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Research Center Law Library of Congress

Rare Book Collections

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 or 202-707-3803.

Selected Special Collections

Early English and American Legal Materials

  • 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

European Legal Traditions

  • 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 a canon lawyer from Bologna known as Gratian
  • 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
  • Chateau de Sassy. In 1937, the Law Library acquired 213 items bearing the bookplate of the Chateau de Sassy, onetime home of Etienne Denis, duc Pasquier (1808-1862) a noted French political figure whom Louis Philippe I named as Chancellor of France in 1837. The collection includes a variety of printed trials and treatises with imprints from the 18th to the late 19th centuries.
  • Pre-Revolutionary French Slip Laws. Composed of 44 document boxes of printed legal documents of royal decrees and decisions of the French royal council from the reigns of King Louis XIV-King Louis XVI. Total count is over 4000 documents and includes “Arrêts du Conseil Du Roy” (Decisions of the Royal Council), “Declarations Du Roy” (Declarations of the King) and “Edits du Roy” (Edicts of the King). These touch upon trade, taxation, finance, property law, ecclesiastical property, and letters patent

Native/Indigenous Law

  • Native American Law. Includes print editions of constitutions, by-laws and statutes of various Native American Indian tribes in English and in Indigenous languages from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Hispanic and Latin American Legal Materials

  • 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
  • Spanish Legal Documents (15th-19th Centuries). Includes 2,476 documents in 69 document boxes divided into the following categories: briefs, canon law, notarial instruments, opinions & judgments, laws & statutes. Most are briefs, i.e., forensic writings related to disputes on inheritance and titles of nobility, taxes, church privilege and the like. Items of special interest include documents pertaining to the Spanish Inquisition; papal bulls and ecclesiastical concordats; as well as laws, statutes, instructions and decrees of Spanish kings and government officials. The Library is hosting an ongoing crowdsourcing campaign to transcribe the documents.

Russian and Slavic Legal Materials

  • 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 century printed editions of the earliest compilation of Russian legislation, and 46 legal manuscript scrolls dating from the 17th and 18th centuries
  • Yudin Collection. Gennadii Vasil'evich Yudin (1840-1912), a Siberian distiller and amateur bibliographer sold his personal collection of over 80,000 books and other media, one of the largest then existing in the Russian Empire, to the Library of Congress in 1906. The Law Library houses over six hundred volumes from Yudin’s original collection.

Maritime and International Law

  • 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 centuries
  • International law - Includes manuscripts, incunabula, major treatises published during the 16th and 17th centuries, and historical collections of treaties

Other Special Collections

  • Medieval and Early Modern Manuscript Books – Includes more than 60 manuscript books dating from before 1600 AD, and an additional 200 manuscript books from the 17th-19th centuries, representing a variety of languages and jurisdictions
  • Medieval Manuscript Waste Binding and Fragments. Includes approximately 600 medieval manuscript fragments, nearly all of which are incorporated into the bindings of later manuscript and printed books
  • 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

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