Recent Acquisitions in the Law 16th-20th Centuries from The Lawbook Exchange

- by Michael Stillman


Recent Acquisitions in the Law 16th-20th Centuries from The Lawbook Exchange

The Lawbook Exchange has published a catalogue of Recently Acquired Rare Books and Manuscripts in Law and Related Fields – America, Great Britain and Europe, 16th to 20th Centuries. That covers a lot of ground. There are legal texts for lawyers, what we commonly think of as “law books,” but also accounts of sensational trials, after conviction stories (hangings), and material relating to famous names in the courts – Holmes, Brandeis, Cardozo, Hughes, Burger and Frankfurter (yes, the positioning of those last two is a play on their names). There is even the court reporter's report on the Dred Scott decision, hardly a high point in American jurisprudence. There is much here for the legal professional and interested citizen. Here are a few selections.


We begin with a book that is not a law book at all. The title is A Persian Pearl and Other Essays. The title essay is about poet and astronomer Omar Khayyam, while other essays discuss Walt Whitman, Robert Burns, and a couple of other topics. It was published in 1899 by upstate New York private press The Roycrofters. So, what is it doing in this catalogue? The answer is the author was probably the most famous litigator of the twentieth century, Clarence Darrow. If you know him for nothing else, than you must for his defense in the Scopes Monkey Trial, fictionalized in the famous movie Inherit the Wind. Darrow also wrote books about the law but his interests were wide-ranging. This copy is # 121 of an edition of 980 and contains the bookplate of Cecil B. DeMille, the producer and director and pioneer in the movie business, who also owned a large book collection. Priced at $750.


This item pertains to one of the most famous cases of identity theft. Roger Tichborne was the heir to an English baronetcy. Tichborne traveled to South America in 1854 but disappeared. He was presumed to have drowned in a shipwreck. However, his mother refused to give up hope. When she heard rumors that he was in Australia, she ran some newspaper ads there seeking him. She received a response from a butcher named Thomas Castro or Thomas Orton. He claimed to be her son. He sailed to England to reconnect with his “mother.” Orton didn't look like the missing son, but the mother believed what she wanted to believe. She fell for it. No one else in the family did, including Roger's brother who inherited the baronetcy. Orton was tried and convicted of perjury and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Even after he was released, Orton continued to claim he was Tichborne but he never collected an inheritance. This account from 1874 is entitled Political Souvenir of the Great Tichborne Case. Item 131. $950.


The image on the cover of this catalogue is quite old, probably circa 1600 from Germany. It depicts a court scene. The judge, or a local noble, is seated in the center, with a councilor at each side. To the left, perhaps, are prosecutors. To the right is the obvious defendant, barefoot and bedraggled looking. Along the right margin is a quote from Corinthians concerning judgment. The watercolor is initialed “RKE,” likely to remain unknown. Item 2. $1,500.


Next is a book by one of the giants of American jurisprudence, Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo. Hard to imagine in these days, but Cardozo was universally respected, approved by the senate unanimously when appointed to the high court, and was appointed by a President of the other party. The title is The Paradoxes of Legal Science, published in 1928. He was a judicial pragmatist, looking at sources outside of the law and to reality in making his decisions. As such, he regularly voted to uphold New Deal legislation that was at times struck down by the conservative majority, but in time, those in tune with his ideas became the majority. This book is a statement of his legal philosophy. It contains an unsigned inscription by Cardozo “To the dear, dear Mother From the one who owes everything to her and loves her as befits the debt.” That is interesting because Cardozo's mother died when he was a child. It likely was given to his eleven-year older sister Ellen Ida “Nell” Cardozo who was most responsible for raising him and to whom he was devoted. “Nell” died in 1929. Item 38. $2,500.


One wonders whether, after a long absence, we will see a return to cases like this in America in the coming year. The case is The Trial of Charles Angus, Esq., On an Indictment for the Wilful Murder of Margaret Burns. This was an English case from 1808. Angus had had an affair with Ms. Burns whom he assisted in having an at-home abortion. They used corrosive sublimate of mercury, “which,” the Lawbook Exchange notes, “killed the fetus, and Margaret.” The trial provided lots of lurid details, such as that the acid burned a hole through her abdomen. Nonetheless, the jury acquitted Angus. Item 133. $950.


Here is another English trial, this one from 1752. It is The Genuine Trial of John Swan and Elizabeth Jeffreys, Spinster, For the Murder of Her Late Uncle Mr. Joseph Jeffreys... Miss Jeffreys had been sent to live with her uncle at the age of five, and he was said to have raised her as his own child. At the age of 22, she began an affair with Swan, one of her uncle's servants. That was not a good idea. The two connived to kill Mr. Jeffreys, which was carried out. After her conviction as an accessory, Miss Jeffreys tried to evade punishment by smearing her uncle. She claimed he “debauched” her when she was 15, twice getting her pregnant, miscarrying one time and having an abortion the other, and threatening to disinherit her if she did not have sex with him. The court wasn't buying. The lovers were executed before “an innumerable multitude of spectators.” Item 143 $950.


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