Built by Association: Introduction

Bookplate of John Jay, first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
October 10, 2013

If you collect enough of anything—in my case, it’s 36,000 books—you inevitably acquire some especially unusual and prized specimens. Tracing the provenance of books can be fascinating when the previous owners were people of note. With enough diligent searching, you can find association copies such as these: books inscribed by authors, or uninscribed books that simply belonged to grandees, or—if you’re really lucky—books both inscribed by authors and given to grandees.

This exhibit displays all three types. Early inscriptions, interestingly, are typically “With the compliments of the Author,” or some such notation, without signature. Not until the late 19th century did most authors sign their names. Some authorial signatures bespeak modesty (Holmes, J.); others proclaim flamboyance (Wigmore). All are distinctive.

Occasionally a mystery emerges. How did Clarence Darrow know the tragic Pearl Ball? Why did somebody black out the name of the recipient of Yale law professor Fred Rodell’s book—someone whom Rodell called his “favorite statesman”? How did books once belonging to the likes of Chief Justice John Jay and Judge Learned Hand end up in the stream of commerce?

Occasionally book collectors apologetically ask me to sign one of my books. I always reassure them that I do the same thing—not to worry. I treasure my books inscribed by my mentor, the late Charles Alan Wright; by my coauthor, Justice Scalia; by Sir Robert Megarry, whose last book I finished and edited just after his 96th birthday; and by many other legal dignitaries. It enhances one’s lifelong connection to the book.

Even if you’re merely the temporary caretaker of books, as I am of those here on display, you inevitably feel some sort of ineffable connection with the signatory who handled the book at least long enough to sign it or paste in his bookplate—and may, indeed, have pored over it and savored every precious word.

          – Bryan A. Garner

“Built by Association: Books Once Owned by Notable Judges and Lawyers, from Bryan A. Garner’s Collection”, an exhibit curated by Bryan A. Garner with Mike Widener, is on display until December 16, 2013 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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