Libraries • Et. Seq: The Harvard Law School Library Blog

852 RARE: You Can (Sometimes) Judge a Book by Its Cover

Anarchy and Anarchists

Michael Schaack, Anarchy and Anarchists (Chicago, 1889)

When we think of beautiful books, illuminated manuscripts or vellum-bound volumes usually come to mind. But 19th-century English and American book publishers produced some amazing decorative cloth book bindings as well. The HLS Library’s Historical & Special Collections has a number of these attractive, and occasionally amusing, law books. The examples shown here were published in the United States and London between 1873 and 1889.

As you can see, the works tended to be popular rather than scholarly. The ornate illustrations, bright colors, and extensive gold tooling were intended to attract the buyer’s eye.


Two decorative book covers

Two decorative book covers



While most books from earlier centuries were individually bound and illustrated according to the taste and pocketbook of each customer, 19th-century publishers were able to mass-produce beautiful books that recalled earlier bookbinding traditions – particularly the use of color and gilding – while being very much of their time.

Haunted London

Walter Thornbury, Haunted London (London, 1880)





App of the Month: HeinOnline

Do you use HeinOnline all the time? Do you find yourself wishing that you could even access it on your commute? Have you ever been out and about and had a burning question that could only be answered by turning to the Pentagon Papers?

Ok, maybe not, but if you have ever wished you could turn your bus ride to school into productive time or if you ever wanted to look up one last thing as you rushed to class, you may be interested to know that HeinOnline has a mobile app! With their app, users can access all the same materials that they access through the full database on their iPhone or iPad (currently the app is only available for iOS devices). From the app, you can review the same full text PDF of the item that you would find on HeinOnline itself and you can download the document for later review.

Once you download the app, all you need to do is login for the first time while on the Harvard University IP range. After that, you will have access anywhere for 30 days before you will have to re-authenticate while on campus. HeinOnline offers a complete User Guide to help you get started with the app and if you run into any troubles, you can also always ask a librarian. Looking for more mobile app recommendations? Check out our guide to mobile apps!

This screenshot shows the app in action.

Improve Your Presentation Skills with Our New Presentation Tools LibGuide

Whether you are creating a presentation for an assignment, to teach a class or to speak at a conference, it can be difficult to design slides that will keep your audience engaged. As with so many things, a lot of this comes down to finding the right tool for the job, but frequently people fall back on the same basic techniques for every presentation. If you’re interested in trying a new tool, learning a new technique or improving your skills with your go-to presentation tool, our new Presentation Tools guide has resources for you!

In the guide, you’ll learn about PowerPoint alternatives, find apps that allow you to present from (or even create slides on) your tablet, or find the latest tools for sharing your slides with your audience. The guide even includes resources for finding Creative Commons-licensed content to include in your presentation and tips on how to make your presentation more dynamic, engaging and fun! To learn more about any of the tools included in the guide, click on it in the word cloud below.

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Censorship, Law, and Banned Books

This week is the 30th annual Banned Books Week, which was started in 1982 in response to the large number of books that were being challenged in schools and libraries. Efforts to ban books have resulted in a number of lawsuits challenging books ranging from the Bible to Slaughterhouse Five and everything in between. For more information, check out the map below, which highlights recent book challenges from across the United States.

View Book Bans and Challenges, 2007-2011 in a larger map

Qualtrics Survey Tool

Qualtrics, introduced to campus by our own HLS faculty, is a user-friendly survey tool that allows for a wide variety of question and answer types. Qualtrics provides

  • Professionally designed templates
  • A wide range of question types
  • Skip/branch logic
  • Distribution to select panels of e-mail recipients or via anonymous links
  • Custom reports updated as new responses are received
  • Response data in several formats, including CSV, HTML, XML, and SPSS

Log in to begin your survey or poll at

For questions, contact the Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Solutions group, or contact the Qualtrics 24/7 support directly at or call 800-340-9194 (9am–8pm EST).


852 RARE: The Weekly Special: Littleton upon Coke upon Littleton

Coke Upon Littleton Title Page (1629)

Coke Upon Littleton Title Page (1629)

My Colleague Dorothy Africa and I were reviewing some books in need of conservation treatment, and we happened upon this gem. The main volume is special enough: it’s a second edition of the First Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England, by Sir Edward Coke – aka “Coke upon Littleton.” Published in London in 1629, our copy is heavily annotated, and was obviously well loved – and well worn – by its former owners.

Coke Upon Littleton Annotations - detail

Coke Upon Littleton Annotations – detail

But the fun does not stop there! Bound into the front of the volume is a thick sheaf of manuscript materials which were probably compiled by Thomas Littleton, Esq. (1824-1878) of Cornwall. Our nineteenth-century Littleton copied extracts from genealogical works and county histories, newspaper clippings, correspondence, indentures, and copies of wills by members of the Littleton family of Cornwall. Most striking of all is a magnificent large hand-colored genealogy of the Littleton family, written on vellum, of which only a portion is shown below. Today, this book invites a modern-day scholar to dig into it anew and bring Thomas Littleton the Younger’s historical research into the light of day.

Genealogy of the Littleton Family, on vellum

Genealogy of the Littleton Family, on vellum. HLS MS 1511, HOLLIS 009925817



852 RARE: The Weekly Special – The Labors of a 19th-Century Treatise Writer

Cover of Henry John Stephen's manuscript, The Principles and Practice of the Laws of England

Cover of Henry John Stephen's manuscript, The Principles and Practice of the Laws of England

In this age of blogging, tweeting, yammering, and self-publishing, anyone and everyone is an author. A treasure in our manuscript collection vividly reminded me that this was not always so. Last week, I happened upon a thick manuscript attributed to Henry John Stephen, entitled The Principles and Practice of the Laws of England with Their Recent Alterations, ca. 1840.  This manuscript is a draft of Stephen’s treatise, the New Commentaries on the Laws of England (partly founded on Blackstone), which was published in London between 1841 and 1845.

What a lot of work it was to write a treatise in 1840! Though the intellectual labor remains the same, the mechanics of authorship were completely different. Stephen wrote his entire manuscript by hand and edited it heavily. Nearly every page is replete with crossouts, edits, and additional notes glued in, as seen here:

Edited pages from Henry John Stephen's manuscript

Edited pages from Henry John Stephen's manuscript

Another thing that has changed is the permanence of an author’s work product. Unlike today, there was no danger of format migration in Stephen’s time. He drafted his treatise on quires of 12 unbound sheets, which were folded in half and nested to make booklets of 24 leaves each. By the end of Stephen’s labors, his stack of paper rose about 5 inches high:

Fore Edges of Henry John Stephen's manuscript treatise

Fore Edges of Henry John Stephen's manuscript treatise

The paper and ink have survived the centuries beautifully, as has Stephen’s treatise, which exists in print, online . . . and in this wonderful manuscript.



“We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything”

Aisle of books at HD

Books for 100 lifetimes!

A few months ago, I read this NPR essay by Linda Holmes about how we deal with the inevitability of not being able to take in every bit of culture that’s available to us during their lives. And by culture she means not just books, of course, but art, television, film, and music. The essay brought to mind the time as an avid young reader when I first heard (or more likely read) about how many books there are in the Library of Congress and did a calculation. Nope, there was no way I could ever read them all–nor even a fraction of them. The feeling after doing that math was similar to what I remember when first contemplating the immenseness of the universe around the same age.

Among other things, Holmes questions whether it is possible to consider anyone well read when, at a proposed rate of 100 books per year, a reader may only take in 6500 books in a lifetime. She also identifies two ways people handle the the cultural firehose: culling and surrendering. Cullers like the sense of control that comes from declaring that they won’t read sci-fi or bother with impressionism or television. By dismissing material categorically, they have to do less discernment. Surrenderers, on the other hand, acknowledge that they simply won’t be able to get to all of Dickens or the Sopranos, or see every Rembrandt. There’s a sadness there, but:

it’s also … great, really. Imagine if you’d seen everything good, or if you knew about everything good. Imagine if you really got to all the recordings and books and movies you’re “supposed to see.” Imagine you got through everybody’s list, until everything you hadn’t read didn’t really need reading. That would imply that all the cultural value the world has managed to produce since a glob of primordial ooze first picked up a violin is so tiny and insignificant that a single human being can gobble all of it in one lifetime. That would make us failures, I think.

Lady Gaga book

There's something for everyone (who hasn't culled pop music from their cultural diet) at HD!

All this was brought to mind last week when I toured the Harvard Depository, the magical place where the millions of books that won’t fit on the shelves in Cambridge are stored off-site. HD is normally closed except to its own staff, but every few years they offer tours to library staff at Harvard so we can learn about how they operate. While the details about how the books (and microfilms and archives and films) are processed, organized, stored, retrieved (~80 books an hour!), and reshelved (~60 books an hour!) were interesting and impressive (only a handful of books out of millions have ever been lost there), what mostly struck me was that I was in the presence of more books in one place than I ever had been before or likely will be again. Although from one perspective, HD is basically just a warehouse, it’s just a warehouse where you can look down an aisle at enough reading material for almost 100 lifetimes. It was a sad and beautiful feeling.

852 RARE: The Weekly Special – Fore-Edge Painting

Fore-edge painting of Cade's Rebellion

Fore-edge painting of Cade's Rebellion

If you were to judge this book by its cover you would see an attractively bound compilation of English statutes, published in London in 1587. Impressive enough on its own . . . but turn the book over in your hands, and you will see a magnificent painting on the edges of its pages!

This may be the only example of fore-edge painting in our collection, and it is a beauty. It was painted in the late 19th century by bibliophile John T. Beer, who specialized in this art. It is a painting of Cade’s Rebellion (1450), a revolt led by Irishman Jack Cade against Henry VI of England. The Rebellion was featured in Shakespeare’s play Henry VI part 2, and even has its own Facebook page today.

There are several variations of fore-edge painting. The most common is a single fore-edge painting, such as ours, where the painting is either visible by looking at the pages straight on, or by fanning the pages in one direction. I saw a double fore-edge painting at Rare Book School a few years ago, and I’ll never forget it: when I fanned the pages one way, one painting appeared, and when I fanned them the other way, a completely different painting was made visible. Amazing! I hope to see a triple fore-edge painting someday, where three completely different paintings are visible depending upon whether you fan the pages one way, the other, or view them straight on. Meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy this view of Cade’s Rebellion, and I hope you do too.


852 Rare: the Weekly Special – The Lightness of Beeing

Proceedings of the City Council of the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 1, 1900-January 1, 1901, vol. 21.


Even the dullest looking books can have a secret bit of humor, and this volume of the record of the Minneapolis City Council serves as a case in point.  It was a part of a large digital project for US municipal codes, perhaps not reading material known for comedy.  The book has a somber binding of black leather on the spine and corners, with black book cloth on the boards, also not particularly comic.  However, the spine eventually broke, and fell off; leaving revealed a menacing gang of bees in full view.  Book binders are a thrifty lot, and when a book spine needs lining material, a binder will reach for whatever comes to hand.  In this case, it would appear that there were some left over end papers for a children’s book, or waste copies of some old political cartoon/satire,  lying in the shop within arm’s reach when the moment came.

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