Exhibition at Middle Temple Library: 250 years of Blackstone’s Commentaries

Renae Satterley, Deputy Librarian at Middle Temple Library, writes about their forthcoming exhibition.

Photo of Unidentified bookplate found in the second copy of the second edition of the Commentaries (shelfmark BAY L551)

Unidentified bookplate found in the second copy of the second edition of the Commentaries (shelfmark BAY L551)

Middle Temple Library will be hosting an exhibition from Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the publication of Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. This exhibition was curated by Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian at the Lillian Goldman Law Library, and Wilfrid Prest, Professor Emeritus of History and Law at the University of Adelaide.

Image: 4.A colour plate from The Comic Blackstone

A colour plate from The Comic Blackstone

The exhibition was first shown at Yale from March to June 2015. It will be on display at Middle Temple Library from September to November, after which it will be on display at the Sir John Salmond Law Library at the University of Adelaide from December 2015 to January 2016.

The exhibition features over 40 items from Yale’s Law Library collection which depict the origins of the Commentaries, its publishing success and its impact on the common law system and more broadly on English and American society. The items include a volume annotated by one of Blackstone’s students, a legal treatise with Blackstone’s marginalia, the first English editions of the Commentaries, early Irish and American pirated editions, abridgments, teaching aids, student manuscripts, critiques, translations (into French, German, Italian, and Chinese), and a 1963 liquor advertisement.

Image: Portrait of Blackstone

Portrait of Blackstone

Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) was a member of Middle Temple, admitted 20 November 1741, called to the Bar 28 November 1746 and made a Bencher (i.e. senior member of the Inn) on 1 May 1761. Sir William was Vinerian Professor of the Law of England at Oxford in 1758. Although he was “particularly fond of architecture and poetry” upon entering Middle Temple he gave up his first love to concentrate on the study of law. While Vinerian Professor, he presented a course of lectures which later became the foundation of the Commentaries.

The Commentaries was first printed in four volumes in 1765-9, later going through thirteen English editions in the 18th century alone, while also being published in Dublin and Philadelphia. The book continues to be published up to this day. According to his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, the “tortuous” complexities of the common law “were outlined in a manner at once authoritative, clear, elegant, and even engaging” and the Commentaries “would become the most celebrated, widely circulated, and influential law book ever published in the English language.”

Image: Bookplate of Sir William Blackstone

Bookplate of Sir William Blackstone

In 1759 Sir William donated his own copy of The Great charter and Charter of the forest to Middle Temple Library. The library also holds his personal copy (with bookplate) of Thomas Wentworth’s The office and duty of executors. Unfortunately the latter is damaged, with the title page missing, and was thus mis-catalogued in our collection until recently.

While the library is not open to members of the public, the exhibition can be viewed by making an appointment with the Deputy Librarian (r.satterley@middletemple.org.uk). The library is also participating in the event ‘Open House London: Revealing Magna Carta’ on 19 and 20 September where Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Temple Church and the Royal Courts of Justice will be open to the public. Full details on this event are available at: http://www.middletemple.org.uk/about-us/magna-carta-lecture-series.

The exhibition catalogue, which was published with the support of William S. Hein & Co., is available to download for free at: http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1009&context=amlaw. Mark S Weiner has created a video interview with Professor Wilfrid Prest which can be viewed here: https://worldsoflaw.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/blackstone-goes-hollywood/.

Further information about Yale Law Library’s rare books can be found here: http://library.law.yale.edu/rarebooks. Information about the Law Library at the University of Adelaide can be found here: http://www.adelaide.edu.au/library/about/libraries/law/.

Last but not least, information about Middle Temple Library can be found at: http://www.middletemple.org.uk/library-and-archive/library.

Renae Satterley is Deputy Librarian at Middle Temple Library and has been working at the library since January 2006, when she was hired as Rare Books Librarian. She completed her MLIS at McGill University in 2004 and worked at Emmanuel College Cambridge from 2004-2005. She is currently Chair of CILIP’s Library & Information History Group and has written on the history of Robert Ashley’s (1565-1641) library.

Royal Asiatic Society catalogue loaded

We’re pleased to announce that the holdings of the Royal Asiatic Society have been added to Copac.

 IRoyal Asiatic Society Library

Image: Royal Asiatic Society Library

The collections of the Royal Asiatic Society have developed continually since the founding of the Society in 1823, and today incorporate some 80,000 books and journals, thousands of manuscripts, paintings and drawings, and maps, as well as extensive archive holdings.

The printed collections date back to the sixteenth century, and in subject and language span the whole of Asia as well as adjacent regions, with Indian and Persian cultures particularly well-represented. The core of the printed collections is the nineteenth-century material, which is representative of the development of Oriental studies during that period.

A vast range of subjects are covered, with the main strengths being in languages, philology, art, history, literature, religion, and philosophy.

To browse, or limit your search to the Royal Asiatic Society, go to the main tab on copac.jisc.ac.uk and choose ‘Royal Asiatic Society’ from the list of libraries.

The Library at The National Archives

Michael Little introduces us to the Library at The National Archives.

The Library at The National Archives has existed since the 1830s, albeit in various guises, and been open to the public since 1997. It contains around 65,000 volumes and its principal purpose is to act as a research library to support the main document collection which has been open to the public, also since the 1830s. The library collection holds titles on a wide range of subjects and acquires new titles with users of the archive collection, including staff, in mind. I have worked in the library since 2001 in different roles but always doing cataloguing. The library has been through several changes in this time but its core collection and aims have remained basically the same.

Amongst its collection, the library holds a large collection of local history society runs, divided up into English counties. Whilst holding these runs is not unique, it is very helpful to have complete runs of these on open access. Many of these societies still produce new volumes and we receive them on a regular basis. They contain both volumes of essays and monographs and cover subjects like cartularies, wills, priory charters, Feet of Fines, Assize Rolls, depositions and eyres. In addition, the local history section contains a large number of monographs on a wide range of topics such as histories of villages, towns and counties, local finance, education, law, rural life and architecture and more All English counties are represented, some with more than one local history society collection. These are an invaluable resource for users of the archive collection and anyone conducting local history research. They can be an excellent starting point for archival research and in some cases are a useful research end in themselves.

Title page of Alfred Wyon's 'Great Seals of England'

Title page of Alfred Wyon’s ‘Great Seals of England’

Another noteworthy aspect of the library collection is its collection of books on seals. Seals form an important part of The National Archive’s holdings with over a quarter of a million of them in the document collection. Seals are an interesting and useful historical source; they are used to authenticate and quite literally to seal documents. They can tell us a lot about the time they originate from and are often very interesting in themselves and shed light on the art, customs and power structures of the time. Frequently they are unique. The library holds a large collection of books on seals, one of the best collections on this subject outside the British Library and the Society of Antiquaries. The majority of these are in the main library collection whilst some of these are housed in the library’s rare book collection (which comprises titles published before 1800). Rare books are not on open access but they can be consulted with a reader’s ticket.

One of the most interesting examples of a study on seals is Alfred Wyon’s (1837-1884) The Great Seals of England, published in 1887. Wyon came from a large family of medal makers and engravers who were specialists in the field. We hold two copies, one of them annotated.

Example of seals

Example of seals

Another example of seals

Another example of seals

It contains fine illustrations and plates, along with descriptive text outlining the history of seals in England. It is a rare and very useful title.

You can find several titles relating to seals in the local history society runs that we hold. One of these is Facsimiles of Early Charters from Northamptonshire Collections, (1930) part of the Northamptonshire record society, edited by F M Stenton. This volume acts a useful guide to seals of Northamptonshire as they appear on the county charters. It has some excellent illustrations and plates alongside the text. This is another excellent example of a title on this subject.

There are many titles similar to this in the library and like this title contain excellent illustrations and plates alongside, often extensive, text. The interest in seals is somewhat of a niche market and those books that have been and that are still produced, tend to be of high quality and published or produced in small numbers.

Examples of more general titles are Guide to Seals in the Public Record Office and A guide to British Medieval Seals alongside many others.

We also hold several catalogues of seals relating to archive holdings of other organisations such as those held in Durham Cathedral and to some collections overseas, especially France. In addition there is also a good collection of books on Scottish seals. These are indispensable guides to seals collections. What we hold on this subject to an extent reflects the interests of members of staff in seals over the years.

As a footnote to our holdings on seals, our Collection Care Department now has a research fellow working exclusively on this subject.

Explore Copac records for works on seals held at The National Archives Library