A new exhibit at the Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Law Library showcases 20 books once owned by renowned legal scholars.
“Built by Association: Books Once Owned by Notable Judges and Lawyers” opened on Sept. 23 and features books including John Jay’s copy of the poem “The Conveyancer’s Guide” and Oliver Wendell Holmes’s personal copy of a program from the Boston dinner commemorating his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Prominent U.S. lawyer and lexicographer Bryan Garner, who has authored several books on legal writing, curated the exhibit with the help of Michael Widener, the rare book librarian at the Law Library. Garner provided all of the exhibit’s display pieces from his personal collection of over 35,000 volumes. Widener said he hopes the exhibit will inspire visitors to delve into legal history and appreciate books as important historical documents.
“These books are the one remaining connection that [we] have with our professional ancestors,” Widener said.
Each book comes with an explanation that details its inscriber, author and — if the book was a gift — its recipient.
Ryan Greenwood, the rare book fellow at the Law Library, said the exhibit has attracted a number of visitors from within the Law School, adding that he thinks the response to the exhibit has been positive. Greenwood said he thinks some attendees were particularly interested to see the books once owned by former Yale Law School alumni and faculty, including former Yale Law School professor Fred Rodell LAW ’31’s gift to former New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.
Garner said his job as the founder and owner of LawProse, a company that provides seminars on legal writing to lawyers and judges, requires him to travel frequently. He said he visits used bookshops and buys books wherever he goes and sometimes “serendipitously” finds a rare association copy — the official term for a book that has been inscribed by its author and owned either by the author or other famous individuals.
“When you find a book that was actually owned and read by some important legal figure of the past, it’s even more meaningful,” Garner said.
Garner said he considers the books he chose for the exhibit the 20 most important and well-recognized legal association copies. He also said that he hopes visitors will recognize the significance of literary tradition in the field of law. He said he thinks the exhibit is relevant also because it compels visitors to recognize the significance of physical books in an age where many are being digitized.
“I hope [visitors] will appreciate the importance of books as physical objects,” Garner said. “These wonderful objects have a life of their own.”
The Lillian Goldman Law Library organized its first exhibit in fall 2008.