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.