Monday, December 20, 2010

Remembering Morris Cohen

The law library world is shaken today with the sad news of Morris Cohen's passing. Morris (1927-2010) was a scholar, librarian, mentor, and friend to generations of law librarians and legal historians. Though I shall not attempt an obituary when others have done it so well, I did want to reflect for a minute on Morris' connections to to Boston College Law School and the Daniel R. Coquillette Rare Book Room.

Morris was an advisor, mentor, and an inspiration to many of us at the BC Law Library, including Sharon O'Connor, Mark Sullivan, and yours truly. Back in 1998, when I had just begun my professional love affair with rare books, we mounted an exhibit of Morris' children's law books entitled "Law & Order Made Amusing." Later, Morris lent his books to our 2002 exhibit, "Collectors on Collecting."

Over the years, Morris generously with us shared his passion for, and expertise in, historical and rare law books. I will always be grateful for his keen enthusiasm and wise advice. In 2008, we hosted an event, "Celebrating Morris Cohen," in which we honored Morris' life, work and friendship. Today, we miss him already.

Remembering Morris Cohen

The law library world is shaken today with the sad news of Morris Cohen's passing. Morris (1927-2010) was a scholar, librarian, mentor, and friend to generations of law librarians and legal historians. Though I shall not attempt an obituary when others have done it so well, I did want to reflect for a minute on Morris' connections to to Boston College Law School and the Daniel R. Coquillette Rare Book Room.

Morris was an advisor, mentor, and an inspiration to many of us at the BC Law Library, including Sharon O'Connor, Mark Sullivan, and yours truly. Back in 1998, when I had just begun my professional love affair with rare books, we mounted an exhibit of Morris' children's law books entitled "Law & Order Made Amusing." Later, Morris lent his books to our 2002 exhibit, "Collectors on Collecting."

Over the years, Morris generously with us shared his passion for, and expertise in, historical and rare law books. I will always be grateful for his keen enthusiasm and wise advice. In 2008, we hosted an event, "Celebrating Morris Cohen," in which we honored Morris' life, work and friendship. Today, we miss him already.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rare Book Room is Closed for the Holiday Break

The Room will be closed from Monday, December 14, 2010 through Sunday, January 9, 2011 for cleaning, maintenance, and exhibit work. It will reopen on Monday, January 10 with a new exhibit featuring selections from Professor Michael Hoeflich's gift of Roman law books. Watch this space for more, and Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Last Chance to View our Fall Exhibit

Our fall 2010 exhibit, Recent Additions to the Collection, will close at 5 pm on Friday December 10. Please stop in and visit if you are in the area!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

This Just In . . . An Early Magna Carta

We have just acquired an early edition of the Magna Carta, printed in 1556 by the famous London legal publisher Richard Tottell. Like many others of its kind, this edition includes a collection of early English statutes. It joins other Magna Cartas and early English statutory compilations in our collection, including a 1539 edition printed by Robert Redman, and a modern limited edition engraved plate of the actual manuscript Charter.

The 1215 Charter imposed limits on King John's power over his subjects, and granted them certain privileges and protections. It remains an important symbol of the rule of law in England and America, and is considered part of England's uncodified constitution.

We are delighted to welcome this important and attractive little volume to our collection!

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Brief Preview of Our Next Exhibit

We have been processing Professor Mike Hoeflich's gift of Roman Law books in preparation for our January 2011 exhibit, and I could not resist sharing a sneak peek at one of the most magnificent books in the collection. This large folio volume of Jacques Godefroy's (aka Jacobi Gothofredus') legal works is bound in gold-tooled vellum with the date of the binding, 1758, stamped on the front cover.

Jacques Godefroy (1587-1652) was a jurist, politician, and legal scholar who was most famous for his edition of the Theodosian Code. The work on view here, Opera Juridica Minora, is another of his famous works.

We look forward to sharing more treasures from Professor Hoeflich's gift when the exhibit debuts in January. Stay tuned. . . .

Friday, October 22, 2010

Moving In and Moving On

Today the BC Law Library bids a fond farewell to our colleague Dorothea Rees, who is taking a new position at BC's O'Neill Library on the main campus. Readers of this blog know Dorothea has provided expert assistance in the digitization of the Brooker Collection of Legal and Land Use Documents, undertaken jointly by our two libraries.

When we received the gift from Mr. Brooker, we were very fortunate that a finding aid accompanied the documents. This finding aid is a table that contains fields for each document, including document number, date, personal names, place names, type of document, and a brief description. Dorothea has been carefully comparing the data in the finding aid against the documents themselves, making additions, deletions, and corrections as needed. Her stellar and careful work ensures that every document in the digital collection is consistently described and hence searchable (and findable!) by researchers. (By the way, we hope researchers will contribute their own tags to our images, but that is a topic for another day.)

Though I will miss Dorothea and her invaluable assistance, I am delighted to welcome Kelli Farrington to the Brooker Team. Kelli will pick up where Dorothea left off, and she is already hard at work on the next batch of metadata. So thank you, Dorothea, and welcome, Kelli!

Photo: Kelli Farrington (L), Dorothea Rees (R)

Friday, October 15, 2010

What Lies Beneath

Sometimes all the magnificence of a rare book is on full display - perhaps it features a jeweled binding, illuminated paintings, ornamented clasps, or fine printing. Other times its beauty is hidden away, possibly in a fore-edge painting. Or perhaps its charms are literally under wraps, such as the scrap paper used to line the inside covers of the book and bind them to the pages. For these endpapers (also called pastedowns), early printers used whatever materials were lying about: scrap paper, excess pages from large print runs . . . and even illuminated vellum manuscript pages, as in our example here.

Our copy of a Corpus Juris Civilis was published in Paris in 1559. It was bound in three volumes, all of which feature a fine calf leather binding and the gold tooled initials "RB" in honor of an early owner, Dr. Robert Bysshop. Open the covers of all three volumes, and you will be surprised by beautiful illuminated manuscript pages featuring Latin text and early musical notation.

These volumes, donated to us by Daniel R. Coquillette, are some of my favorites in our collection. If anyone knows how to read the notation and sing the music, I would love to hear it!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I Spy a Lawyer . . .

We just acquired a terrific piece of art: an illustration of a lawyer, Serjeant John Humffreys Parry, created in 1873. The artist was Leslie Ward, a prolific English illustrator and caricaturist better known by his pen name, "Spy." Between 1873 and 1909, Spy drew many images of lawyers and judges for Vanity Fair magazine. His drawings - some flattering, others not so much - were accompanied by acerbic biographies that brought members of the legal profession down to size and proved immensely popular with the public.

Of our subject Serjeant John Humffreys Parry (1816-1880), Spy wrote that "he drapes himself in his gown with the movement of a Senator of melodrama . . . with these antecedents and talents it was natural that he should soon present himself as a Candidate for Parliament. . . . [H]e has great abilities, and by them has raised himself in his Profession to be quite one of its successful men, so that his is a name which gains much favour with Solicitors and gives much confidence to clients. . . . [H]e earns an income large enough to make any man a Conservative."

For more on Spy and his illustrations, see Morris L. Cohen, The Bench and Bar: Great Legal Caricatures from Vanity Fair by Spy.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Plus ca change . . .

Today's featured item from the Brooker Collection is a letter written in 1853 by J. Currier, Jr., of Warner, New Hampshire. He writes to a Mr. Hayward that due to a shortage of funds for the school district, "a female would answer their expectations as well as a male teacher; and the amount of school money being less than usual, to pay a male teacher what would be considered any thing of a fair compensation would so shorten the school as to make it advisable to employ a female teacher."

What is particularly appalling is the writer's matter-of-fact tone, though those of us who watch Mad Men have seen plenty of this sort of thing - and worse. Hat tip to my ever vigilant colleague Dorothea Rees for bringing this letter to light!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Insulting the Angels (with a hat tip to Alice Hoffman)

My colleague Dorothea Rees unearthed today's gem from our library's Brooker Collection of Early American Legal and Land Use Documents. Document #1824 is a brief handwritten agreement to arrange a substitute for a (presumably) wealthy man eager to avoid military service.

It states in full: "It is agreed between Amos W. Pike & Peyser Drake & Co. - that the latter furnish the said Pike a substitute either for the Army or Navy for the sum of eight hundred & seventy five dollars (875 D.) Portsmouth August 2 1864 Peyser Drake & Co. by W.M."

Until February 1824, it was perfectly legal to pay a $300 fee to the government to commute one's service, or to hire a substitute. After that time, legislation abolished commutation, so the only way to avoid service was to procure a substitute. The price for substitutes immediately skyrocketed - hence Mr. Pike's steep fee of $875. (This figure amounts to about $12,300 in today's dollars, using the Consumer Price Index.)

In her short story collection Blackbird House, one of my favorite books of all time, Alice Hoffman wrote movingly about this very issue in a story entitled "Insulting the Angels."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New Exhibit in the Rare Book Room!

Please visit us - either virtually or the good old-fashioned way - to view our Fall 2010 exhibit, Recent Additions to the Collection. These books, manuscripts and memorabilia enhance our holdings in key areas and enable us to better understand the way law was published, acquired, studied and practiced in England and America in centuries past.

Highlights include a selection of early English law dictionaries, a stunning group of lawyers’ private library lists, signed modern first editions from contemporary political figures, and some unusual memorabilia connected to the legal publishing industry in late nineteenth-century North America.

Here is a handout describing the entire exhibit. As always, more images from our collections are available on the Rare Book Room’s flickr site, Boston College's Digital Collections, and of course on this very blog.

The exhibit will be on view through early December 2010. Please visit us if you can!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

We Will Be Closed August 16-20

The Rare Book Room will be closed for exhibit work the week of August 16-20. Watch this space for news about our Fall 2010 exhibit, coming soon!

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Very Special Roman Law Book

Helen Lacouture, our rare book cataloger, has been going through the wonderful collection of Roman Law books given to us by Professor Mike Hoeflich last year. Helen recently cataloged a book that appears to be unique: Giovanni Francesco Balbo, Tractatus de Praescriptionibus ... (printed by Bernardo Giunta, 1582).

First published in 1511, Balbo's popular treatise is concerned with the Roman law of prescription, the principle whereby a right or liability is created or extinguished over a certain period of time, usually in regard to a property title.

As far as we can tell, the Library of Congress is the only other library that owns a copy of the 1582 edition. And our title page appears to be unique; LC's copy has a different printer's device. Helen researched our printer's device, which you can see in the image here. She determined that it combines the arms of the Medici family (the six balls) and the Capello family (the hat: hence "Capello," and the St. Mark's lion: a symbol of Venice).

Thanks to Helen for the detective work, and of course to Professor Hoeflich for entrusting his magnificent collection to us! We look forward to displaying some of the treasures from his gift in Spring 2011.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Update on the Brooker Collection Digitization Project

I last reported on our project to digitize the Robert E. Brooker Collection of Early American and Land Use Documents in May. We have just reached a new milestone: over 1,000 documents (1,122 as of this writing) are now available in Boston College's Digital Collections repository. We are over one-third of the way done! Thanks to colleagues in the O'Neill and Law Libraries for bringing this important project to fruition.

Here is one of my favorite little items from the Brooker Collection. It is a calling card which reads: "I am C.R. Powers. Who the [devil] are you?" Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Astronomical Occurrence, ca. 1834

While reviewing metadata for our ongoing project to digitize the law library's Brooker Collection of early American documents, my colleague Dorothea Rees came across an interesting find. Wrapped around a well-used 1834 Farmer's Almanack was a plain paper wrapper on which the Almanack's (anonymous) owner had listed the usual notes about births, deaths, crops, livestock and the weather. But on May 18, 1834, he made the following entry:

"May 18, 1834, a Sunday morning just as Day broke I see a great light as the brightness of the Sun."

One wonders if he had seen a comet or meteor.

These Almanacks are treasure troves of information. In this copy alone one can find the stagecoach schedule from Boston, poems and wise quips, and a long screed about the evils of intemperance. And the owner's marginalia gives us much information about the daily life of a hardworking farmer in New England - comet sightings and all.

Friday, July 2, 2010

An Illuminated Manuscript for the New Millenium

Recently, I viewed a facsimile copy of the Saint John's Bible, a magnificent illuminated manuscript Bible being produced under the auspices of St. John's University. Completely handwritten and hand-illuminated, the volume I saw was breathtaking. It combined ancient techniques, materials, and artistry with modern scripts, illustrations, and themes. How inspiring to see such a project coming to fruition in the digital age!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Fun: Our Latest Acquisition

We just acquired a little gem of nineteenth-century law book advertising: an 8-page brochure from the Edward Thompson Company, extolling the virtues of the American and English Encyclopaedia of Law (1887-96). The publishers called their Encyclopaedia "The Most Wonderful Law Book of the XIX Century," and asserted "If all other Law Books should be destroyed, the world would have lost but little of its legal information."

I thought this was a lot of hyperbole for an encyclopedia I'd never heard of. But lo and behold, 135 libraries in WorldCat still own it, it is available electronically through the Internet Archive and Law Library Microform Consortium, and it went into a second edition in the first decade of the twentieth century.

I may not have spent a lot of time reading the Edward Thompson Company's law books, but I sure am a fan of their ads. Besides this one, we own the sheet music for a "Pleading and Practice Grand March" commissioned by the publishers to commemorate its Encyclopedia of Pleading and Practice.

You can view the rest of this ad brochure at our flickr site.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Josiah Quincy, Jr. and Professor Coquillette Honored

On June 8, Professor Daniel R. Coquillette and Josiah Quincy, Jr. were feted in two very venerable venues: the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. Judges, historians, Boston College and Harvard faculty and staff, alumni, colleagues, family, and friends gathered to celebrate the publication of Dan's landmark five-volume series of books on Josiah Quincy, Jr., co-edited with Neil Longley York.

Speakers included the Hon. Robert Cordy (SJC), Colonial Society President Donald Friary, the Hon. Chief Justice Margaret Marshall (SJC), and of course Professor Coquillette himself. We learned about the fascinating life and tragic death of Quincy, who wrote what eventually became the first volumes of law reports in Massachusetts. With the publication of these volumes, Quincy's court reports are now available in an authoritative, fully annotated version, suitable for citation and scholarly study. Congratulations to Professor Coquillette, and thanks to the SJC and the Colonial Society for throwing one heck of a party! And special thanks to Joyce Sullivan for providing this photo.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rare Book Room is Closed June 7 - 11, 2010

We will be closed the week of June 7 - 11, 2010, for exhibit and maintenance work. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Last Chance to See Our Spring Exhibit!

Our current exhibit, "Books and Their Covers: Decorative Bindings, Beautiful Books," closes on Friday June 4 at 1 pm. Please come visit!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Spectacular Copy of Cowell's Interpreter

Professor Daniel R. Coquillette recently donated to the library a very special copy of John Cowell's famously controversial law dictionary, The Interpreter. This copy is from the 1701 edition. It is a beautiful large folio volume which contains extensive annotations from an early owner, Samuel Burton, who inscribed the book in 1704. On the page shown here, Burton compiled a list of "Words omitted in this Law Dictionary." He also added chronological lists of England's Kings and Queens elsewhere in the volume. It is always wonderful to see how owners used their books and made them their own, and this is a stellar example.

This copy of The Interpreter joins several other editions already in our collection, including the first edition. Published in 1607, the first edition ignited a scandal and was banned by King James in 1610. Very briefly, Cowell got into trouble for several of his definitions, especially "King," "Parliament," "Prerogative," and "Subsidy." Cowell seemed to favor an absolute monarch who was above the common law. This infuriated Chief Justice Edward Coke and Parliament. Though he secretly agreed with Cowell's definitions, James tried to placate Coke and Parliament by suppressing the book. Though banned for a time, not all copies of the first edition were destroyed, and The Interpreter went on to be published in ten editions during the 17th and 18th centuries.

For much more on the controversy surrounding The Interpreter, see Frederick Hicks, Men and Books Famous in the Law (1921).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Digitization of the Brooker Collection is Moving Right Along . . .

Boston College's project to digitize the entire Robert E. Brooker III Collection of American Legal and Land Use Documents continues apace, thanks to the collective efforts of law and university library staff. On January 25, I reported that we were about one-sixth of the way through the entire project.

Recently we hit a new milestone. On May 13, Digital Collections Librarian Betsy McKelvey provided this update: "Loading is complete through manuscript no. 1100 – we’ve passed the one thousand mark! As manuscripts are not numbered consecutively, this means that there are just shy of 1,000 Brooker manuscripts in the system now. Dorothea Rees (Law Library) continues to work on metadata while Naomi Rubin (O'Neill Library) continues scanning. The project should reach the half way point by the end of the summer."

But you don't have to wait to begin using the collection. Visit BC's Digital Collections site and start digging in now!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Eye Candy for Library Lovers . . . and a blast from the past

If you love libraries - using them, being in them, or even just looking at them, surely you will enjoy the "Librophiliac Love Letter: A Compendium of Beautiful Libraries." I was happy to see many of my current favorites there: the Morgan, the Grolier Club, the Boston Athenaeum, and the BPL. I would also add several of my old stomping grounds from my college days in California: the Huntington Library, the Denison Library at Scripps College, and the (sadly) now defunct Francis Bacon Library at the Claremont Colleges, where I spent many an afternoon attempting to write my thesis but getting distracted by all the beautiful rare books! Guess it was fated that I would end up working at a place that has several beautiful libraries of its own.

Do you have a favorite beautiful library that did not make the list?

Hat tip to the Curious Expeditions blog, and to my special collections pal Carrie Marsh at the Claremont College Libraries for bringing this link to light. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Very Important Private Law Library

We are delighted to have acquired two important private law library inventories in as many weeks. I unveiled last week's acquisition here. This week's addition is even more exciting. It is a list of the law and general books belonging to Joseph Growdon, Jr. (1652-1738) of Philadelphia. Growdon was a wealthy and politically powerful Quaker who served eight terms as Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly and also served as Pennsylvania's Chief Justice.

The inventory, dated 1738, is written in a very legible hand. It consists of two large folio sheets, with more than 250 law and general titles listed, including law reporters, treatises, and works on Continental and international law. The books are listed in neat columns on both sides of each sheet; each title has an evaluation in pounds sterling.

Until very recently, this manuscript was assumed to be lost. In THE BOOK CULTURE OF A COLONIAL AMERICAN CITY, Edwin Wolf wrote that Philadelphia lawyer Ralph Assheton's private law library "must have been the best there was in Philadelphia in the first half of the eighteenth century." Wolf mentioned Assheton's brother William, and then wrote "Equally elusive are the books of Joseph Growdon, jun. who was admitted to Gray's Inn in 1730. A notice after his death in the Pennsylvania Gazette of 27 July 1738 reads: 'To be SOLD, The Library of Joseph Growdon, Esq.'" Wolf continued, "A catalogue of these and his other books could be seen in the care of his executrix; no copy of it exists. . . Growdon's library must have been extensive."

Nearly three centuries after it was written, Growdon's library catalogue has resurfaced and now resides in our Rare Book Room, awaiting further study and research. We are so pleased it is here!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This Just In: Broadside Auction Catalog of Law Books

We recently acquired an unusual example of a book auction catalog. Unlike the usual pamphlet format, this one is a big ol' broadside, measuring about 15.75" x 20.75". Its full title: "Catalogue of Books at Auction. This Day, Tuesday, September 9, [1851], at 3 O'Cl'k, P.M at Franklin Hall, the Library Belonging to Hon. Wm. Hunter, Consisting of Professional and Miscellaneous Works." As far as we know, this item is unique to us, and it joins other catalogs and inventories of lawyers' libraries in our collection.

Hunter's books are listed in five columns, divided into four rather idiosyncratic categories: "Latin and Greek Books," "History, Biography, Poetry, Travels, &c.," "French Books," and "Miscellaneous." The "Miscellaneous" category was dominated by law books; over 200 titles were listed, along with a smattering of journals, religious works, an Essay on Luxury and a History of Fevers.

William Hunter (1774-1849) studied law at the Inner Temple, practiced law in Newport, Rhode Island, and went on to serve in the Rhode Island General Assembly and the United States Senate.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kathryn "Kitty" Preyer: A Book of Her Own (part 2)

As I mentioned in my previous post, panelists and audience members alike were drawn to the April 15 celebration at the Massachusetts Historical Society because we admired Kitty’s scholarship and wanted to give it its due. But perhaps more than that, we all loved Kitty. I was fortunate to get to know her in the final few years of her life. We met in 1998 at Rare Book School, in Morris Cohen and David Warrington’s excellent class, “Collecting the History of Anglo-American Law.” We became friends.

Kitty had a way of making every one of her friends feel special and unique. But it was not an exclusive club: Kitty had many, many friends, which was evident at a memorial service held at Wellesley shortly after her death. I was at that service along with hundreds of others, each of us feeling like we had a special claim on Kitty’s friendship, only to realize everyone there felt exactly the same way!

More than one of the speakers at the MHS event remarked that they keep a picture of Kitty in their office. I have one too. It was taken in 2002, when Kitty visited our Rare Book Room to collaborate on an exhibit, “Collectors on Collecting,” which showcased the work of several book collectors who were linked to the law in some way, either by their profession or by the books they owned. Kitty loved all her books, and she struggled to select a few favorites for the exhibit. She was especially drawn to the most humble and well-worn volumes (she called them “truly ratty”) because they showed evidence of hard use by their previous owners. She used her books the same way: reading them, writing in them, engaging with them, making them truly her own.

A few years later Kitty was gone, but clearly not forgotten. Her friends at BC Law remember her for many reasons, including her generous bequest of her magnificent law book collection. In 2006 we displayed them in an exhibit entitled “Kitty Preyer and Her Books.” Though she regretted not publishing “a book of her own” during her lifetime, I think she actually had dozens. We are so grateful she entrusted them to us.

Kitty, we love you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kathryn "Kitty" Preyer: A Book of Her Own (part I)

On April 15, our friends at the Massachusetts Historical Society hosted a very special event commemorating a new volume of Kitty Preyer's essays and honoring her on the fifth anniversary of her passing. "Rethinking the History of Early American Law: Kathryn Preyer's Blackstone in America" featured four speakers, Pauline Maier (MIT), Alice Robinson (Wellesley emerita), Kent Newmyer (U. Connecticut), and our own Mary Sarah Bilder (BC Law). Her widower, Bob Preyer, was the Guest of Honor.

There were two main threads to the evening's remarks: appreciation for Kitty's groundbreaking scholarship in early American constitutional and judicial history, and gratitude for her friendship. All the speakers noted how difficult it was to discuss one without mentioning the other, and I am having the same difficulty the morning after. Nevertheless, I shall try to separate my thoughts and feelings into two postings.* First, her scholarship.

Throughout her long career as a history professor at Wellesley, Kitty wrote a number of landmark scholarly articles that broke new ground, reexamined seemingly settled controversies, and stood the test of time. Kitty had always hoped to gather her articles into a book, but did not live to see it through. Fortunately, her husband Bob and her friends and colleagues from the worlds of law and history achieved that goal, and it is that work that we celebrated last night. Finally, Kitty has what she always wanted: “a book of her own.”

And what a book it is. Her essays are gathered under three headings, “Law and Politics in the Early Republic,” “The Law of Crimes in Post-Revolutionary America,” and a third part showing Kitty’s scholarly study of the history of the book. Not surprisingly, this third part drew my special attention. Mary Sarah Bilder explained that Kitty realized books traveled two ways. They moved physically, of course, traveling across oceans and continents, arriving in colonists’ hands through the auspices of friends, families, and book dealers. But they also moved intellectually, spreading their influence internationally through lectures, commonplace books, newspaper reports, and correspondence among the early leaders of our nation. Kitty was fascinated by the seemingly simple question of which books were available to our founders, and what “availability” actually meant.

This idea resonates with all of us who are privileged to work in special collections. We are fascinated by provenance: who owned what when? We also puzzle over how our books’ former owners used the materials on their shelves. As we all know, just because one owns a book does not mean that he or she has read it, or even remembers it is there! That is why we love marginalia – it is wonderful to see a former owner so thoroughly engaged with a book. Other times, it is painfully obvious that the book was, quite literally, unopened, its leaves still folded over at the top centuries after it was published, unread and unreadable.

There is much more to say. Please read R.B. Bernstein’s excellent and glowing review of Kitty’s book, “A Monument for Use.” It is on H-Law, in the Reviews section, dated April 2010.

*I know, I failed miserably: Though I am writing about her scholarly accomplishments, I just cannot bring myself to call her “Doctor Preyer.” She will always be “Kitty” to me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Just Published: Professor Coquillette's "Portrait of a Patriot"

Our great colleague, benefactor, and friend Daniel R. Coquillette has just completed his five-volume series: Portrait of a Patriot: The Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior, co-edited with Neil Longley York. This monumental series was published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts and distributed by the University of Virginia Press.

We are all very excited about this. It's a great work of scholarship, bringing long-hidden sources to light for the first time. It's also one heck of a good story. Just one example: in the Southern Journal (volume 3) Quincy details his journey through the south, and offers candid reactions to southern slavery, commerce, education, and social customs. Fascinating reading.

In researching these books, Professor Coquillette and his team used sources from the special collections of a number of libraries, including the Harvard Law Library, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and our own Rare Book Room. I join Professor Coquillette in giving a special shout-out to my library colleague Mark Sullivan, who researched numerous points in all five volumes, and wrote an outstanding essay in volume 5 entitled "'Phantom' References to Quincy's Reports in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Reports."

Congratulations to Professor Coquillette, and to everyone involved!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nil novi sub sole!

As special collections librarians everywhere grapple with the technological sea-change in our profession, Lionel Casson’s Libraries in the Ancient World (Yale 2001) reminds us that there is indeed nothing new under the sun. In his book, Casson explains about the transition from roll to codex. The format change affected shelving, paging, cataloging, and even reading. With the advent of the codex, readers no longer needed two hands to roll and unroll the text. They now had one hand free to make notes, mark pages, and easily flip back and forth. It must have felt so liberating. I've felt the same way since I got my iPhone!

Now, here we are in the midst of another tectonic shift. We are changing the way we find, use, and store our information - with much of the action happening in the world of special collections. Thanks to technology, we now have so many more ways to connect with our library users and the world at large. And just as ancient libraries did during the long and gradual transition from roll to codex, we are dealing with multiple formats at one time, and will be for quite some time. It's daunting and challenging, but it sure is fun.

Hat tip to my history buddy Stephen O'Neill for suggesting Casson's book to me. I recommend it.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In the Rare Book Room: The Country's Largest Patent . . .

. . . as of 1937. That is the year Alfred E. Ischinger patented his "Uninterrupted Knitting of Shaped Fabrics" machine, which produced 26 pairs of women's stockings at the touch of a button. This invention almost completely automated the stocking-making process. The machine was able to switch among the eight different types of thread required to produce a stocking. After Mr. Ischinger invented his machine, only one part of the production process still required human hands: sewing the back seam. At the time of its issue this patent was the largest ever granted by the Patent Office. It contained 170 sheets of drawings and 146 pages of specifications. Our copy was hot off the presses: the first one issued by the Patent Office.

Students in Joan Shear's Intellectual Property Research class got to see this patent up close yesterday, along with a Letters Patent from 1836, in which an inventor sold his intellectual property rights in the Chimney Funnelled Fire-Place for $500 (shown here). As always it was great to have a class visit the Rare Book Room!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Nice Surprise

As we review the Brooker Collection documents for our ongoing digitization project, we are finding many nice surprises. This week's treasure was unearthed by our stalwart metadata reviewer, Dorothea Rees. It is a fairly large (7-3/4" x 12") notebook of 46 unlined leaves. Its owner, James Winch 2d, filled it with math problems, handwriting practice, and detailed notes about the weather in Templeton, Massachusetts. Dates of entries ranged from 1821 to 1857.

The Winch family figures prominently in the Brooker Collection documents. As these items become available on the web via Boston College's Digital Collections, we will be able to learn more about the daily lives of the Winches and other New England families. Not to mention the daily weather in Templeton!

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Virtual Exhibit: The Correspondence of Lemuel Shaw

Please visit our Flickr gallery to view our new virtual exhibit: The Correspondence of Lemuel Shaw. This exhibit features nine manuscript letters written to and by Lemuel Shaw (1781-1861), Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1830 to 1860.

The Boston College Law Library recently acquired these letters, which are housed in the Daniel R. Coquillette Rare Book Room. Danielle Huntley (BC Law 2009) and I transcribed the letters.

For best viewing in Flickr, click the "slideshow" icon in the upper right portion of the screen; the "show info" link will reveal the transcriptions. If you want to study an image before it whizzes by, skip the slideshow and simply click on the image and zoom in; the transcriptions are also available from this view.

This virtual exhibit is a bit of an experiment. I've been tinkering with ways to make images of our materials publicly available, freely searchable, and taggable with a minimum of fuss and rigamarole. Your comments about this exhibit and improvements to the transcriptions are most welcome.

This photograph of Lemuel Shaw is in the public domain. It is not part of the Boston College Law Library's collection.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Irish Potato Famine: A Letter

My colleague Dorothea Rees recently unearthed a fascinating letter in our Brooker Collection of early American legal documents. Dated December 20, 1845, the letter appears to be written by two business agents to a Philadelphia businessman, Mr. George H. Steiner. The agents, J.M. Bolton and E.G. James, write as follows:

"The steamship Acadia at Boston yesterday & her news here to day not so favorable as anticipated. Flour has declined in England ... it is now affirmed by the Irish Journals that the injury to the potato crop will be much short of the general apprehension. ... Prices have advanced too rapidly & in consequence we may look for further decline here. ... still urging caution in your operations."

Tragically, the correspondents were wrong about the extent of the potato crop failure. In fact, the great famine began the same year the letter was written, 1845, and continued for several years, decimating the population of Ireland.

But we have 20/2o hindsight. We know the magnitude of this tragedy, and it is unsettling to see it discussed so dispassionately by two American businessmen at the very time it was unfolding. That very disconnect is one of the wonderful things about primary sources: they give us information and opinions that would otherwise be lost to time.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bankruptcy Research in the Rare Book Room

This week I was delighted to welcome Mary Ann Neary and her class of Bankruptcy Research students into the Rare Book Room. We gathered around the table and looked at some early English and American bankruptcy treatises and legal self-help manuals from our collection.

We also looked at some fascinating and heartbreaking documents from the Brooker Collection that showed how early American communities dealt with the poor in their midst. We read correspondence from the Boston Overseers of the Poor, who sought compensation from nearby towns for boarding their residents in the Boston alms-house. We read a very early (1763) letter from a debtor who begged his creditor not to sue him. And we looked at one of my favorite items in the collection: a contract binding four-year-old Benjamin Evans, a "pauper apprentice," into servitude until the age of 21. These documents and their transcriptions can be viewed here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Blogpost on Libraries and Librarians

My colleague Steve Dalton alerted the Boston College library staff to a very moving post entitled "Twelve Theses on Libraries and Librarians" from the Faith and Theology blog.

Though I am getting pretty tired of seeing librarians described as "bespectacled," "mild-mannered," and "demure,"* overall I thought Ben Myers, the author of the post, wrote very eloquently about the way librarians simultaneously look to the future and seek to preserve the past. And in my opinion, nowhere is that dual mission more evident than in special collections.

I hope you enjoy the post.

* Well, I guess the "bespectacled" part is OK. But mine are purple!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fun with Insurance Law?

Why, yes! Legal Information Librarian Karen Breda recently brought her Insurance Law Research class into the Rare Book Room to view our rare and historical insurance law materials. In addition to early editions of the grand old treatises by Sheppard, Marshall, and Phillips, we looked at several insurance-related items from the Brooker Collection of Early American Legal and Land Use Documents.

The one shown here is Document # 1339: Marine Insurance Policy No. 255 issued by the Norwich Marine Insurance Company on January 26, 1803. This policy insured the sloop Ann for $1,000 and its cargo for an additional $1,700 on a trip from New London, Connecticut to Puerto Rico and back. The ship’s master paid a premium of ½ of 1%, or $135 to be insured against “the Danger of the Seas, of Fire, Enemies (unless a War), Pirates, assailing Thieves, Restraints and Detainments of all Kings, Princes of People, Baratry of the Master and of the Mariners, and all other Losses and Misfortunes that have or shall come to the Damage of said Sloop & Cargo.”

Monday, February 1, 2010

Michael von der Linn at BC Law's Legal History Roundtable

Last week, BC Law enjoyed a visit from Michael von der Linn, Manager of the Antiquarian Book Department at the Lawbook Exchange. Among other reasons, Michael was here to deliver a paper at BC Law's Legal History Roundtable, which fittingly takes place in our Rare Book Room. Michael's talk was entitled "Harvard Law School's Promotional Literature, 1829-1848: A Reflection of the Ideals and Realities of the Story-Ashmun-Greenleaf Era." Michael dissected advertisements and delved into other primary sources to deliver a fresh look at Harvard Law School's early days. Notably, he argued that Asahel Stearns, an early HLS faculty member, deserved better treatment at the time, and a better reputation today. It was a fascinating talk, and I look forward to Michael's expanded treatment of the topic, which he intends to publish.
On a lighter note, Michael also gave me tips on how to occupy myself during a future visit to New Orleans (hint: most of them involve alcohol). I look forward to trying those out as well.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Digitization of the Brooker Collection Hits New Milestone

The Robert E. Brooker III Collection of Early American Legal and Land Use Documents is gradually making its way into cyberspace. Over 500 documents, about one-sixth of the total, are now scanned and searchable online in Boston College's Digital Collections. One of the great things about this project is that is has called upon the skills and resources of many people at two libraries - the Law Library and the O'Neill Library - and none of us could have accomplished it without the others. Stay tuned for updates . . . we anticipate reaching 1,000 documents before too long!

Monday, January 18, 2010

New Exhibit: Books and Their Covers

Please visit the Rare Book Room to view our latest exhibit: Books and Their Covers: Decorative Bindings, Beautiful Books. Unlike most of our exhibits, this one focuses not on the intellectual content of the books in our collection, but rather on what they look like. One often thinks of law books in utilitarian terms, but this exhibit proves they can be objects of delight and desire as well.

To whet your appetite, here are a few highlights from the exhibit. A handout describing the entire exhibit is available here.

The exhibit will be on view through May 2010. We hope to see you in the Rare Book Room soon!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Announcing a Major Gift of Roman Law Books

As we said farewell to 2009, we received a generous gift of Roman law books from Michael H. Hoeflich, Kane Professor of Law at the University of Kansas. Professor Hoeflich is a well-known scholar in many areas of law and legal bibliography, including legal history, comparative law, ethics, contracts, and the history of law book publishing.

Numbering nearly 300 antiquarian and modern titles, the Hoeflich Collection contains multiple editions of seminal Roman law works in Latin, German, and French, as well as lesser-known works. The gift extends and enriches our strong antiquarian collection of Anglo-American law books, many of which we have received through the generosity of Daniel R. Coquillette, the late Kathryn "Kitty" Preyer, Robert E. Brooker III, and other friends. Professor Hoeflich's collection is both broad and deep, and reflects his knowledge of and passion for Roman law, as well as for book collecting.

We are still processing and learning about this magnificent collection, and we'll blog about it as we learn more. We plan to exhibit a selection of the works in the spring of 2011. Meanwhile, we extend a sincere and hearty thanks to Mike Hoeflich for his most generous gift.