Monday, October 3, 2011

The Fred Parks Law Library is pleased to announce our acquisition of four rare fifteenth century legal works.

by Heather Kushnerick, Special Collections Librarian

In honor of our 10th anniversary, the Fred Parks Law Library has purchased four 15th century legal works. These books are important not just because of their rarity and subject matter, but because of their age and condition.

Paul de Castro’s Super primo, Secundo et Tertio Libro Codis... is a Commentary on the Code of Justinian printed in Venice in 1495. The Fred Parks copy is one of only two copies in the Western hemisphere. Jean Barbier’s Viatorium Utriusque Iuris is a legal handbook. printed in Strassburg in 1493. It combines elements of Roman and canon law with the legal customs of southern France. Jodocus of Erfurt’s Vocabularium Iuris Utrius(que) is a work of great authority. This early law dictionary went through more than 70 editions. The Fred Parks copy was printed in Nuremburg in 1481, a mere 29 years after the invention of the printing press, making it the oldest book in the library's collection. Finally, we have a first printed edition of Nicholas Statham’s [Abridgement of Cases], printed in 1490. Covering the reigns of Edward I through Henry VI, it was considered the standard abridgement until the publication of Sir Anthony Fitzherbert's Le Graunde Abridgement in 1514.

Early printed books, dating from 1452, when movable type was invented, to 1500, are called incunabula. Due to their age and the impact of constant warfare in Europe, they are very rare and often incomplete. It is not unusual for incomplete, or alas, even complete works, to be sold leaf by leaf in order to make the most profit.

The process of printing a book developed by Gutenberg in 1452 was much faster than hand copying, but it was still a laborious endeavor. Each letter of each word was hand-placed by a workman, called a compositor, into a small tray. Each line was carefully placed to form to an even margin, and when the tray (called a compositing stick) was full, the workman transferred it to another tray called a galley. The galley was large enough to hold an entire page, and when the page was complete, the workman set the tray aside to begin work on the next one. He did not go leaf by leaf but rather section by section. Large sheets of paper would be printed with multiple pages on each side; they were then folded into what we would recognize today as a section of a book. As a result of this process, not all the type was facing the same direction. On one sheet of paper there could be as many as 24 leaves, or pages, of a book on each side.

Once all the type was laid out correctly and was in the printing press, it would be covered in ink and paper would be pressed onto it. The paper would be removed, more ink would be applied, and another sheet laid on top to be pressed. And so it went until the workman had the total number of sheets needed for the edition he was preparing. Then the letters were returned to their individual bins, and the next section in the book was prepared and printed. The books were then assembled (hopefully in the correct order), and delivered to the binder, who would sew them together and bind them in paper, wood, leather or in a custom design for a specific buyer.

The four works now in our collection are in remarkable condition for their age, and will be on display in the library lobby now through the end of November as we celebrate our 10th anniversary.