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Rare Book School at the University of Virginia

C-70. Collecting the History of Anglo-American Law

Morris L. Cohen and David Warrington

Intended for individual book collectors who collect in some aspect of the history of the law and for librarians who have custody of historical legal materials, this course will survey printed and MS materials in Anglo-American law and introduce its bibliography and curatorship. Topics include the history of the production and distribution of law books; catalogs and reference books; philosophy and techniques of collecting; and acquiring books, MSS, and ephemera in the antiquarian book trade.

The objective of the course is to acquaint collectors and librarians with the tools and techniques needed to form focused collections of historical materials in Anglo-American law, and to equip historians and legal scholars in the use of such collections. Particular attention will be paid to planning collections in light of intended use and availability of materials and funds. Following introductory lectures on the role of legal materials in the development of the common law and on the terminology, physical make-up, and determinants of rarity of legal books and manuscripts, the instructors will devote a substantial portion of the course to the bibliography of the field. This analysis will include discussion of the history of the production and distribution of law books, a thorough introduction and evaluation of the principal bibliographies and reference books, and demonstrations of how these tools are used. Emphasis will also be given to the sources of acquisitions (used and antiquarian booksellers, book fairs, auctions, gifts). After a survey of the history and present state of the collection of rare legal materials by individuals and institutions, the course will conclude with discussion of strategies and techniques in collection development. The laboratory sessions will give students hands-on experience in using some of the basic bibliographical tools and antiquarian book price guides.

Students will be expected to have a general knowledge of the history of Anglo-American law. In their personal statement, prospective students should describe briefly their knowledge of legal history and bibliography and their (or their institution's) collecting and/or research interests.

Course Resources

Course History


Morris L. Cohen and David Warrington have taught this course many times in RBS since 1989.