Historical & Special Collections •

Library Exhibit News

Take a break from studying and visit some new, ongoing, and soon-to-be-history exhibits in the Caspersen Room:

Women at HLS: 60 Years of Transformation closes this Friday, December 13, so see it while you can!

An exhibit celebrating the release of the Papers of James Vorenberg continues on view through Commencement 2014.

And last but not least, the historic copy of the Declaration of Independence, generously lent by the family of Robin and Marc (HLS 84) Wolpow, will be on view through Reunion Weekend, April 2014. 

The Caspersen Room is open weekdays from 9 to 5. Enjoy the exhibits, and good luck with exams!

852 RARE : New Collection: The Albert F. Burt Letters, 1911-1913

Historical & Special Collections is pleased to announce the opening of a new Modern Manuscript collection, The Albert F. Burt Letters, 1911-1913.

The Albert Burt (Harvard Law School, class of 1914) collection is relatively small by Modern Manuscript standards containing a mere 63 letters and 7 postcards.  But these 70 documents provide unique and invaluable insight into the life of a Harvard Law School student in the early twentieth century. In these letters written to his mother, father and two brothers , Albert writes about everything from the weather and housing, to life in Cambridge and, perhaps most interesting of all, his social and academic life at the Law School.

In one letter, dated October 29, 1911, Burt provides vignettes of faculty members.  He refers to professor Joseph Beale as the “argumentative Prof”  and notes a comment by a fellow student that, “doesn’t the old cuss love to get you to make a fool of yourself?”  Professor Bruce Wyman is described as the “round, roly-poly, jolly, smiling prof” who will, “… do pretty much nearly all of the work if you’ll let him.”

Excerpt of letter dated October 29, 2911. Box 1, folder 10 of the Albert F. Burt Letters.

Excerpt of letter dated October 29, 2911. Box 1, folder 10 of the Albert F. Burt Letters.

Dean Ezra Ripley Thayer is mentioned in a letter to Albert’s brother Howard written in November 1911.  He writes that, “…now it is etiquette in that class not to ask any questions unless you really want to know, because it takes the Dean so long to give a poor answer if he tries it himself and because you doubt whether the answer is trustworthy if he turns the question on the class.”

According to one letter the recently built Langdell Hall appeared to have been something of a novelty to students. In a letter dated October 22, 1911 Burt mentions that, “The whole plan of the institution seems to be that we should do our studying in these places”.   (The other “place” being Austin Hall.)  Encouragement to do so includes the existence of “… a whole staff to get us the books and everything we need in using them…” and that students were “…provided with lockers in the basements…” to store books and other necessary items.

This Albert F. Burt Letters will be of interest to anyone interested in the history of the Law School.  The HOLLIS number is 13846966.  A finding aid is also available. Researchers interested in using the collection should contact Historical & Special Collections and schedule an appointment.

Post contributed by Edwin Moloy, Curator of Modern Manuscripts.

The Papers of Dean James Vorenberg Released for Research

Vorenberg by Robbins
Portrait of James Vorenberg by Melvin Robbins (1979). VIA record ID: olvwork643764

Historical & Special Collections is pleased to open former HLS Dean James Vorenberg’s papers for research. Spanning almost 40 years, the collection encompasses Vorenberg’s career in education and public service, with a focus on his time at Harvard Law School where he served as both Dean and Professor. The James Vorenberg Papers joins an existing collection of Vorenberg’s Records of the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, 1965-1979.

To celebrate the release of this important collection, HSC has prepared a commemorative exhibit. Echoing the content of his papers, the exhibit focuses on Vorenberg’s years as Dean, his long and illustrious teaching career, and (for fun) a bit about his cookbook, Dean Cuisine. Throughout the collection, Vorenberg’s sense of humor shines through, particularly in his correspondence and in his work on Dean Cuisine.

Although not part of the James Vorenberg Papers, a special highlight of this exhibit is a recently acquired painting of Dean Vorenberg by noted courtroom artist Melvin Robbins, exhibited for the first time. Rounding out the exhibit are images from the Library’s visual materials collection.

Margaret Peachy processed the Vorenberg Papers. Karen Beck, Margaret Peachy, and Lesley Schoenfeld curated the exhibit, which will remain on view in the Caspersen Room through May 2014. The Caspersen Room is open Monday – Friday 9 to 5.

852 RARE: A Magnificent Copy of Magna Carta

Magna Carta

Magna Carta cum Statutis, ca. 1335 (HLS MS 32, fol. 9r)

When HLS students stop by Historical & Special Collections during the Library’s annual Love Your Library Fest, many are delighted at the chance to see one of our beautiful manuscript copies of the great English statute, Magna Carta, up close. This month’s 852 RARE post is for those who want to know a little more about the copy we had on display, and to whet the appetites of those who did not have a chance to see it. The HLS Library is fortunate to own more than twenty manuscript copies of Magna Carta; from time to time we will feature some of these in our blog posts.

First issued in 1215, Magna Carta, or the “Great Charter,” was intended to limit King John’s power over his subjects and preserved the rights of feudal barons. It has been a cornerstone of English and American constitutional law for nearly 800 years, and its influence has been felt throughout the world.

Table of Statutes

Table of Statutes, Magna Carta cum Statutis (HLS MS 32, fol. 1r)

Our handsome manuscript compilation of English statutes dates from about 1335. Typical of such works, the statutes are arranged in chronological order, beginning with Magna Carta. The Charter of the Forest, issued in 1217, appears next. Other statutes include the 1235 Statute of Merton (dealing with dower, enclosure of common lands, legitimacy, and usury), and the Assize of Bread (the earliest English legislation regulating the size, weight and price of bread). Since the laws are arranged chronologically, as shown in the Table of Statutes here, it is possible to determine the date of a manuscript by looking at the date of the last statute – which for this manuscript was 1335.

This manuscript was written on vellum in Law French by an English scribe. Note the beautiful handwriting and the straight, even lines of text! The scribe accomplished this feat by making tiny pinpricks on either side of each leaf as a guide to keep the lines even. The scribe, or more likely an illustrator, drew initial capitals and ornamental grotesques at the beginning of many of the statutes. The largest and most striking – a winged dragon playing a large oboe-like instrument – embellishes the beginning of Magna Carta.

Ornamental Grotesque

Magna Carta cum Statutis (HLS MS 32, fol. 9r – detail)

852 RARE: Coke Upon Littleton (and Smith Upon Coke)

While we librarians may frown on writing in library books, it’s a pleasure to stumble upon the ownership inscriptions, annotations, and occasional cheeky asides of former owners of books in Historical & Special Collections.  Whenever possible we make a note of former owners of books and manuscripts in the HOLLIS catalog records as they may be of interest to scholars now or in the future.

The Harvard Law School Library is fortunate to have in its collection several books and manuscripts owned by the highly respected New Hampshire jurist and statesman Jeremiah Smith (1759 1842). Also in the collection is this undated engraving of Smith.

Smith practiced law in Peterborough N.H. from 1786 until 1796 and between 1791 and 1820 he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, was nominated by John Adams to a federal judgeship, became chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, and was governor of New Hampshire. He was also a close colleague and friend of Daniel Webster. Smith is known to have been was very well-read … and he wrote in his books.

Smith's ownership inscription on front flyleaf.

Smith’s ownership inscription on front flyleaf.

Most noticeable in Smith’s volumes is his large and elegant signature. Thankfully for historians, he also often added the date and city where he acquired it. One of Smith’s books in our collection is the fourteenth edition (1789) of The first part of the institutes of the laws of England. Or, a commentary upon Littleton, by the illustrious legal writer Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634). Smith acquired this substantial folio volume in New York in 1792, perhaps travelling between New Hampshire and Washington, DC while serving in Congress.


Detail of title page of 14th edition of Coke's Commentary upon Littleton (1789)

Detail of title page of 14th edition of Coke’s Commentary upon Littleton (1789)

Although he rarely annotated his books, in this case he was inspired to write a succinct line. This more informal handwriting matches other manuscripts we have in his hand, and was possibly written later in life. He wrote:

Comment on Coke

Smith’s comments on Coke upon Littleton.

“The etymologies of the great Sir Edward Coke afford a singular instance of the blunders of which men of the greatest abilities are sometimes guilty when they venture to speculate in [a science?] for which they have not been qualified by previous study.”

Words to the wise from an eminent jurist –and a choice nugget for readers intrigued by provenance!

New Exhibit: Treasures from Historical & Special Collections

Normandy (France). Summa de Legibus Normanniae, ca. 1300, fol. 26v (detail). HLS MS 220.

Normandy (France). Summa de Legibus Normanniae, ca. 1300, fol. 26v (detail). HLS MS 220.

You are invited to visit the Library’s Caspersen Room in Langdell Hall to see some of Historical & Special Collections’ most special treasures, on view through November 22. Eight beautiful and historically significant items await you in the glass cases at the front of the room, including:

  • The Library’s oldest European manuscript, Gratian’s Decretum. Our copy was written around 1160 AD.
  • A very early and very portable Magna Carta, written around 1300. Our copy was intended to be slipped into a lawyer’s sleeve and carried about on business.
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Junior’s own copy of his first edition of The Common Law, which he annotated to prepare the second edition.
  • A deed, dated 1408, featuring a well-preserved Great Seal of Henry IV in wax.

There’s much more. And while you’re there, don’t miss our exhibit, Women at HLS: 60 Years of Transformation, on view through December 13.

The Caspersen Room is open weekdays from 9 to 5. Please leave all food and drinks outside the room when you visit. We hope to see you soon!

New Exhibit: Women at HLS

Historical & Special Collections is pleased to announce that its new exhibit Women at HLS: 60 Years of Transformation is on view in the library’s Caspersen Room from now until December 13, 2013.

Women at HLS

Photos (left to right, top to bottom): Vice Dean Livingston Hall welcoming the first women students of Harvard Law School, c.1950, Class Pictures, Box 2; Unidentified student, undated, Photographs of HLS Students, Folder 13; HLS Women’s Law Association, c.1970, Photographs of HLS Students, Folder 5; Detail of HLS Board of Student Advisers, 1974-75, Photographs of HLS Students, Folder 5.

Since women were first admitted to Harvard Law School in 1950, they have transformed the Law School, the legal profession, and public life.

Cheryl Burg, legal assistant and Jean Kettleson ‘70; Unknown photographer; c.1970; Photographs of HLS Students, Folder 5

Cheryl Burg, legal assistant and Jean Kettleson ‘70; Unknown photographer; c.1970;
Photographs of HLS Students, Folder 5

A special library exhibit, Women at HLS—coinciding with the upcoming Celebration 60 Reunion of women at Harvard Law School—explores themes such as enrollment, campus life, and the impact of student organizations such as the Women’s Law Association (WLA). It draws on Historical & Special Collections’ Photographs of HLS Students collection and the recently processed Red Set Ephemera collection. Jane Kelly and Margaret Peachy curated Women at HLS, which will be on view in the Caspersen Room Monday-Friday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM through December 13, 2013.

We invite you to drop by as we celebrate six decades of women at HLS!

852 RARE: Historical & Special Collections Open House

Manuscript BindingsThe Law School Library’s Historical & Special Collections is having a back-to-school Open House! During the first two weeks of the semester, September 3-6 and 9-13, HSC will be open weekdays from 10 am to 5 pm, no appointments necessary. Stop by the Elihu Root Reading Room on the fourth floor of Langdell Hall to say hello, learn about our collections of rare books, art, and manuscripts, and pick up some HSC giveaways. For the safety of our collections, food and drinks are always prohibited in the Root Room; please leave your drinks and water bottles outside.

Beginning September 16, the Reading Room will be open by appointment Monday –  Friday 10 am to 5 pm. If you wish to use rare books or early manuscripts in HSC’s collections, email specialc@law.harvard.edu at least one business day in advance to arrange an appointment. Please allow two business days for modern manuscripts and visual materials, as many of them must be paged from offsite. For more information, visit the “Planning Your Visit” section of HSC’s webpage, and do not hesitate to email us with questions.

Occasionally, the Root Room will be closed to researchers due to class visits or maintenance work. Whenever possible, these closures will be announced on HSC’s main page under “Special Hours” or “Special Notices.”

We look forward to seeing you at the Open House!

– The HSC Staff: Karen Beck, Jane Kelly, Ed Moloy, Margaret Peachy, Mary Person, and Lesley Schoenfeld

852 RARE: A Refresher from Historical & Special Collections

Welcome to campus! Longtime followers of Et Seq. may know that the Library’s Historical & Special Collections staff often submit posts under the heading “852 RARE.” With the start of a new academic year, we wanted to provide a quick reminder of how the name “852 RARE” came to be. The name pays homage to the MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging) holdings field designation for items in the rare book collection; in other words, on Harvard’s HOLLIS catalog record, it identifies the books in the Library’s collection which are part of its Historical & Special Collections.

Watch this space for occasional 852 RARE announcements about new exhibits (one is coming soon!); stories about fascinating, unique, beautiful, and occasionally weird items or collections; and information useful to those who wish to use HSC’s collections – and we hope many of you do.

In addition to rare books, Historical & Special Collections encompasses early and modern manuscriptsprints, photographs, objects, and The Red Set—a collection of Law School faculty, organizational, and student publications made famous in The Paper Chase.

– From the staff of HSC: Karen Beck, Jane Kelly, Ed Moloy, Margaret Peachy, Mary Person, and Lesley Schoenfeld

852 RARE: A Wealth of Pocket-Sized Portraits

Example of a  cabinet card.

Cabinet card
William Penn Lyon (1822-1913)
Wisconsin lawyer, soldier, and legislator
E.R. Curtiss, Photographer, undated
Madison, WI

You may have seen some of our larger than life portraits of legal figures such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. or John Marshall, but did you know that we also have a wonderful collection of pocket-sized portraits in the form of cabinet cards and cartes de visite? The collection features more than 700 formal portraits of lawyers, judges, and law professors, primarily from the United States and Western Europe. These photographs will be of interest to those studying legal history, the history of photography, and anyone curious about the past.

Patented in 1854 by French photographer, André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (1819-1899), the carte de visite is a small photograph mounted on a stiff piece of card the size of a formal visiting card (hence the name). Compared to daguerreotypes, they were much less expensive to make and easily leant themselves to mass production and marketing. Cards featuring public figures such as entertainers, royalty, and politicians were marketed as collectibles to the European community.

The 1860s marked the height of the carte de visite craze and by the 1870s they were being replaced by the larger “cabinet cards.” While the small size of carte de visites (approximately 4.5 x 2.5 inches) made them ideal for being collected in albums, cabinet cards (approximately 6.5 x 4.5 inches) were large enough to display on their own and viewed across a room.

Carte de visite  of Sir Richard Paul Amphlett (1809-1883) English barrister and politicianThe London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, 1875? London, England

Carte de visite (recto)
Sir Richard Paul Amphlett (1809-1883)
English barrister and politician
The London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, 1875?
London, England

Hon. Baron Amphlett_verso

Carte de visite (verso)
Sir Richard Paul Amphlett (1809-1883)

Whether you want to investigate nineteenth century facial hair, compare wigs on English barristers, or learn more about a Wisconsin lawyer, this collection is worth some time exploring. For those interested in further information about the collection, we have an inventory we’d be happy to share with you. Inquiries can be directed to specialc@law.harvard.edu







Sources: Baldwin, Gordon. Looking at Photographs: A guide to technical terms. Malibu, Calif.: J. Paul Getty Museum in association with British Museum Press, 1991; Linkman, Audrey. The Victorians: Photographic Portraits. London: Tauris Parke Books, 1993; Reilly, James M. Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints. Rochester, NY: Eastman Kodak, 1986.