collections librarianship in a research law library, including collection development, reference, cataloging, and preservation.

The Yale Law Library Rare Book Fellowship is designed to train the next generation of rare law book librarians. We are delighted to add Anna to their ranks.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

January 23, 2015

“Murder and Women in 19th-Century America: Trial Accounts in the Yale Law Library”

An exhibition talk by

Friday, January 30
11:00am – 12:00pm
Room 122, Yale Law School
127 Wall Street, New Haven CT

“Murder and Women in 19th-Century America,” the current exhibition of the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection, will be the subject of a talk on January 30 by the exhibition curators, Mike & Emma Widener. This colorful exhibit draws on the library’s outstanding collection of American trial literature.

The exhibition talk is scheduled for 11am on Friday, January 30, in Room 122 of the Yale Law School, 127 Wall Street. It is free and open to the public.

The illustrated talk will cover the place of these sensational trial accounts in 19th-century popular reading, their research value, tools for researching them, and the fascinating stories they tell.

Mike Widener is the Rare Book Librarian in the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School. Emma Molina Widener has just retired from a 20-year career teaching college Spanish at the University of Texas, Austin Community College, the University of New Haven, Yale University, and most recently at Southern Connecticut State University.

The exhibit, “Murder and Women in 19th-Century America: Trial Accounts in the Yale Law Library,” is on display through February 21, 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 exhibit can also be viewed in the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site.

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

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


Arms of Pope Pius V
December 17, 2014

One of our most interesting recent acquisitions is a papal bull against bullfighting: Bulla S.D. N. Pii Pape V. Super prohibitione agitationis Taurorum & Ferarum, & annulatione votorum & iuramentorum, super eisdem pro tempore interpositorum (Rome: heirs of Antonio Blado, 1567). Papal bulls are decrees issued by the Pope. This particular bull is considered one of the foundation documents of the animal protection movement.

A Yale Law School LL.M. student, Raffael Nicolas Fasel, saw the bull on a tour of the Rare Book Collection and offered to write about it. I am pleased to welcome Raffael as a guest blogger. His piece fits well with the Christmas spirit. – MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


De Salute Gregis Dominici: A Papal Bull Banning Bullfighting in 1567

by Raffael Nicolas Fasel

LL.M. candidate, Yale Law School

Although the spectacles of the Roman Colosseum and other staged fights between human and non-human animals are long past, bullfighting persists in some parts of the modern world. Today, the so-called corridas de toros are being held not only in Spain, Portugal and Southern France, but also in Latin American countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru.

It is estimated that each year approximately 10,000 bulls are killed in these fights. Because of the torment that is caused to the animals – predominantly bulls, but also the horses used by lancers who stab the bulls – many regard bullfighting as an archaic and barbaric tradition.

For this reason, numerous countries have adopted prohibitions on bullfighting. In these countries, the practice is either forbidden by a specific ban – as in the case of the Catalan bullfighting ban from 2012 – or by a more general anti-cruelty statute.

However, banning bullfighting is not as recent a phenomenon as one would think. Already half a millennium before Catalonia’s ban, the Catholic Church adopted an interdiction of bullfighting and similar types of blood sports that involve animals. In 1567 the pope, St. Pius V, issued a papal bull titled Super prohibitione agitationis Taurorum & Ferarum (“An injunction forbidding bullfights and similar sports with wild animals”), and commonly referred to as “De Salute Gregis Dominici” (“On the welfare of the Lord’s flock”). The bull is one of the treasures in the Rare Book Collection of the Yale Law Library.

In his bull, Pope Pius V “removed from Christian piety and charity” any spectacles “in which bulls and other wild animals are challenged in circuses and plazas.” Under penalty of excommunication, the bull forbade staging and attending fights in which men confronted bulls or other wild animals. Bullfights and similar events are denounced by the bull as constituting “cruel and base spectacles of the devil and not of man.”

In the legal system of the Catholic Church, the 1567 bull has lost some of its importance because later popes, Gregory XIII and Clement VIII, limited the ban on attending bullfights to members of the clergy and to spectacles taking place on religious holidays. However, Pius V’s bull has never been directly repealed by another bull or provision of canon law. Like all other papal bulls, the 1567 bull has been endowed with perpetual validity in accordance with the formula “ad perpetuam rei memoriam” (“for a permanent record of the matter”), which is stated in its very beginning. Therefore, to the extent that the bull has not been overridden by any subsequent provisions, it remains in force.

In comparison with modern-day animal protection laws, the 1567 bull adheres to what is nowadays seen as an outdated anthropocentric model of animal protection. Pope Pius V was not so much concerned with the well-being of the animals themselves, but rather with the salvation and the welfare of the Lord’s flock, that is, the Christians. It was not until the 19th century that animal protection statutes were adopted for the animals’ own sakes.

As a precursor of these more modern and secular prohibitions of bullfighting, however, pope Pius V’s “De Salute Gregis Dominici” bull remains an important point of reference.

A digitized version of the 1567 Super prohibitione agitationis Taurorum & Ferarum is available here, in Internet Culturale, the web portal to digital collections in Italian libraries.

A partial English translation of the bull is provided on the website of SHARK (SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness).

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has a discussion of Pius V’s bull on its website; for an alternate view, see “The Morality of the Bullfight” on the Saint Louis Catholic blog.

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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