The Arthur W. Diamond Law Library offers researchers one of the finest collections of rare legal materials in the country. The Law Library's Special Collections Department houses over 30,000 volumes and 1,500 linear feet of papers and manuscripts. Here are a few highlights:
Earliest printed book: Corpus Iuris Civilis, Digestum Vetus Nuremberg, 1482. [Goff: J-549]
Latest printed book: Draft Constitution of India New Delhi, 1947. (one of 15 copies printed)
Earliest manuscript: De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae libri quinque of Henry de Bracton. Mid 13th century
Materials in Special Collections are available for use by Columbia students, faculty and staff engaged in research. Researchers not affiliated with the University may also use these titles if they cannot be located in other rare book collections.
"Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures from the Special Collections of Columbia's Libraries"
The Special Collections gallery current exhibition is Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures from the Special Collections of Columbia's Libraries. Among the 250 items on display there is a handsome law component showcasing materials from The Diamond Law Library. "Jewels in Her Crown" will draw together an unprecedented array of 250 rare and unique items from eleven Special Collections - including a Buddhist sutra dating from the year 1162 C.E., Mrs. Alexander Hamilton's wedding ring, a set model for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1931, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's application for study at Union Theological Seminary, a fragment of the Iliad on papyrus, and a 1906 photograph of Czar Nicholas II with his
family. The objects in this exhibition are intended to represent and bring attention to the larger collections of which they are a part. Many of them, buried within research collections largely known only to scholars, are on display for the first time.
Books printed before 1801, selected legal treatises and American books printed before 1851, books printed in the Confederacy, state session laws before 1851, books printed in the territories or during the first 10 years of statehood, nineteenth century American legal periodicals, and books printed in Russia before 1918. These are a broad description of the materials stored in Diamond Law Library's Special Collections. Examples of sub-collections are listed below. All printed books (and most manuscripts) in the collection are included in Pegasus, the Law Library's online catalog.
1. Incunabula (books printed before 1501)
Seventeen works in 19 volumes, including three copies of Nicholas Statham's Abridgment .
2. Named Collections
These collections derive from personal libraries of prominent men in the history of Columbia Law School.
204 volumes; gift of descendants of Richard Harison, a Columbia College trustee, contemporary of Alexander Hamilton, and one of the leading lawyers in New York during the early federal period. Harison was a King's College graduate, class of 1764. George Washington appointed Harison as the first US Attorney for the district of New York, where he laid the foundations of admiralty and maritime law.
500 books from John Jay and his nephew Peter Augustus Jay. John Jay, King's College graduate, class of 1764, was the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. About 75 volumes were acquired by Jay before 1776 when he retired from active practice of law. Included in the collection are case reports, early yearbooks, statutes (both English and New York), and treatises on various points of law, such as the law of corporations.
227 volumes, the gift of descendants of Samuel Johnson and William Samuel Johnson, first president of King's College and first president of the post-Revolutionary renamed Columbia College. W.S. Johnson (1727-1819) was trained as a lawyer and practiced in his native Connecticut. The collection includes both English and American legal works, abridgments of English laws, digests, colonial laws, early laws of New York State and Connecticut, works on foreign law by Pufendorf and Grotius, the Dutch jurists.
771 books from James Kent's library, presented to the Law library in 1891 by Edwin C. Kent, a great-grandson. Kent, the first professor of law in Columbia College, was an avid reader. His original library contained upwards of 3,000 volumes, some of which now reside in the the New York State Law Library in Albany. Kent was a furious annotator. Most of the books are marked in the margin, many have prices and date acquired on the title page. All are signed by James Kent.
64 volumes, presented to the Library in 1970 by Major General Melvin L. Krulewitch, LL.B. 1918. Chiefly a sixteenth century collection, it contains many editions of Thomas Littleton's Tenures . Littleton is the earliest author to write on real estate law. Many of these books are extensively annotated in minute script by the lawyers who used them.
Bookplate of Joseph Murray
82 volumes, the gift of Joseph Murray, colonial New York lawyer who was trained at the Middle Temple. Murray was a member of the Board of Governors of King's College since its foundation in 1754; he regularly attended meetings of the Board until his death in April 1757. He bequeathed his library to the College. The titles in his library show what books a practicing lawyer kept on hand. Murray's library is described in Paul Hamlin's monograph, Legal Education in Colonial New York.
The Singleton Collection was purchased in 1939 from a London book dealer. It consists of 71 law books in manuscript, most of which formed the library of an eighteenth century Irish judge, Henry Singleton (1682-1759), who was Master of the Rolls and Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in Ireland. The collection has been cataloged and brief descriptions of each item can be found in Pegasus, the law library's on-line catalog.
3. Notable Sub-Collections
Concentrating on the history of canon law before the Council of Trent, this sub-collection contains many early editions of Consilia and Papal decrees.
A comprehensive collection developed by Professor A. Arthur Schiller on classical Roman law.
War Crimes Trials
Bound volumes of transcripts of trials of war criminals after World War II from the International Tribunals at Nuremburg and in the Far East (aka The Tokyo Trials). This collection is complemented by the Telford Taylor Papers, the Raphael Lemkin Papers, and the Josif Marcu Papers --- all archives held by the Diamond Law Library.
The Library holds an extensive collection of 17th, 18th and 19th century nominative reports in addition to a large collection of English Yearbooks.
Imperial (pre-1917) Russian Law
The Library owns a complete edition of Polnoe Sobranie Zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii (St. Petersburg, 1830) and extensive runs of several Russian legal periodicals.
Perlin Papers : The Perlin Papers, a collection of 200,000 items, are the gift of Robert and Michael Meeropol, sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The papers were acquired by Marshall Perlin (Law '42) acting under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. His efforts produced copies of FBI files on 90 persons and two organizations under government surveillance during the Cold War. There are also files from the Atomic Energy Commission, the State Department, and the U.S. District Attorney's office as they relate to the Rosenberg case. Since the 1970's Perlin has continued to request more FBI documents to be added to this collection.
After 50 years of silence, the National Security Agency has begun to publicize a major code breakthrough by U.S. authorities monitoring Soviet communications and telegrams sent to their agents in the U.S. "Project Venona" -- a code name -- received assistance from British cryptographers and ultimately led FBI agents to suspect espionage activities by the Rosenbergs, Harry Gold, and Morton Sobell, among others. Information on the Venona project and documents is available at the NSA website .
Handler collection : the papers of Milton Handler, professor at the Law School and expert in the fields of anti-trust and patents.
Reese collection : the papers of Willis L.M. Reese, professor in the Law School, Director of the Parker School, and expert in the fields of conflict of law and private international law.
Palau collection : documents from the 1980's tracking the work of people of Micronesia to support the Constitution of Palau against the overriding of its nuclear-free provisions by the U.S. sponsored Compact of Free Association.
"Chicago Seven" trial
Litchfield Law School notebooks : notes of four students from the earliest American law school
Scottish manuscripts : small collection of 17th century manuscript copies of works by Sir Thomas Hope; James Dalrymple, Viscount of Stair; and Sir Richard Maitland (Stair, Hope, Maitland Practicks-like a court reporter which selects important cases year by year.)
Materials document all aspects of Law School history, from law school student notebooks to faculty directories to building plans. Among the main record groups are minutes of faculty meetings, teaching materials and seminar papers, course catalogs, reunion materials, and Law School publications such as the Columbia Law School Magazine.
Did someone in your family --a grandfather or a grandmother-- attend Columbia Law School? One great way to confirm their year of graduation and degree earned is to use the Columbia University Alumni Register, 1754-1931. You can access a copy of this resource online through our library catalog. If you have further questions or are researching someone who graduated after that date, please contact our Special Collections Librarian.