Monday, January 14, 2019

Rare books on display in the Library

By Heather Kushnerick, Special Collections Librarian & College Archivist

     The Library’s Special Collections, tucked in an out-of-the-way room in the Cullen building, houses the College Archives, Manuscript Collections, and an impressive Rare Books Collection (if we do say so ourselves). The Rare Books Collection focuses on seminal works in legal history, English common law, Spanish and Mexican law, Texas legal history, and maritime law. The oldest item in our collection was printed in 1481, but the content of the collection, which includes the Rolls of Oleron, the Institutes of Justinian, and the Will of Aethelgifu, covers close to two thousand years of legal history.
     The Library actively seeks out rare books to add to our collection, but finding items that fit within our collection is challenging for many reasons. First, of course, is the limited scope of subjects we collect. We only collect books on or about the law and, within that, we only collect in small, defined areas. Second, and most importantly, is that we call it the “Rare Books Collection” for a reason: the items we collect are hard to find. Books today are mass-produced and, usually, easy to obtain. This is not the case with books printed prior to the 19th century. Printing houses typically only produced what they thought they could sell. Finally, books have to be taken care of in order to last. War, politics, acts of nature, and simple use all factor in to whether or not a book will survive the passage of time. When all these conditions, and the stars, align, we find an item to add to our collection.
     Several of our recent acquisitions are on display now in the Library lobby. This includes the first English law dictionary, a study on the impact of smuggling in Spain’s’ American colonies, and a manuscript legal opinion from the Court of Admiralty on salvage during the English Civil War.