The Lawbook Exchange has issued Catalogue 73. Recently Acquired Books, Manuscripts and Ephemera. This one covers seven centuries of the law. Printed works range from five items of incunabula, mostly focusing on church rather than civil law, to material from the 20th century. Manuscripts include 18th and 19th century account books from lawyers, judges, and civil authorities. Finally, there is a section of artworks, primarily printed images of various courtroom and other law-related scenes. This last group is framed and ready for hanging on a wall. Some are serious, but many contain humorous images. These are some of the works you will find in this most recent Lawbook catalogue.
The first item in this catalogue is an important defense of America's legal institutions from the days before the establishment of its constitutional government: A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. This is the three-volume first edition published in London 1787-1788 by America's Minister to Great Britain and future President, John Adams. In response to foreign criticism, Adams set out a spirited defense of the republican governments in the various states, including the concept of separation of powers and bicameral legislatures. Originally intended to be just one volume, Adams expanded to add two more in 1788. Adams' work became a major influence on America's constitutional convention as they set up the rules under which the federal government has operated for all of these years since then. Due to their separate publishing, complete sets of Adams' Defence are not easy to find. Priced at $22,500.
A century later, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., published one of the most important works on American law: The Common Law, published in 1881. Holmes was still in private practice at the time, but the following year he was appointed to the highest court in Massachusetts, where he served for 20 years, followed by 30 years serving on the U.S. Supreme Court. Holmes argued against the prevailing view that the law was like scientific principles, something unchanging to be deduced by thoroughly studying its wording. He considered it an evolving series of principles as much deduced from practical experience as applying to it. Item 50. $650.
From legal highs we go to legal lows, the scandalous trials that the 99% of the population not so interested in legal theories would rather read about. Item 77 is No Church Without a Bishop, Or, A Peep into the Sanctuary. This is Alonzo Potter's account of the ecclesiastical trial of New York's Episcopal Bishop Benjamin Onderdonk in 1845. Onderdonk was accused of being a bit too familiar with some of his female parishioners. Specifically, he was charged with fondling several ladies who testified against him. Onderdonk, who was involved in theological debates of the day, denied the charges and claimed they were brought by those opposed to his theological views. Whatever the truth was, and it is still debated today, the charges certainly made for an interesting trial. One of the claims stated, “The bishop accepted the challenge, if such was intended, and again inserted his hand into her bosom, this time very low down, and with the palm inward, and toyed with his handful in a way which, Miss Jane naively says, it is out of her power to describe.” Perhaps that was because he had supernatural powers (or maybe she was just making it up). A split decision ended up with Bishop Onderdonk being suspended from his post, but not relieved of his title as Bishop, which he held in suspension the remainder of his life. $450.
Item 88 is an account of two libel trials from the turn of the 19th century: Report Of The Case John Dorrance Against Arthur Fenner...[and] the Case of Arthur Fenner vs. John Dorrance... Dorrance was a Common Pleas Court Judge in Rhode Island in 1801, while Fenner was the state's Governor. They were also political rivals, which may have been the impetus for Governor Fenner to make his charges against Dorrance. The body of a suicide victim had been turned over to Judge Dorrance for proper burial. Fenner charged that instead of burying the victim, Dorrance sold his body for medical practice in return for a beaver hat. Dorrance, he charged, even “had the impudence to wear” the hat while serving as Town Moderator. The body was missing from the grave, but according to a 1992 book on medical grave robbers by Suzanne M. Schultz, there was absolutely no evidence that Dorrance knew or approved of the grave robbing, nor did he receive a beaver hat for the corpse. It didn't matter. Fenner was successful in having Dorrance defeated for reelection, and the juries found, at least in part, for Fenner. This case throws light on an ugly practice – grave robbing – that was widespread at the time as there was an insufficient supply of bodies to fill the needs of medical students. $650.