Alexander Buchanan (1798-1851) and His Books: Part 1

It may simply be an instance of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, but it seems like everywhere I turn in our rare book room I run into vestiges of Alexander Buchanan.

As a reasonably important historical figure, it’s not surprising to see his name pop up here and there every now and then, but this barrage of six books is unprecedented.

So who was this Alexander Buchanan?

Alexander Buchanan was born in Gosport, England, on April 23, 1798. John Buchanan, Alexander’s father, emigrated with his family in 1802 and settled in Quebec City, where he was surgeon to the garrison, in 1803. In 1814, Alexander was apprenticed to Andrew Stuart, a Quebec City lawyer, and was called to the bar in 1819. He argued his first case before the Court of King’s Bench in Montreal in 1821 and subsequently settled there. He went into practice first with his mentor’s brother, James Stuart, a renowned Montreal lawyer and former Solicitor General; and, after the latter’s appointment as Attorney General, with the equally renowned Charles Richard Ogden, himself Solicitor General. In 1824, Buchanan married the conventiently-named Mary Buchanan, daughter of the British consul in New York. He was appointed King’s Counsel in 1835, and a judge of the Court of Requests and justice of the peace in 1839.

Buchanan is best known for his subsequent work as Chair of two important commissions of inquiry in 1842. The first was set up to revise the acts and ordinances of Lower Canada. Buchanan’s Report, which was presented in three sections from 1843 to 1845, incorporated the previously scattered laws into one volume; it recommended that these laws, which were in both French and English, be codified and translated to promote their dissemination, and resulting in the publication of the Revised Acts and Ordinances of Lower Canada in 1845.

The second commission was to inquire into the system of seigneurial tenure in Lower Canada. In this period of economic and political change (and some revolutionary ferment after the uprisings of 1838), many people were demanding that the system of seigneurial tenure be abolished or at least reformed. In his report, Buchanan came down on the side of those opposing seigneurial tenure, calling it a relic of “barbaric ages”, a system of servitude disastrous for agriculture and industrial development that no longer met the needs of the population, and he recommended it be abolished. Sadly, Buchanan, who died in 1851, did not live to see the final abolition of the seigneurial system in 1854.

Buchanan was a keen collector of books and built a large private library, which was a rare thing in the Canadian colonies of the day. The collection was was so significant that a catalogue of it was printed shortly after Buchanan’s death:

Catalogue of the library of thr [sic] late Alexander Buchanan, Esq., Q.C. : being one of the most select and complete collections of valuable books in this province comprising the principal and most important works on the civil, French, and English law; the Greek and Roman classics; standard works in English literature; and the productions of the principal writers in French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese languages. Montreal : Printed by Wm. Salter & Co., St. James Street, 1852.

The catalogue has been digitized and is available online here. And though we don’t have a copy of the catalogue in our library, we do have one of the actual books listed in the catalogue. Our copy of the Dictionnaire des fiefs et des droits seigneuriaux utiles et honorifiques, par M. Renauldon (Paris: chez Knapen, 1765) is listed as item #215 in the catalogue and bears Buchanan’s autograph signature. His acquisition of this title is also a refection of his work as Chair of the commission on the seigneurial system, described above.

So often we find a bookplate or an inscription with a name that, if followed, will lead to naught.  Thankfully, here with Buchanan’s books, the clues lead not to empty ghosts but to a fully fleshed character and a part of Canadian history.

For more about Alexander Buchanan and his books in our library, stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of this post.

A Topsy-Turvy Image of the Lawyer-Client Relationship

With its classical symmetry, coffered ceiling, modern furnishings and book-lined walls, all suffused with old book smell (“A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness”), the Canada Law Book Rare Book Room is a near perfect space and a wonderful place to work. The collection is not as large as Harvard’s or Yale’s, but it still provides ample opportunity for serendipitous discovery and consequent wonder. We recently recovered an 18th-century print of a very silly caricature, seemingly unsigned, that was donated to the library by former Osgoode Dean and York University President, Professor Harry Arthurs. The etching was in an old Plexiglas frame, completely yellowed. Fortunately, when removed from the frame, the print proved to be in perfect condition. Though the image looked vaguely familiar, none of us could identify it. Because of its obvious quality, we immediately determined to get the print expertly framed, to archival standard; but first, we wanted to identify the artist. This post is a short record of our investigations and what we learned about the picture and the artist.

The print is a small copper etching, 7 x 8.7 cm, of a curious sort. Held one way, it’s a picture of a “Lawyer”. But when you turn the image 180 degrees, it’s portrays a “Client” — a technique referred to as “topsy-turvy caricature”. There’s no signature on the plate, the only identification being the caption “The Lawyer” followed by the very small date “1790”; and when flipped, the caption “The Client” followed by “K 1790 347”. Here’s the image (from both directions):


I cease to be amazed by what can be found on the web and how effective it is for research. A quick Google search of the basic terms “the lawyer the client etching caricature” got immediate results. The sixth link on the first page of results was a review of the book Capital Caricatures: A Selection of Etchings by John Kay, by Sheila Szatkowski (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2007).  (The home site, Electric Scotland, is dedicated to books and information about “Scots, Scotland and the Scottish Diaspora”.) The review page not only reproduced the Lawyer-Client etching, but also provided basic biographical information about its creator, the great Scottish engraver and caricaturist John Kay (1742-1826).

John Kay was born near Dalkeith, Scotland, in 1742, to a stonemason and his wife. His father died when he was only six, and his mother sent him to apprentice to a barber at the age of 13. Six years later he set up shop in Edinburgh after paying his dues to the Society of Surgeon-Barbers in 1771, where he earned a good living “dressing the wigs and trimming the heads of a certain number of gentlemen every morning”. But he had always possessed a knack for sketching; and perhaps employment as a barber provided him ample occasion for the close inspection of human features and afforded him the opportunity to develop the analytic eye necessary for accurate portraiture and uproarious caricature. One of Kay’s customers, William Nisbet of Dirleton, took to Kay and desired to foster his talent. Nisbet supplied Kay with proper artistic materials for the first time in his life and supported Kay’s family as he became established. Nisbet died in 1782, but arranged for Kay to draw a yearly sum of money from his estate. Kay published his first caricature in 1784, when he was 42; and during a long and distinguished career produced portraits, sketches and caricatures of Scotland’s most important personalities and of Edinburgh’s celebrities and oddities. He worked steadily at his craft until his death in 1826. Kay is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh.

Our image, Kay’s “The Lawyer; The Client”, dates to 1790, in the first decade of his professional career. The British Museum tells us that Kay drew inspiration from a print published, though not necessarily executed, by John Wallis in 1789 , depicting “Moses and The Vicar” (a parish clerk and a parson), and which seems to come from a popular ballad of the period.

With the black hat and the wig, Kay’s etching uses the exact same elements and the same composition as that of Wallis. I can spot only two real differences. Most obviously, Kay labels the characters represented differently, changing “Moses and the Vicar” to “The Lawyer and the Client”. Along with the change in professions, Kay’s caricatures, with their wrinkles and warts, are considerably more satirical. It’s funny to think that despite the passage of time, public opinion on certain matters can remain remarkably obstinate. This wasn’t the only etching Kay produced in this satirical style (you can see another one here), suggesting that, thankfully, the law profession shouldn’t feel uniquely victimized. The great equalizers are death and the satirist’s pen.

To produce an etching, the artist scratches his drawing into a wax ground covering a metal plate, often copper, to create an intaglio design. When he’s completed his image, he soaks the plate in a bath of acid, which eats away at the exposed parts of the metal; that is, everywhere he’s scratched through the wax. After the acid bath, the artist scrapes away the remaining wax, inks the metal plate, and puts it to paper. Etching allows the artist greater freedom than engraving, as wax is much easier to manipulate than metal. Identifying the various types of prints can be tricky, but one thing you can look for is the impression the plate makes around the image, as etchings and engravings require an enormous amount of force to properly transfer ink from plate to paper. You won’t find this impression with woodblock or most modern methods of printmaking.

There’s one last issue to consider with regard to our print; namely, the “state” of the plate from which it was printed. Compared to a copy of the image online at the British National Portrait Gallery, ours seems identical, right down to the presence of three small dots in the bottom left when “The Lawyer” faces right side up; but there is one glaring difference. Ours  print has the number “347” in the bottom right corner when “The Client” is right side up, whereas the National Portrait Gallery’s does not. One other copy was also not numbered; and unfortunately, the British Museum record for the etching does not include an image with which we could compare ours.

I could find only one more copy online, and thankfully, this one solved the riddle. I believe our print was taken from the second volume of the two-volume collection A Series of Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings by the Late John Kay, with Biographical Sketches and Illustrative Anecdotes, published after Kay’s death in 1837-1838, in which all images are numbered. The introductory notice to the first volume notes that that Kay tried unsuccessfully to publish a collected works in his own lifetime, and that after his and his widow’s death, his original plates came into the possession of Hugh Paton, the book’s compiler and publisher. Our presumption is that, for the collection, Paton had the catalogue number added to (ie, inscribed onto) each individual plate used for the published work. This would mean that our print was made after Kay’s death, from a late state of the original plate, with the numbering added. Of course, this knowledge does not make our print any less interesting.

Kay’s Lawyer and Client is currently the only work of art (other than the books) in the Canada Law Book Rare Book Reading Room, but only one of many in the law library. Next time you’re on a study break, take a stroll and admire our growing collection.

Election Special – Five True Patriot Tips from 1899

Our provincial election is coming up, but I’m sure that many of us are still scratching our heads and wondering which way to send our vote. As established by Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is our right as citizens to vote in federal and provincial elections, and it is our civic duty to choose responsibly. But politics is such a messy game, with mud slinging left, right, and sometimes up the middle, and it’s difficult to sort out the true from the false to make an informed decision.

If you’re like me and still weighing the choices before you, I found a pleasant little book in our Special Collections that might be of use. Canadian Citizenship: A Treatise on Civil Government was written in 1899 by John Millar, BA, the Deputy Minister for Education for Ontario. Millar wrote this book “to give young people a general outline of the Canadian system of government, and to urge the importance of that moral and intellectual training which forms the basis of good citizenship”.

In his book he touches upon all the important aspects of being a Canadian citizen at the turn of the century — the various types of government (Empire > Dominion > Province > Municipality > Self), what taxation is and why it exists, patriotism (both Canadian and British), and of course, looming “20th Century Problems” such as, large cities, strikes, intemperance, socialism, and non-essential government functions — all in all, quite a bit! For all its palpable idealism and heavy use of masculine-only pronouns, I’m tempted to see this book as a quaint relic from a simpler age before women’s suffrage, but I have to say that some of the values Millar espouses are nevertheless timeless. I found his chapter on political parties to be especially pertinent today, and today I’d like to share with you some True Patriot Tips from our forefathers that you can put to use at your local polling station.

#1. The Choice of a Party – “Every young man upon coming of age is called upon to vote for one of the great parties. Of course he will wish to vote for the best party. How shall he decide what is best? He should not vote for a party merely because his father votes for it, or because he hopes to secure an office at its hands, but should vote for the one that he thinks will act for the best interest of the country. He should make a careful study of the history and principles of all the great political parties, and learn what each has already done for the country, and what each proposes to do, and then decide for himself which one he will vote for. The principles of a party may be found in its platform. A very good way for a young man to choose his party would be for him to decide (without having the party name before him) which of the platforms of the great political parties contains the best principles, and choose the party that declares for those principles, no matter what may be its name.”

True Patriot Tip: Make an objective and informed decision!

#2 The Politicians – “The great number of the people have little time to spend in politics, that is, in the management of government. Beyond voting and occasionally attending a caucus or mass meeting to hear speeches, they are very apt to leave public business in the hands of a few persons. There comes, therefore, to be a class of men in every community who mostly manage the politics. They attend all the caucuses; they are put upon the party committees; they are chosen to go to the great State or national conventions which nominate candidates for office; they are ready and willing to take office themselves. They bring out their neighbors and friends to vote at elections, and work for their party. They are apt to think that they have earned the right to its honors and places if their party gets into power. Such men, who make politics their business, are called politicians. The name is given specially to those who make use of politics to serve or advance their own private interests. It is not usually given to those whose interest in public business is for the sake of the public welfare, and who do not seek place or office for themselves. The name, therefore, while it has not a positively bad meaning, is not one by which the most public-spirited men would choose to be called. The word statesmen better describes the higher class of wise and faithful public servants.”

True Patriot Tip: Down with politicians! Long live the statesmen (and stateswomen!)

#3. Independents – “Among men, as in the school-room, there are always some who ask questions and want to know the reason of things. As on the playground, some do not care always to go with the crowd, or even prefer to be by themselves. Such as these, who think for themselves, and dare to stand alone, make the independents in politics. Sometimes they are wrong-headed, or unsympathetic, or unsocial. They may make mistakes, as the wisest men sometimes do; but it is important to have independent men in every community. They are likely to prefer the good of their country to the success of their party. They will not act with their party, or will leave it, if it is wrong. If the other party changes, as parties sometimes change, and advocates measures that they believe in; if they change their own minds as sensible men sometimes must, or if the other party puts forward better candidates, or if a new party arises, the independent voters are willing to act wherever they believe that they can best secure the public welfare. They therefore help to keep the great parties right.

It will be observed, however, that in a great country, with millions of voters, no individual can effect much with his vote unless he joins somewhere with other who think with him. And although a few patriotic men, if banded together, like the old Greek phalanx, may form a new party, or change the direction of the old party, or hold the balance of power between parties, and accomplish a reform, yet the man who stands by himself, and only finds fault or votes alone, is in danger of throwing his vote away.”

True Patriot Tip: Think for yourself!

#4. Loyalty to party – “After a man has voted for and worked with the same political party for some years, he becomes attached to it, and it is difficult, sometimes, for him to vote for any other party. He becomes a party man — a partisan. If he leaves his party he is pretty sure to offend his party associates, who call him traitor, or mugwump, or some other harsh name. Yet there are times when it is the duty of a good citizen to vote against his party. When he believes the principles of his party are no longer good for his country, or when he is asked by it to vote for dishonest, or dangerous, or incompetent men, it is his plain duty to refuse to do so. In such a case he is called upon to decide, not between one party and another, but between a party and his country. It is a question of patriotism, or love of country. In times of war a man’s love for his country is tested by his willingness to fight and die for it, but in times of peace his patriotism is tested by his willingness to vote right, whatever may be his interests, or prejudices, or party ties.”

True Patriot Tip: Mugwumps be darned, a leopard CAN change his spots!

#5. Political duty – “In closing this account of our party organizations and their operation, emphasis should again be laid on the absolute duty of every citizen to consider his citizenship a public office, and the benefits which he derives from his life in the State as creating an obligation on his part to lend honest assistance towards rendering the political life of his community as high and as pure as possible. This means his active, intelligent and disinterested participation in the political affairs of his country. As far as possible, he is to co-operate with that party which he honestly considers to represent the best public policies, for in such co-operation his efforts will yield the greatest fruit. But where there is no party to which he can conscientiously give his allegiance, independence in politics is his duty.”

True Patriot Tip: Get out there and exercise your right to vote!

I hope that you’ve enjoyed these tips. Read the rest of Millar’s book online here on the Internet Archive. You won’t regret at least skimming it.

Questions about voting? Check out Elections Ontario.
Where are your polling stations? Find out here.
Learn about Ontario’s registered political parties here.
Keep up with media coverage of the election at the CBC here.

Glanvill’s Tractatus: The First Treatise on English Law (ca 1188, First Print Ed 1554)

Glanvill, Ranulf de, 1130-1190. Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Anglie. Londini : In aedibus Richardi Totteli, 1554. [1st edition].

― Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Angliae. Londini : postant venales apud J. White et E. Brooke, 1780. [3rd edition].

“Here begins the treatise on the laws and customs of the realm of England, composed in the time of King Henry the Second when justice was under the direction of the illustrious Rannulf Glanvill, the most learned of that time in the law and ancient customs of the realm.

Not only must royal power be furnished with arms against rebels and nations which rise up against the king and the realm, but it is also fitting that it should be adorned with laws  for the governance of subject and peaceful peoples…” – Prologue, Glanvill’s Tractatus de Legibus et Consuetudinibus Regni Anglie (trans. GDG Hall)

Anyone who works with aged items is given to thinking, every now and then, that they (be they librarian, curator, researcher, etc.) are a little bit like Indiana Jones. That’s why they got into the business, right? Every quotidian object is to them an “artefact” or “relic”, and they daily expect a little note to fall out of a book that will dash them off on a swashbuckling adventure through the Levant. And, the worst of these delusions, they probably think they’re as rugged and robust as Harrison Ford. Well… I can dream can’t I?

While these whip-snapping, snake-hating exploits are purely the stuff of cinema, I’ve found that one silver screen principle holds true: like the Holy Grail in Prof Jones’ Last Crusade,, sometimes the most amazing things come in the most unassuming packages. Take, for instance, our recently-acquired first edition (1554) of Glanvill’s Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Angliae (Treatise on the Laws and Customs of the Kingdom of England).

The work, completed ca 1188, in the reign of Henry II, is generally considered to be the earliest treatise on the English common law. The first print edition was published in London by Richard Tottel in 1554, and we also have a rather nice copy of the 1780 third edition (which was called the “best edition” by William Thomas Lowndes in his great Bibliographer’s Manual of English Literature). Two of quite a series of editions.

Our 1554 first printed edition is a surprisingly small octavo (8vo) and rather unassuming.

Our copy has an original early, contemporary leather binding, recently rebacked, with a blind-stamped and sadly illegible coat of arms on the front.
Our copy is the only copy of this work in Canada and one of only 9 documented copies in North American libraries.The book is rare and valuable enough that we have provided it with its own form-fitted box, a sort-of VIP booth of the book club. Very exclusive. Very posh.

Our copy has exceptionally wide margins and some annotations on the title page and throughout the text.

According to GDG Hall in his translation of the work, Glanvill’s Tractacus may not actually have been written by Glanvill, but his name is invoked in the tract’s incipit (which may not be original), it was written during Glanvill’s tenure as Chief Justiciar of England during the reign of Henry II, and the work has been called Glanvill since the 13th century; so it is customarily referred to by his name instead of its more plentiful title.

Glanvill, like Coke on Littleton, is an important “book of authority”. Though the exact definition of this phrase is difficult to pin down, these texts may be considered guiding lights in the law, and modern courts consider them to have the same authority as a case of the same period in which it was written . Glanvill is of note among these books of authority as the very first of them; in fact, it has the added distinction of being the first ever detailed exposition of the English Common Law, as noted by Sarah Tullis in her excellent essay “Glanvill after Glanvill: The Afterlife of a Medieval Legal Treatise”. As an added distinction, we’re pleased to note that this significant work in our collection is the only copy in Canada.

The first of anything often seems like a revolution, and that’s precisely the term English legal scholar Edward Jenks chooses to describe what Glanvill did to the administration of justice in England. Tullis too characterizes the appearance of Glanvill as a revolution, citing the “explosion of legal thinking and precedents” that appeared in its wake. Glanvill was particularly useful because it introduced writs. Issued in the name of the sovereign, these formal orders compelled the parties to do or refrain from some specified act. As Tullis notes, however, “Glanvill’s practical functionality . . . was at once its greatest strength and weakness”, and this same explosion of legal thought soon overwhelmed its source and Glanvill lost its position as the pre-eminent English law text. Magna Carta appeared about 25 years later in 1215, and Bracton’s De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae about 20 years after that.

Under these circumstances, Tullis imagines that such a text as Glanvill should have been quickly forgotten and relegated to the status of a quaintly curious artefact early on in its history, but this was not the case. Instead, the book achieved a status that was quite the opposite: authority. Glanvill was continuously copied in manuscript form for decades after its appearance in the 1180s, even when it was clearly superseded by more recent and advanced law. “Ironically,” notes Tullis, for a time “Glanvill was cited with ever-increasing frequency in court as the law it contained became ever more obsolete.” By the 14th century, Glanvill ceased to be copied, but what manuscripts still existed were still highly valued.

The treatise was first printed in 1554. Though by this time Glanvill had largely fallen out of use, it may have remained an obscurity were it not for the efforts of another prominent English jurist, Sir Edward Coke. The “earliest reported citations [to Glanvill] after printing all occurred in Sir Edward Coke’s Reports . . . dating from 1587 [to] 1615.” For Tullis, “the importance of the treatise’s first printing cannot be overstated… [for] it was undoubtedly at this point that the text’s status as a legal classic was first publicly cemented.” Coke’s use of the treatise sparked a renewed interest in it, and Glanvill has since been cited in the English court as recently as 1992.

Perhaps we can think of Glanvill today as an authority emeritus. For its period it remains the definitive text, but today it can rest easy in retirement relieved of its burdensome duties and  knowing that we’ll only need to consult it every now and then. Of course, a real appreciation is best left to the expert, so as Tullis concludes, Glanvill’s

“general scope and elements of the speculative within the strict parameters of concise procedural practicality therefore enabled it to remain useful or at least worth referencing long after it might have been entirely superseded or rendered merely a historical curiosity. Even if the Common Law itself moved in some respects away from Glanvill, and the scheme of justice it represented, it is clear that it would be wrong to see the treatise’s life as coming to an end either with the dissemination of Bracton, or with the production of its last manuscript copies or indeed with the end of the Middle Ages; instead, Glanvill lived on long after Glanvill.”

Size Matters

Over the past few months, members of the law library staff, myself included, have been preparing to reorganize our special collections.

Now, as all savvy library users know, libraries generally organize their collections and shelve their books by subject. You’re all familiar with the Library of Congress classification system, used in academic libraries throughout the English-speaking world, and have probably heard of the Dewey Decimal System, used in public libraries and school libraries. Here at Osgoode, we use the “KF Modified” Canadian adaptation, a slight variation of the Library of Congress classification developed and maintained at Osgoode specifically for Canadian law collections and widely used in law school, law firm and courthouse libraries in Canada. These library classification systems categorize books by subject and assign a specific, uniform “call number” to each book so that, theoretically at least, all books on a given topic will be found shelved together in the library. This approach facilitates the browsing of even extensive library collections, making possible those serendipitous moments when you find the book you need beside the one you thought you needed. It’s not magic, folks: it’s library science.

Classified systems that organize books by subject are appropriate for open collections where anyone can roam the aisles browsing the stacks for books; but for closed special collections, especially of old, sometimes rare and often fragile books, shelving the books according to subject can lead to problems. At the heart of the matter is the deep enmity that books of different sizes bear toward each other. They don’t play nicely together when sitting on the shelf. As Jane Greenfield explains in her book, The Care of Fine Books, “A large book shelved beside a small one eventually splays out.” Not only that, but “the exposed area also fades even if not exposed to strong light.” Common sense.

A good example of bad shelving

For maximum protection and better preservation, books are best organized by size. If books of similar size are shelved together, they lend each other support on the shelves, preventing the warping of bindings and exposing as little of their covers as possible to light. They should be shelved tightly enough that they support each other, but not so tight that you have difficulty removing them from the shelf. Naturally, since our special collections are exclusively composed of items that are either old, rare, valuable, or otherwise notable, we don’t want the bindings to warp or fade. We need to do our due diligence to take care of them, and that includes shelving them properly.

The two ends of the size spectrum, with a quarter for scale.

Until now, the Osgoode Hall Law School Library’s special collections had been classified and the books shelved according to subject. This was not an ideal situation for the books. Since our rare books stacks were closed and accessible only to library staff, we did not need to facilitate browsing by the public. Generally, these books will only be accessed when a patron specifically requests them, having first located them using the online library catalogue. For us and especially for the books, the benefits of shelving by size outweigh the disadvantages. So, we determined to reorganize our now extensive special collections by size.

Once this shelving scheme was decided, we needed to implement an appropriate system. Greenfield broadly categorizes books using terms that historically referred to the “format” of the book – folio, quarto, octavo, etc – which is a function of how printers folded sheets of paper to create books of different sizes. (Take a look here for more explanation and some useful illustrations, although I have to admit it’s a little tricky to understand without actually folding sheets of paper yourself). Greenfield distinguishes four sizes: miniature or small books under 10 cm; octavo books up to 28 cm in height; quarto, up to 40 cm; and folios over 40 cm. We felt these four categories didn’t quite suit our needs. In this scheme, both books 29 cm tall and 39 cm tall fall under the designation of quarto, but that still leaves 10 cm for the taller book to warp over the smaller book. We devised our own scheme that allows for not four, but ten sizes of books(!), outlined in this handy-dandy chart.

With ten sizes available to us, we only have to worry about a potential difference in size of 3 cm (1.2 inches) in any one group. Even then this 3 cm difference is unlikely to occur, as each range contains a spectrum of sizes from the minimum to the maximum heights. In group A, we have books 15 cm in height, 18 cm in height, and everything in between.

Size Matters 7.JPG

To begin reorganizing our collection by size, we first cleared a substantial section of our compact shelving, as it’s common sense and common practice to have a destination ready for your books before you start moving them. Then, we labelled our empty stacks with these letter-sizes. We know that most of our books fall within the B-D ranges, so we only allotted one stack for minis and As, while many more stacks were set aside for Cs and especially Ds. We also have a separate section of deeper shelving to accommodate books larger than D (which, when you think about it, is really no different than an oversize section you’d find in many libraries using the LC or Dewey).

Once we had the shelves properly prepared, we needed to assign a new call number for each book based on its size. The call numbers will look something like “A-0054” or “C-0283”, those books being the fifty-fourth and two hundred eighty-third books in their size range, respectively. If there are more than 9,999 books in any size range, the letter size will become A1 instead of just A. If you see a call number with an “X” after the letter, as in “BX-0121”, it means that the book is shelved not in the compact stacks but in our rare book reading room –the Canada Law Book Rare Book Room.

Of course, we need to know each book’s size before we assign it a call number, but we can’t waste our time holding a ruler up to each volume. To speed up the process, we built ourselves a book-board (which for my money looks like it belongs in MoMA alongside Mondrian and Rothko). Behold:

Size Matters 6.JPG

I find numbers to be eccentric and challenging concepts, so I’m happy to see that someone’s nailed them down to physical reality by covering a plank of wood with the exact measurements of each letter size, all colour-coded. Now all I have to worry about are colours and letters, and I can handle that.

Size Matters 4.JPG

We have only to place a book in the board’s corner to determine its size exactly and know exactly where on the shelf it belongs. Wherever the top of the book falls, that’s its location letter. This books an “E”.

Size Matters 5.JPG

Simple, effective, and highly recommended for any library undertaking a similar project.

Finally, organizing the special collections by size has the added benefit of maximizing the space available for shelving the collection. Each shelf is always completely full, and shelves can be adjusted to uniform heights for each size category, maximizing the number of shelves in each bay of shelving. It’s a pity the stacks are closed to the public and you can’t admire the orderly elegance of the Osgoode special collections.

A Distinguished Doodle – and How to Catalogue It

After I wrote my previous post on finding those two books containing Sir John A. MacDonald’s autographs, I remembered another discovery of mine.

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I found this friendly fellow – with excellent hipster facial hair, I might add – as I was recataloguing books the other day. He looks to me like he belongs in one of Edward Lear’s nonsense poems, like this chap here:

Our bewhiskered gentleman friend peers out from page 64 of a 1702 text on The Practice of Courts-Leet and Courts-Baron. Courts-what? Since I can’t very well post on a law blog without offering some legal content, here’s the answer, taken from Wikipedia’s straightforward summary:

At a very early time in medieval England the Lord of the Manor exercised or claimed certain jurisdictional rights over his tenants and bondsmen concerning the administration of his manor and exercised those rights through his “court baron”. The main business of the court baron was the resolution of disputes involving a lord’s free tenants within a single manor, the enforcement of the feudal services owed to the lord of the manor by his tenants, and the admission of new tenants. The court had no power to deal with criminal acts; however, criminal jurisdiction could be granted to a trusted lord by the Crown by means of an additional franchise, giving to the lord the prerogative rights he owed feudally to the king. The most important of these was the “view of frankpledge”, by which tenants were held responsible for the actions of others within a grouping of ten households. In the later Middle Ages, the lord, when exercising these powers, gained the name of “leet”, which was a jurisdiction of a part of a county; hence the franchise was of “court leet”. The quo warranto proceedings of Edward I established a sharp distinction between the court baron, exercising strictly manorial rights, and the court leet, depending for its jurisdiction upon royal franchise. However in many areas it became customary for the two courts to meet together. Over time, serious cases were increasingly reserved for itinerant justices and the local courts restricted themselves to petty misdemeanours only. After the 16th century, the duties of the court leet were increasingly transferred to justices of the peace, though some courts leet continue to function in England.

Tuck that trivia away, and use it at a party. It’s a guaranteed conversation starter. For another definition, you can try out the always reliable Britannica, or consult Warren Ortman Ault’s Private Jurisdiction in England, available from our catalogue. But be honest – could you make it through a chapter on courts leet without even a single doodle to stave off the tedium? Doodle away — in two hundred years your book might in the hands of a historian. [1]

This image is amusing, no doubt, but it is also a great example of what we often look for in rare books: unique qualities. You sometimes hear the partial quotation, “books have their own destinies” (“Habent sua fata libelli” for all you fancy Latinists out there). Once a book is published and sent out into the world, anything can happen. Sometimes, over the centuries, one particular volume may acquire features that distinguish it from its brothers and sisters – a new binding, a stamp, an inscription, marginalia, or yes, even a doodle. This bonus content, as I like to consider it, can be enormously informative in the hands of a capable scholar. For instance, in the discipline of book history, determining the habits of readers long ago is notoriously difficult, but markings in books, however slight, might offer insight. Scholar H.J. Jackson devoted book length study to the readers writing in their books, available over in Scott Library.

Here at Osgoode, we’re doing our part to locate and catalogue such features. To do so, we’re editing existing catalogue records to add “genre headings” (please excuse my jargon). Genre headings allow librarians more options in their cataloguing. Catalogue records for most items in the library will contain typical fields indicating author, title, subject, publication information, etc, that all serve as access points to the item. If librarians want to add another piece of information / access point for which the usual catalogue record does not make allowances (for instance, content type, media type, carrier type, genre types, and form and physical characteristics, as listed by the Library of Congress) they can consult an appropriate LC approved thesaurus or glossary, find the term that describes what they desire to describe, and pop it into the record while citing the source of that term. With genre headings, instead of looking through every single book in our library to see which of them have inscriptions (or doodles or any other feature), we can simply search our catalogue for records with the appropriate genre-heading, eg, “Inscriptions”.

To see how this all comes together, take a look at our catalogue record for The Practice of Courts-Leet and Courts-Baron, or for the books featured in our last post, Chitty’s Precedents, and click the “Staff View” tab. This offers a look at the item’s MARC (MAchine-Readable Cataloguing) record, which breaks the record you’re used to into its coded data fields. You’ll find genre headings down in the 655 field. In this field, the word in subfield marked “|a” is “Markings”, a catch-all phrase to denote “any distinctive feature impressed manually or mechanically” on or in the book.  The “|2” subfield indicates the source of the heading “Markings”. In this case we find “rbprov”, which means that this particular genre heading came from the Library of Congress’s Provenance Evidence: Thesaurus for Use in Rare Book and Special Collections Cataloguing. All of this to-do with thesauri and exact terminology stems from a very important concept in library science known as “authority control”. Who’d have thought the most despotic phrase in the entire English language would come from a librarian? It sounds ominous, but it’s really just a way to make sure we’re all referring to something with the same language – so we all say “markings”, for example, instead of “doodles,“ “scribbles,” or “neat stuff found in books”.

Our books have worth in themselves as documents of ages past, but with this continued project of cataloguing these unique and informative elements, we might be able to piece together these little fragments of evidence to tell another story.

1. Note: This is most certainly not permission to deface library books. In your own texts only please!

Well my day just became much more interesting…

Which is not to say I do not normally enjoy my job, because I do. I consider myself a bookish fellow, so to come to the library and work all day in a room full of old leather-bound volumes hardly even feels like work at all… okay, it feels a little like work. But as they say, you can’t judge a book by its cover, so I can’t just sit around and admire them sitting on the shelf. Sometimes, I actually have to open them, and on occasion I find something more than just the printed text.

We’re currently in the process of reorganizing the Osgoode rare book collections by size – a project which will shortly be the subject of another post. As part of the project, I’m reviewing each volume before assigning the new shelf number, updating and upgrading the cataloguing as necessary. Today I came across two rather plain volumes, though nicely rebound in brown quarter-leather with canvas boards, and their spines decorated with gilt rules and red labels bearing the succinct title Precedents / Chitty. Nevertheless, though I think I’d normally leave something like this on the shelf, I was obligated to part the covers and take a look inside.

The front pastedown endpaper proudly bore its York Law Library bookplate, but again that was nothing remarkable, as most of these books do. As I turned the page, however, something caught my eye. On the verso of the front free endpaper was a short inscription. I love finding these notes in books because they are sometimes as entertaining as they are informational. Much of the time inscriptions simply record details such as the name of the book’s owner, the price they paid for it, and when they made the purchase. Today’s inscription looked fairly typical. It was signed “W. David McPherson”, and a quick search revealed him to have been a Member of Provincial Parliament in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, representing Toronto West from 1908 to 1919, and a lawyer in Toronto before that. It’s always gratifying to pin a book’s provenance to a known historical figure; but McPherson’s status as pre-eminent former owner was short-lived, for his inscription read:

“Purchased this 9th day of December 1891 from Oliver, Coate & Co. on Sale of Law Library of the Right Honorable…”

…and this is when my day got much more interesting…

“…Sir John A. MacDonald G.C.B.”

And not only that, but as my eyes scanned across to the facing title-page, I saw a neat little scribble. Though I might have expected that the Prime Minister’s well-publicized tippling would have produced an unsteady hand, I could clearly read the signature “John A. MacDonald”.

I quickly turned to the second volume which, as I expected, bore the exact same inscription and the exact same autograph. Here I had in my hands two books documented to have been in our first prime minister’s personal library. Not only that, I had his autograph – twice! MacDonald was called to the Bar in 1836, and these volumes were published in 1839, so he may have bought them new; his signature is evidence that they were in his personal possession, evidence supported by the inscription by the subsequent purchaser. The books provide evidence of another characteristic of the early law book trade in Canada: Though Canada was still a British colony at the time, these books were published in Springfield, Massachusetts. It was common practice to import American editions of British legal classics, simply because they were so much more affordable than books imported from the Old World.

This lucky encounter reminded me of a phrase, “discovered in storage”, which you sometimes hear in conversation about museums and libraries. This phrase would apply to an artifact or item that the institution didn’t even know it owned until it was, by stroke of fortune, recovered from obscurity. Such stories are actually quite common.  For museums and rare book libraries, the reason we collect books or artifacts and catalogue them is to protect and preserve them from damage, but also from loss. Still, sometimes it just happens that items of note are lost or forgotten over time simply due to the sheer volume of materials that surround it. In this case, the original cataloguer simply missed the importance of the signature and inscription, presuming they were even noticed. The concept of finding new items in an established collection highlights some of the inherent difficulties – and pleasures! – of librarianship. Effectively, if an item isn’t catalogued, it doesn’t exist; and even if it is catalogued, if no one knows to look for it, isn’t it as good as nonexistent? And then the questions become existential: Why are we even doing this in the first place?! Such are the Borgesian nightmares of librarians. Sadly, this is what keeps me up at night.