Guide to the Research Collections

- 38 -- LAW


The New York Public Library's criterion for acquiring law materials was first set by the Astor Library in 1854. Rather than enter into wasteful competition with the specialized collections of neighboring colleges and bar associations, it was decided to provide works rarely found in New York and not attempt to form a complete law library. Now numbering about 83,700 volumes, the collection reflects this original policy as modified over the years to make available such resources as the general public, in contrast to the practicing lawyer or legal specialist, might reasonably expect to find in a large research library. As a result the collection is rich in works on the bibliographic, historical, sociological, and economic aspects of law, but contains few practitioners' manuals, legal textbooks, or other items of professional literature. There are few legal digest services, and court reports in general are left to the responsibility of the local law libraries. The library does, however, make available the reports of the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Claims, the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, and the federal district courts in the New York area. The reports of New York state courts of record also are acquired. Because this material is difficult to use, most of it is on the open shelves of the Main Reading Room where some ready assistance can be provided.

In recent years the library has been adding to its files of legal periodicals, because much of what is now being published in these journals is closely related to other subject areas in the social sciences.

The acquisition policy for international law and diplomacy has been comprehensive from the beginning, and holdings in these fields are excellent. The collection of treaties is especially strong.

Statute law has been collected widely, not so much for the lawyer as for the social historian. The files of session laws for the United States and the individual states have few gaps. The files of session laws of national governments other than the United States are also strong. Codes of law for the United States and other countries are not collected widely, but are well represented.


The basic law collection of the library came from the Astor Library. In 1854, Dr. Cogswell stated, "The collection is good on the civil law, embracing various editions of the Corpus Juris, and commentaries upon it; it contains also, all the codes of Scandinavia, and of other parts of Europe, during the middle ages; the system of jurisprudence as now practised in Italy, Portugal, Germany, Denmark and Sweden; the Fuerosa siete Partidas, and Recopilaciones of Spain, together with the digests and commentaries of the Musselman, Hindoo, Gentoo and Chinese laws. In French law, the Library is really rich, beginning with the Ordonances des Reis, and coming down to the very latest volume of the Journal du Palais. The selection for the English common law was made by two of the most eminent jurists in the country; it is not large, but very choice."1

Mr. Brevoort, in his Annual Report for the Astor Library in 1877, stated, "As there are, however, several libraries in the city especially devoted to the departments of theology, jurisprudence, medicine, natural history and geography, I have considered it advisable to direct the chief expenditure towards the completion of other important subjects."2 This policy was somewhat revised when a part of $12,000 given by J.J. Astor in 1882 was used to fill gaps in foreign jurisprudence, and a portion of $15,000 given by him in 1883 was allocated for general law materials.

With the Lenox Library came a notable collection of American laws and legislative journals printed before 1800 from the library of Dr. George H. Moore, purchased in 1894. A few law books came with the Tilden Trust, but Tilden's unusual law library went elsewhere.

A brief table shows the growth of the collections over the last hundred years:

1854 Astor Library3,107 volumes
1921 New York Public Library30,492



While it is true that the library acquires law journals dealing principally with social, economic, or industrial problems, it also has a fair collection of general law periodicals. The collection is representative of the field rather than comprehensive. It includes files of some of the leading American law journals, the more important English and continental European titles, and the conference proceedings of some state bar associations. Among these are the American Bar Association Journal (1915-), the Canadian Bar Journal (1964-), Harvard Law Review (1891-), Current Legal Bibliography (1960-), Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (1960-), and Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis (1918-). About 60 titles are currently received.

International Law

This strong collection is one of the principal resources for the texts of treaties in this country. There are essentially complete runs of the publications of both the League of Nations and the United Nations. The library is currently a depository for all the publications of the United Nations. Also included in the collection are a large number of treatises on international law and works on diplomatic relations.

Periodicals in the field of international law reflect the strength of the resources: of 27 serials listed in Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory

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(11th ed.) the library has 23 (of which 6 titles are not entirely complete), including all the United States journals; 4 from France; 3 from Germany; 2 each from Great Britain, Italy, and Belgium; and 1 each from Peru, the U.A.R., Denmark, and Sweden.

General collections of treaties include such series as Martens's Nouveau recueil général de traités, the League of Nations Treaty Series, the United Nations Treaty Series, and others. Those national in scope are represented by the British "Rymer Foedera," and the Treaty Series of the Foreign Office; D.H. Miller's Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States; and similar compilations for other countries. Officially published collections of diplomatic correspondence appearing from year to year are typified by the French "Yellow Book" (Documents diplomatiques), the German Weissbuch, and others from the principal nations of the world, constituting one of the best representations in this country. Also present are the large sets of diplomatic papers, such as the British and Foreign State Papers, Staatsarchiv, and Archives diplomatiques. There is also a good collection of miscellaneous administrative publications and annual reports of various foreign offices. A special feature of this last type consists of the "Memorias" of South American countries, which are present in large numbers. Series in this field are usually complete.

Of less importance, perhaps, although unusual in extent, is the collection of single treaties. Those of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are of particular interest, especially the treaty for the Pacification of Ghent (1576) and the first treaty published by authority in England, between that country and Spain in 1604.3 The holdings of Indian treaties gain additional importance when considered in conjunction with the library's great collection on the Indians of North America. Contemporary eighteenth-century printings of treaties between the colonies of Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, etc. and various Indian tribes are in the Rare Book Division. Of the 13 known treaties printed by Benjamin Franklin between 1736 and 1762, the library has 8 (the earliest dated 1742), all collected by James Lenox.4 Another group of 75 Indian treaties, presented by Charles Eberstadt, date from the mid-nineteenth century. There are numerous Indian treaties in the resources, in their original form or in reprinted editions.

Other subject classes in the library should be associated with the collection on international law, particularly history and public documents, the latter containing extensive files of the legislative proceedings of most of the nations of the world.

Law Reports, Trials

Law reports form a relatively weak collection, those of the major United States federal courts and of the New York state courts of record constituting the principal part. There are relatively good collections from neighboring states, but the files are incomplete; other states are represented by only fragmentary holdings. The library has a fair representation of reports of English courts. Most of the current reporting services are not acquired.

Trials, while not an extensive subject in the library's resources, do represent an important feature of the collections as a whole. There is a rich representation of reports of American and English trials, most of which are listed under the heading "Criminology" in the catalogs. Early reports, because of their interest as imprints, are usually kept in the Rare Book Division; there are also shorthand transcripts of some trials in the Manuscripts and Archives Division.

Law Texts, Session Laws, Compiled Codes, Digests, Etc.

This is an area of decided strength. Among the historical materials for the United States is an extensive collection of session laws and compilations covering British colonial America and the early federal and state governments. The Rare Book Division houses an outstanding collection of American public documents, most of them printed before 1801, among which are session laws, collected statutes, etc. There is a related collection of Confederate public documents. When the library does not have original printings, it attempts to secure reprints or photostat copies. Current materials include all session laws of the individual states, with a good representation of compilations (civil and penal codes, etc.). In addition, the library maintains files of the House and Senate bills of the United States Congress (fragmentary from 1804, but extensive since 1891) and of the New York State Legislature since 1830.

The collections for Great Britain and its Commonwealth associates are also strong. The Statutes of the Realm (the most comprehensive official edition of British statutes from the Conquest to the reign of Queen Anne) is complete. The library also has occasional printed session laws in original editions for the period 1543-1691 and a practically complete collection covering the years 1691-1806.5 The period 1806-66 is covered by other editions; from 1866 to date, the texts are complete in official form. Counterparts of the Statutes of the Realm are present for Scotland and Ireland. The sets of session laws of the former British dominions and their provinces are notably comprehensive but the compilations are not so well represented. The files of the session laws of the former crown colonies are also extensive, with less numerous compilations.

Holdings of session laws for European countries are good. There are complete files of the Italian Raccolta ufficiale delle leggi e dei decreti from 1861. With this set may be associated similar series for the kingdoms now a part of Italy, among them Raccolta degli atti del governo di sua Maesta il Re di Sardegna, complete from 1814 to 1861, and Collezione delle leggi e dei decreti reali del Regno delle Due Sicilie, also complete. In 1937 the library purchased a collection of about 1,400 broadsides and pamphlets, including decrees and proclamations issued in Tuscany from 1729 to 1841. The richness of the

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French law collection was increased in 1937, when an outstanding group of 15,000 royal French ordinances, edicts, and decrees from the late seventeenth to the late nineteenth century was acquired. The holdings were further augmented when after World War II an additional several thousand royal acts were purchased. A checklist of these items is in the course of preparation. The French lois annotées and coutumes are other significant aspects of the resources. The holdings of Gezetzblatts of Germany and Austria and of many of their component states are substantial. The Svensk Forfättningssamling is complete from 1825; the Norwegian laws almost complete from 1814; the Danish, from 1871. The library has a full representation of the session laws of the nations created after World War I in Europe--Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Finland, etc.--up to the outbreak of World War II. After that time, session laws for Czechoslovakia and Poland are perhaps the most complete, with representative holdings for the other countries of Eastern Europe. For imperial Russia, the Slavonic Division has statutory law as it appeared in the Government Gazette from 1869 to 1917 and in the proceedings of the Senat and the Duma. Soviet session laws are found in the Sobraniye postanovlenii i rasporyazhenii pravitel' stva (1924-) and in various compiled codes of law as they are published; codes are also available for the member states of the Union.

The holdings of the session laws of Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic are strong. The Mexican collection, although consisting of many sets, is not exceptional. South American countries are well represented. There are extensive files of session laws for Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia, Uruguay, and the Argentine Republic. An important compilation entitled Codigo braziliense is made up of original statutes, decrees, treaties, etc., printed in Rio de Janeiro during the period 1808 to 1821. Other holdings, particularly those for Venezuela and Colombia, are less strong both in session laws and in compilations, and Ecuador and Chile are poorly represented. These defects in the collections are due in part to administrative policy and in part to inaccessibility of materials. The library purchases compilations only selectively; many session laws are extremely difficult to acquire because of poor methods of distribution, and often the quality of the paper is so poor that it is almost impossible to preserve them. The library's preeminent collection of official gazettes supplements the holdings for those countries in which session laws are published in this source.

Oriental Law

Muhammadan (Islamic) law is especially well covered in the Oriental Division; the holdings number some 900 titles in both Eastern and Western languages and include materials on such various schools as the Hanafite, Malikite, and Shafiite. Index entries for articles in learned journals, particularly for the period before World War II, are a feature of the Oriental Division card catalog. Many of the Arabic, Persian, and Turkish manuscripts in the division are treatises on law.

After Muhammadan law, Indian law is perhaps most fully represented, including works on the law of Manu, Dharmasatra, etc. Indian government publications in the Economic and Public Affairs Division also contain much legal material; the provincial gazettes of the country are an example. Additions made possible under Public Law 480 have enriched the Indic holdings in all areas since 1962.

Jewish Law

Virtually all the great editions of the standard codes of Jewish law and their commentaries are available in the Jewish Division. The division also has an outstanding collection of rabbinical decisions and responsa, that is, written opinions and decisions by eminent Hebrew authorities in various lands and in all periods of Jewish history. This collection numbers almost 2,000 volumes. Statutes and session laws are received regularly from Israel.