Early Italian Statutes: History of the Collection

November 1, 2008

The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library

“The outstanding acquisition of the year”

The Yale Law Library owes its superb collection of early Italian statutes to a generous alumnus, an opportunistic librarian, and a “learned Italian lawyer.”

John A. Hoober (Law 1891), an attorney and industrialist in York, Pa., led a fund drive that raised a hefty acquisitions endowment for the Yale Law Library in 1942, much of it from Hoober’s own pocket. When legal historian Samuel Thorne took over as Law Librarian three years later, he had an ample book budget and a buyer’s market in war-torn Europe. Thorne’s report for the 1945-46 academic year included the following under the heading “Notable Purchases”:

“The outstanding acquisition of the year was the notable collection of Italian statuta, numbering almost nine hundred volumes, purchased from a learned Italian lawyer who had brought it, over a period of fifty years, to its present completeness. It contained fifty-two manuscripts of the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries, nine incunabula, and many sixteenth-century editions, more than a few unknown to Luigi Manzoni whose ‘Bibliografia statutaria e storica italiana’ is the standard bibliography of the class.”

Efforts to discover the identity of the “learned Italian lawyer” who sold his splendid collection to Yale have so far come up empty.

The collection has been supplemented by two major acquisitions from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Their Roman-Canon Law Collection, placed on permanent loan at the Yale Law Library in 2006, included twenty-two volumes of Italian treatises and judicial opinions. An additional sixty volumes were acquired in Fall 2008 as part of the Bar’s Foreign Law Collection. In addition, book dealers in the U.S. and Europe have supplied individual volumes of statutes for Ancona, Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Florence, Genoa, Milan, Monteregale, Novara, Riviera di Salo, Sicily, Rome, Trento, and Vicenza.

Exhibit Curators

“The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library” is on display October 2008 through February 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

Illustration: Statuta provisiones et ordinamenta magnificae civitatis Ferrariae (2nd ed.; Ferrara, 1534).

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