852 RARE: The Weekly Special – A Canon and its Cannon

Several months ago  a researcher requested this seventeenth century edition of the Corpus Juris Canonici from Venice. I was surprised and delighted by what I encountered on an initial flyleaf in this volume of Gregory IX’s Decretals.

A castle and its cannon

And of course I couldn’t help but wonder why such a funny little drawing with its firing cannon appears in a volume of canon law (cannon=canon??).

Intrigued by the drawing I decided to see what I could find out about the set this volume belonged to. The four volume set was acquired by the Library on June 30, 1899 from a British bookseller, H.H. Hodgson and Co. The history of their firm can be found in this 1908  London imprint, created “for private circulation.” It is also interesting to note that Hodgson’s dealing in  rare and valuable books was a recent occurrence at the time the Law Library made its purchase.

Corpus Juris Canonici, Part 3, Venice, 1615

Thanks to our Conservation Assistant, Dorothy Africa I got to learn a little more about the physical evidence in this volume. It was not only printed in Italy but also probably bound there . This is evidenced by the lacing in of the end band cores and not the sewing supports.  It has a stiff vellum (sheep?) binding,   possibly original to the volume. You can see from below that  binding waste was used as a spine liner-it appears to be liturgical in nature. Although you can’t see it very well in this picture, decorative red silk was used to sew the multicore decorative end bands on this volume.

A view of the liturgical spine liner









Manuscript pasted in using sealing wax

Inside the volume there are two instances of handwritten notes affixed to a page. In the example to the left, the page of notes was pasted in with sealing wax. In another example, not shown, the page of notes was tacked  at the corners with thread.

Even with all this wonderful information about the book , the mystery of the drawing’s maker still remains.


1 thought on “852 RARE: The Weekly Special – A Canon and its Cannon”

  1. One of the cherished items at the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute for Medieval Canon Law in Munich (http://www.kuttner-institute.jura.uni-muenchen.de/) is a cartoon from the San Francisco Chronicle with the following pun. An instructor set the following question: “Define canon law”. After a few moments thought the pupil wrote: “Never stand in front of a cannon”. The cartoonist has a seventeenth century forerunner who probably thought the readers of this book could easily figure out what he was pointing at!

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