Law Library Reading Room

About the Rare Book Collection

The Law Library collection of rare books consists of approximately 25,000 volumes of books and bound manuscripts, many issued prior to 1801. 

Major Anglo-American materials include:

  • English Year Book literature
  • The works of William Blackstone
  • English and American trials
  • American records and briefs
  • British appeal papers, and
  • Early American statutory law.

Major foreign legal collections include:

  • Incunabula (books printed before 1501)
  • Roman law
  • Canon law
  • Consilia
  • Coutumes
  • Italian statute
  • Early Hispanic law
  • International and maritime law
  • The Russian Imperial Collection, and other pre-Soviet Russian legal sources and literature.

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Rare Book Services

Rare book service is available on weekdays from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  Access to rare materials is by appointment only.  For further information, contact Mr. Nathan Dorn, Rare Book Librarian, at [email protected] or 202-707-3803.

Rare Book Videos

Selected Special Collections - Anglo-American

  • Year Book Literature – Reports of pleadings in cases decided in English courts from the reign of Edward I (1272-1307), to that of Henry VIII (1509-47).  Includes “black-letter editions” published between 1480 and 1680, modern editions, and abridgments.
  • William Blackstone Collection – Contains more than 350 titles of numerous editions of Commentaries on the laws of England as well as abridgments, extracts, and borrowings from it, as well as other legal tracts, essays and treatises by the famous and extremely influential 18th-century English jurist and professor
  • English and American Trials Collection – Includes complete official or quasi-official transcripts of trials, confessions, and narrative accounts of various criminal, commercial, and political cases in Great Britain and America since the 1500’s
  • British Colonial Appeal Papers – A rare collection of approximately 100 cases on appeal to the Privy Council in England from the colonies of Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, and St. Christopher, taken during the latter half of the 18th c.
  • Early American Statutory Law – Original editions of colonial, state, and territorial session laws, codes and compilations, and special laws; early United States session laws and those of the Confederate States of America; and constitutions and by-laws of various Native American Indian tribes
  • Legal Americana – Unofficial legal publications, principally manuals for justices of the peace and other town officers; guides concerning the rights and duties of citizens; practical abridgments of the law for officials, lawyers, and laymen; and biographies of early American jurists

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Selected Special Collections - Foreign Law

  • Incunabula – Includes more than 300 volumes dealing with Roman, Canon, feudal, and  French customary laws published in cities throughout continental Europe and England before 1501 in Latin and vernacular languages of the period
  • Roman Law – Manuscripts, more than 70 incunabula, and 1600 other publications printed before 1801: includes pre-Justinian Roman law sources; many early editions of Justinian’s Corpus juris; medieval sources of Roman law; glossed editions of Roman texts; commentaries; and later humanist interpretations
  • Canon law – Approximately 2000 manuscripts and early editions of the ecclesiastical law of the Roman Catholic Church; includes numerous editions of the Decretum Gratiani, first compiled about 1140 by an Italian monk
  • Consilia – 1200 specialized legal opinions usually written at the request of judges by jurists from Italy, Germany, France, and Spain published from the 14th through the 18th century; includes several incunabula and a 14th-c. manuscript
  • Coutumes – Includes 800 volumes of “coutumes” or customary laws of France and other neighboring European countries dating from the 15th through the 18th centurier
  • Italian statuta – 500 volumes of codes which prevailed in the city-states of Italy from the Middle Ages until the 18th c.; includes manuscripts and incunabula
  • Hispanic Law – Includes 1200 volumes of early editions of ancient and medieval Spanish codes; manuscripts; and legal documents relating to the Spanish colonies in the Americas
  • International law - Includes manuscripts, incunabula, major treatises published during the 16th and 17th centuries, and historical collections of treaties
  • Maritime law – Includes two 14th-c. Venetian manuscripts and early treatises published in Spain, Italy, England, France, and the United States during the 16th through the 18th centurier
  • Russian Imperial Collection – Includes approximately 1360 volumes of military laws, laws regarding the abolition of serfdom, revisions of civil and criminal laws, and various texts on special legal subjects, many handsomely bound and book-plated, purchased by the Library of Congress from the Winter Palace Library of the Romanov family
  • Pre-Soviet Russian legal sources and literature – Consists of approximately 11,740 volumes, including three extremely rare 18th-c. printed editions of the earliest compilation of Russian legislation, and 46 legal manuscript scrolls dating from the 17th and 18th centuries

For more from our Rare Book Collection see:

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Last Updated: 09/13/2019