C-85. Law Books: History & Connoisseurship - Advance Reading List

Open All
Close All
  • Preliminary Reading List

    Please read the items listed under “Essential,” and as many of the remaining readings as your time and/or interests dictate. Items marked with three asterisks (***) are particularly recommended. I do NOT expect you to read every work in this list. If you have difficulty locating some of the readings, email me at mike.widener@yale.edu and I will see if I can help.

  • Essential

    Baker, John. “Legal Literature.” In Introduction to English Legal History, 4th ed. London, 2002: 175–194.

    Carter, John, ABC for Book Collectors. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2016. The latest edition (9th), edited by Nicolas Barker and Simran Thadani, has been completely revised and now includes color illustrations. It can be purchased from Oak Knoll Books. However, the earlier editions are fine. The 8th edition can be downloaded as a PDF file, courtesy of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. A copy of the physical book is highly recommended, in part because the endpapers and paste-downs are essential parts of this indispensable reference work.

    Cohen, Morris L. “An Historical Overview of American Law Publishing.” International Journal of Legal Information 31 (2003): 168–178.

    Pennington, Kenneth. “Roman and Secular Law in the Middle Ages.” http://legalhistorysources.com/Law508/histlaw.htm. Feel free to skip over all the passages of Latin text.

    Widener, Michael. “Morris Cohen and the Art of Book Collecting.” Law Library Journal 104:1 (2012): 39–43. http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/ylss/18/.

  • Book collecting

    *** Belanger, Terry, “Descriptive Bibliography.” In Book Collecting: A Modern Guide, edited by Jean Peters, 97–115. New York & London: R. R. Bowker Company, 1977. Excerpt available at https://bibsocamer.org/publications/bibliography-defined/.

    Cohen, Morris L., “Administration of Rare Materials.” In Law Librarianship, a Handbook, edited by Heinz Peter Mueller and Patrick E. Kehoe, Vol. 2, 603–688. Fred B. Rothman, & Co. 1983.

    Hoeflich, M. H. “Legal History and the History of the Book: Variations on a Theme.” University of Kansas Law Review 46 (1998): 415–431. Available at https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/handle/1808/919.

    *** Reese, William. “Books in Hard Times.” Talk given at the Grolier Club symposium with the same title, 22 September 2009.

    *** Traister, Daniel. “Are There New Paths for Book Collectors?” Talk delivered to the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies, Philadelphia, 10 May 1998.

    Trimble, Marsha. “Archives and Manuscripts: New Collecting Areas for Law Libraries.” Law Library Journal 83 (1991): 429–450.

    Widener, Michael, ed. Public Services Issues with Rare and Archival Law Materials. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Information Press, 2001. Also published as Legal Reference Services Quarterly 20 (2001). See especially the articles by Gordon, Warrington, Cohen, Silver, & Diamond.

    Wroth, Lawrence. “The Bibliographical Way.” Available online in Rick Ring’s Notes for Bibliophiles blog, at http://pplspcoll.wordpress.com/2009/09/06/the-bibliographical-way/. This essay originated as an address at a joint meeting of the Bibliographical Society of America and the American Historical Association, 30 December 1936, and was later published in The Colophon (Spring, 1938) and reprinted in About Books: A Gathering of Essays (1941).


  • Anglo-American law

    *** Baker, John. “The Books of the Common Law.” In The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, Volume III, 1400–1557 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pages 411–432.

    *** Baker, John. “English Law Books and Legal Publishing.” In The Cambridge History of the Book, Volume IV, 1557–1696 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pages 474–503.

    *** Friedman, Lawrence M. A History of American Law, 2nd edition. New York, 1985. Read pp. 90–104, 322–333, 621–632.

    Parrish, Jenni. “Law Books and Legal Publishing in America, 1760–1840.” Law Library Journal  72 (1979). Read pp. 355–365; scan rest of article. Available at https://repository.uchastings.edu/faculty_scholarship/615/.

    *** Prest, Wilfrid. “Law Books.” In The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, Volume V, 1695-1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pages 791-806.

    Simpson, A.W.B. “The Rise and Fall of the Legal Treatise: Legal Principles and the Forms of Legal Literature.” University of Chicago Law Review 48 (1981): 632–679. Available at https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclrev/vol48/iss3/4/.

    Topulos, Katherine. “English Legal History Research: A Guide to Core Academic Law Library Materials,” Legal Reference Services Quarterly 24 (1/2) (2005): 73–101.

  • Roman, canon & civil law

    *** Apple, James G., & Robert P. Deyling. “A Primer on the Civil-Law System.” Washington, D.C.: Federal Judicial Center, 1995.

    Diamond, Lucia. “Roman and Canon Law Research.” 20 Legal Reference Services Quarterly 99 (2001).

    *** Hoeflich, Michael H. “Bibliographical Perspectives on Roman and Civil Law,” 89 Law Library Journal 41 (1997). Available in the Roman Law section of Tarlton Law Library’s Legal History Guide at http://tarltonguides.law.utexas.edu/legal-history.

    *** Pennington, Kenneth. “A Short History of Canon Law from Apostolic Times to 1917.”

    *** Pennington, Kenneth. “Western Legal Collections in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries.” In Religious Minorities in Christian, Jewish and Muslim Law (5th–15th Centuries), edited by Nora Berend et al., 77–98. Turnhout: Brepols, 2017. Available at https://www.academia.edu/34434964/PenningtonWesternLegalCollections.pdf.

    Roman Legal Tradition and the Compilation of Justinian.” Robbins Collection, University of California at Berkeley.

    Sass, Stephen L. “Medieval Roman Law: A Guide to the Sources and Literature.” 58 Law Library Journal 130 (1965). Available in the Roman Law section of Tarlton Law Library’s Legal History Guide: http://tarltonguides.law.utexas.edu/legal-history.

    Stein, Peter. “Justinian’s Compilation: Classical Legacy and Legal Source.” 8 Tulane European & Civil Law Forum 1 (1993).

    Stein, Peter. Roman Law in European History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. See especially pp. 32–end. Although there’s a lot to read here, it’s still the best compact introduction to the authors and literature of Roman and civil law up to the nineteenth century.


  • Online exhibits

    Book exhibitions are themselves “mini-collections,” books with a common feature or theme brought together by the curator to tell a story. Take a look at these examples.

  • Assignments from ABC for Book Collectors

    The contents of the ABC should be thoroughly mastered, for it is impossible to talk intelligently about rare books without an understanding of what is a very specialized terminology. A good way to approach this task is to study the preliminaries (everything before page 12) and the definitions of the terms printed in boldface in the list below. Then learn the definitions of the remaining terms on this page. Finally, read this irresistible book straight through.
    The course will assume familiarity with the terms listed here. To place things in perspective, you may wish to read Belanger’s article first.

    Leaf Endpapers Disbound
    Recto Paste-down Facsimiles and fakes
    Verso Preliminary leaves Fly-sheet
    Format Fly-leaf Foxed
    Sheet Half-title Half bound
    Gatherings Frontispiece Imprint
    Signatures Title Incunable
    Collation Bibliography Inscribed copy
    Blank leaves Edition and impression Law calf
    Forme Issues and states McKerrow
    Folio First edition Original state/condition
    Quarto Presentation copy
    Octavo Association copy Provenance
    Duodecimo Auctions Publisher’s cloth
    Cover Bindings Rarity
    Spine Boards Re-backed
    Hinges Book-plate Shoulder-note
    Joints Booksellers’ catalogues Side-notes
    Edges Broadside Trade binding
    Margins Calf Variant
    Uncut Catchword Vellum
    Unopened Condition Wrappers