Special Collections

Due to limited staff availability during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Law Library Special Collections are closed for all in-person appointments until further notice. 

 

Columbia Law School affiliates may contact Irina Kandarasheva, Acting Special Collections & Public Services Librarian, for limited assistance with Special Collections materials located either at Treasure onsite or Special ReCAP Offsite Facility.

The Arthur W. Diamond Law Library offers researchers one of the most impressive collections of rare legal materials in the country. Highlights include:

• Earliest printed book: Corpus Iuris Civilis, Digestum Vetus, Nuremberg, 1482 [Goff: J-549].
• Rare material: 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 the 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.

Many 20th-century archival collections previously held by the Law Library have been transferred to Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). Please check the Columbia University Archival Collections Portal to determine whether an individual collection now resides at RBML. 

In most cases, the Arthur W. Diamond Law Library owns only the physical object and therefore does not assume any responsibility for literary property, copyright, or any other legal issues involved in the publication and reproduction of items in its collections. It is the responsibility of the user to secure permission from the appropriate copyright holder. Any copyright infringement which may occur through the use of our material is the responsibility of the patron. The Special Collections department of the Law Library does not charge for the physical use of its items, but we do request that you use the following credit:

“Special Collections, Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, Columbia Law School"

The Law Library contains a number of materials useful for either genealogical or institutional research. Items include class lists, student newspapers, photographs, and yearbooks from select years.

Did one of your ancestors attend Columbia Law School? You can confirm their year of graduation and degree earned in the Columbia University Alumni Register, 1754-1931. Access a copy of this resource online [link: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006257505] . If you have questions or are researching someone who graduated after that date, contact Irina Kandarasheva, Acting Special Collections and Public Services Librarian. 

The Law Library also holds materials that document many aspects of Columbia Law School’s history—from students’ class 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. Contact Irina Kandarasheva, Acting Special Collections and Public Services Librarian for access to these materials.

The Law Library holds a variety of art, objects, and ephemera, such as engravings from the office of Harlan Fiske Stone, select antique "Spy" prints caricaturing lawyers and judges in the late 19th century, and audio and videotapes relating to events on campus. We also have more unusual items, including a set of Columbia University blue Wedgewood china, war medals awarded to some of our alumni, and a vintage Columbia Law School graduation gown.

In addition, the halls of Columbia Law School are home to a number of portraits of alumni, professors, and former deans of the Law School.

The Rare Books and Manuscripts section includes books printed before 1801 worldwide, books printed in United States territories or during the first 10 years of statehood, state session laws before 1851, and materials related to Columbia Law School. It also includes materials that are unique, particularly old, or few in number. All printed books (and most manuscripts) in the collection are included in Pegasus, the Law Library’s online catalog.

Selected Book Sub-Collections

  • Incunabula: 22 works, including three copies of Nicholas Statham’s Abridgment.
  • English reporters and statutes: The Law Library holds an extensive collection of 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century nominative reports in addition to a large collection of English Yearbooks.
  • Classical Roman Law: A comprehensive collection developed by Professor A. Arthur Schiller.
  • Imperial (pre-1917) Russian Law: The Law Library owns a complete edition of Polnoe Sobranie Zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii (St. Petersburg, 1830) and extensive runs of several Russian legal periodicals.
  • War crimes trials: Bound volumes of transcripts of trials of war criminals after World War II from the International Tribunals at Nuremberg and in the Far East (aka The Tokyo Trials).
  • Canon Law: Concentrating on the history of canon law before the Council of Trent, this sub-collection contains many early editions of Consilia and Papal decrees.

Named Collections

  • Harison: 204 volumes, the gift of descendants of Richard Harison, who was a Columbia College trustee, contemporary of Alexander Hamilton, and one of the leading lawyers in New York during the early federal period. Harison graduated from King’s College in 1764. George Washington appointed Harison as the first U.S. attorney for the district of New York, where he laid the foundations of admiralty and maritime law.
  • Jay: 500 volumes belonging to John Jay and his nephew Peter Augustus Jay. John Jay, who graduated from King’s College in 1764, was the first U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice. Approximately 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.
  • Johnson: 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 state of 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, and the Dutch jurists.
  • Kent: 771 volumes from James Kent’s library, presented to the Law Library in 1891 by Edwin C. Kent, his great-grandson. Kent, the first professor of law at Columbia College, was an avid reader. His original library contained upwards of 3,000 volumes, some of which now reside in the New York State Law Library in Albany. Kent was a furious annotator. Most of the books are marked in the margin, and many have prices and date acquired on the title page. All are signed by James Kent.
  • Krulewitch: 64 volumes, presented to the Law Library in 1970 by Major General Melvin L. Krulewitch, LL.B. 1918. Chiefly a 16th-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.
  • 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.

Selected Manuscript Sub-Collections

  • Litchfield Law School notebooks: Notes of four students from the earliest American law school.
  • Columbia Law School notebooks: Notes taken by students (or teaching notes by professors) relating to courses taught at Columbia Law School throughout its history.
  • Singleton manuscripts: 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 18th-century Irish judge, Henry Singleton (1682-1759), who was Master of the Rolls and Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in Ireland.
  • Welborne Manor court rolls: A series of 13 parchment rolls relating to this English manor and dating from 1327 to 1652.
  • Law practice in historical New York: A collection of correspondence, ledgers, and case notes by New York attorneys practicing in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Many 20th-century archival collections previously held by the Law Library have been transferred to Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Due to limited staff availability during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Law Library Special Collections are closed for all in-person appointments until further notice. 

Columbia Law School affiliates may contact Irina Kandarasheva, Acting Special Collections & Public Services Librarian, for limited assistance with Special Collections materials located either at Treasure onsite or Special ReCAP Offsite Facility.