Thursday, June 16, 2016

"First" American edition of Vattel's seminal work on international law

Emer de Vattel's The Law of Nations, his seminal work on international law, was first published in 1758 in his native French. In 2014, we acquired this first edition in an original trade binding. Recently, we were happy to add a copy of a very early American edition to our collection. Indicated as the first edition on the title page, this is in fact the second American edition (the first was actually published in New York in 1787).

Vattel’s influential work was cited more frequently than any other work in the courts of the Early Republic and received high praise from the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. It continues to be cited today by courts across our country and beyond.

This unassuming but lovely copy clearly was well-used; there are pencil markings throughout the volume. The binding is sheepskin patterned to mimic tree calf, with gilt tooling and the original lettering piece on the spine.

Many thanks to Michael von der Linn at Lawbook Exchange for the description on which this posted is based.

For more on the Vattel’s influence in colonial and early America, see Willem Theo Oosterveld, The Law of Nations in Early American Foreign Policy (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2016), 26-35.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Look Back at a Recent Student Event: Legally Binding

Last month, I hosted our second annual student lunch and "behind the scenes" Rare Book Room event. This year, we were lucky to have Barbara Hebard, Burns Conservator, as a special guest. We enjoyed a great lunch, and then went into the Rare Book Room with our six student attendees, a fantastic mix of enthusiastic first, second, and third year law students.

For each book, I gave a brief overview of the content and its importance in our collection, and then Barbara talked about the binding and other physical characteristics. I never fail to learn something when Barbara comes over. In addition to explaining what one can tell about a book and its audience by certain binding features, she pointed out evidence of long-removed clasps on our 1559 Corpus Iuris Civilis; revealed how our 1496 edition of the Decretales of Gregory IX had been bound in vellum over an earlier paper binding; and explained how you can tell how certain owners had clearly planned (or not, depending on the book!) for the addition of copious annotations.

The students, as usual, were amazed at the condition of the paper in our 1475 Nuremberg printing of the Code of Justinian. They had excellent questions about the process of dual-color printing, the relationship between printers and bookbinders, and the importance of annotations and other marginalia for legal historians.

At the end of our session, Barbara showed us all how to sew a pamphlet, and we used our current exhibit catalogs to practice!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Student Event in the Rare Book Room: Lunch, Books, and Binding

RSVP quickly to snag one of ten slots on OrgSync!

In light of the success of last year’s student event in the Rare Book Room, on Monday 4/25 at noon, curator Laurel Davis is going to host another lunch, exhibit, and discussion about our beautiful collection of rare books and manuscripts.

This year, we will have a special guest: Barbara Adams Hebard, Conservator at the Burns Library, the home of Boston College’s special collections. We will provide lunch from Panera in the law library conference room, and then move into the Rare Book Room to look at some highlights from our collection. After that, we’ll have a hands-on session with Barbara for those who would like to try their hand at binding a pamphlet!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Happy Leap Day and Year!

Apparently, there was an onslaught of Leap Year postcards in the early 20th century, particularly around 1908 and 1912. Most played on the idea that February 29th was a day in which women could take a leap, flip the old-fashioned tables, and propose to a man. The origins of the idea are murky, but perhaps are rooted in a 13th century Scottish law that supposedly penalized men for refusing a woman's proposal during a leap year.

Examples of these cards abound on the web, including a Leap Year postcard database from Monmouth University. Our own collection of legal postcards, gift of Michael H. Hoeflich and subject of a Fall 2014 exhibit, includes a legally-themed example. The woman is apparently on "the right side of the law" in proposing to the lawyer during a Leap Year.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Heavily Annotated First Edition of Burn's Justice of the Peace

Today’s featured acquisition is a first edition of Richard Burn’s The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer. First published in 1755, Burn’s work is the most popular ever written on justices of the peace. This particular copy can provide researchers with great insights into how manuals like this were actually used. Our copy contains some 75 additional blank pages, most of which have been used as an appendix, adding cases and statutes under the headings from the book. There are also extensive marginal notes. Some are additions that the owner found useful to supplement the original text, while others are updates that refer to laws enacted after the time of publication. Some of the owner’s very legible notes can be seen in the photo above.
The extensive notes were presumably written by Richard Hopton of Canon-Frome, Hereford, whose bookplate appears in the front of both volumes. The Hopton family occupied a country house in the county of Herefordshire for centuries. Hopton himself was a lawyer in the area and would have been practicing at the time of publication. Worth mentioning is a schedule of fees for Herefordshire court officers, which is copied into the handwritten appendix in the first volume. 

Richard Burn was born in England in 1709. He attended school at Oxford, where he was later awarded a Doctor of Civil Law (D.C.L.). Burn went on to become justice of the peace for Westmorland and Cumberland counties. The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer was his first book. What made the work particularly groundbreaking was its unique layout. Tired of the arbitrary organization that had plagued justices’ manuals in the past, Burn laid out a new plan in the preface of the first volume: “The author proposeth in this book to render the laws relating to the subjects it treats of, a little more intelligible than hath hitherto been done” (v). He was evidently successful. Even Blackstone praised Burn’s work, noting that it included “every thing relative to this subject, both in ancient and modern practice, collected with great care and accuracy, and disposed in a most clear and judicious method” (bk 1 c.9 iii [354 (1771)]). Burn went on to edit the ninth through eleventh editions of Blackstone’s Commentaries. The thirtieth and final edition of Justice was published in 1869, eighty-four years after Burn’s death.

Thanks to Joe Luttrell at Meyer Boswell Books for his helpful description.

Norma Landau, “Burn, Richard (1709-1785),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
The Hopton Family and Their Book-Plates,” Journal of the Ex Libris Society, 1904.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Calling interested law students: annual essay competition is underway!

The eighth annual Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition is underway and open to any graduate student in law, library science, history, or related fields!

 The Legal History and Rare Books (LH&RB) Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), in cooperation with Cengage Learning, sponsors this annual competition, which 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 in July in Chicago. The winner and runner-up will have the opportunity to publish their essays in LH&RB’s online scholarly journal Unbound: A Review of Legal History and Rare Books. The entry form, requirements, and instructions are available at the LH&RB website. Entries must be submitted by 11:59 p.m., April 18, 2016 (EST).

Monday, November 30, 2015

Early Maine Attorney's Court Docket Book

Today's item is a docket book once owned by Charles Greene, a successful lawyer in Maine. Interestingly, the entries begin in 1816, when Maine was still a district of Massachusetts. By the time of the last entry, in 1833, Maine had been a state for more than a decade. This book covers cases handled in the common law courts of York and Somerset Counties.

Charles Greene was educated at Dartmouth, from which he graduated in 1811. Upon graduating, he went to study law under his father, Judge Benjamin Greene, along with Dudley Hubbard, South Berwick's "first regularly educated lawyer." In 1814, just three years after graduating college, Charles Greene opened his own practice in South Berwick, York County. He would later move to Norridgewock before finally settling in Athens, where he would stay until his death in 1852. Greene continued to practice law and later became judge of the county probate court.

The book is completely filled in, with no blank pages and none missing. Overall, the volume contains 1569 cases. Most of the actions contained within are for debt, but several others of interest include actions of replevin, trespass, defamation, and dower, among others. The page shown above is part of Greene's comprehensive 12-page index. The index is split into two sections to separate Greene's time practicing in South Berwick from his practice in Athens.

Many thanks to Robert H. Rubin for the wonderful description on which this post is based.