A Bounty of Bookplates

The Osgoode Library has purchased a modest collection of twenty-eight bookplates of various Canadian legal personages. These bookplates are of interest for biographical, bibliographical and professional reasons, and are also sure to be of interest to Game of Thrones fans for their assortment of family sigils and words, or in heraldic parlance, charges and mottoes.

A handful of our newly acquired bookplates.

bookplate, also known as an ex-librīs (from the Latin for “from the books of…”), is usually a small label pasted into a book, often on the inside front cover, to indicate ownership. Bookplates can be decorative or plain. Simple typographical bookplates are often termed “booklabels”. Typically, though, they bear a namemottodevicecoat-of-armscrestbadge, or any motif that relates to and identifies the owner of the book. Many collectors and other bibliomanes commission an artist to design a bookplate for their personal use. The name of the owner is usually preceded by an inscription such as “From the books of . . .” or “From the library of . . .”, or the Latin, “Ex libris . . .”

When attempting to determine the provenance of a book, a researcher’s best friend is the humble bookplate. No handwriting to decipher, no ambiguous ink marks, and no mysterious initials – bookplates are a comparatively clear and exact indicator of previous ownership (unless some sneaky individual inserts another person’s bookplate in a book never owned by that person – who could commit such an atrocity?).

Very often, especially before the 20th century, bookplates took the form of an individual’s coat of arms, which is wonderful, because — in theory at least — no family’s arms should be the same as any other’s, and even within the same immediate family arms are distinguished from person to person by marks of cadency. If the family plays by the rules of the appropriate heraldic authority (in our case, the Canadian Heraldic Authority), then the coat of arms should point directly to a particular individual, or at the very least, a particular family. Coats of arms are described with a specific heraldic argot, and since each is — again, theoretically — unique, each description should be unique too. If you know one of the name, coat of arms, or the description of the coat of arms, you can usually logically infer the rest of the information with the appropriate resources. What’s more, many arms and crests also feature mottos (think “Winter is coming”), which not only sound heroic, but are also an important piece of information. In sum, armorial bookplates can be as exact and even more meaningful than a clearly printed name and date, and they are much more delightful to behold.

While bookplates are certainly useful to researchers, many of them are also quite stately little works of art. Here are a few choice examples from our new collection, with well-researched descriptions courtesy of our dealer Warren Baker.

Abbott, Sir John Joseph Caldwell (1821-1893). Crest. 8.8 x 6.2 cm. Gagnon Supp.2649. Harrod & Ayearst, p. 18; Masson Coll. Vol. I, #3.

Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott Abbott was widely viewed as the most successful lawyer in Canada for many years, as measured by professional income (and when St James Street in Montreal had not yet been surpassed by Toronto’s Bay Street). He began lecturing in commercial and criminal law at McGill in 1853, and in 1855 he became a professor and dean of its Faculty of Law, where Sir Wilfrid Laurier, future prime minister of Canada, was among his students. He continued in this position until 1880. Upon his retirement, McGill named him emeritus professor, and in 1881 appointed him to its Board of Governors. Abbott succeeded Sir John A MacDonald as Prime Minister of Canada on MacDonald’s death in office in 1891, but held the office for only a year due to his ill health. He was our fist Canada-born prime minister. The plate was engraved by Francis Adams, Montreal engraver and lithographer, active from 1853-57. [Motto: Devant si je puis, or Forward if I can]

BaldwinDr William Warren (1775-1844).  Armorial. 11.6 x 7.2 cm. Gagnon I, 4759; Harrod & Ayearst, pp. 22 & 23; Masson Collection Vol. II, #229.

According to Harrod & Ayearst, this bookplate refers to the father of Robert Baldwin. He arrived in Upper Canada from Ireland in 1799, settling first in Durham County, where he was appointed a lieutenant-colonel in the Durham militia and a justice of the peace before the family resettled in York (not Toronto). He was called to the Bar in 1803 and appointed a district court judge in 1809. He became a bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1807 and served several terms as Treasurer. He was elected MP for Norfolk in 1838. His home in York (Toronto) was called Spadina House from the Indian word spadina, which means a sudden rise of ground such as that upon which the house was built. [Motto: Nec timide nec temere, or Neither rashly nor timidly]

Robinson, John Beverley, Sir (1791-1863). Armorial mantling. 9.7 x 7.7 cm. Gagnon 4945. Harrod & Ayearst, p. 122; Masson Coll. Vol. XI, #1803.

John Beverley Robinson was born in Lower Canada, son of a Virginia loyalist. The family moved to Kingston, Upper Canada, in 1792. In 1799 he was enrolled in the school in York recently opened by John Strachan, and he lived in the the Strachan household until 1807. At age 16, he left to enter the study of law D’Arcy Boulton. Robinson served in the War of 1812 as a militia officer under Sir Isaac Brock, and was appointed acting Attorney General of the province. From 1818-1829, Robinson was the Attorney General of Upper Canada, and, in 1829, he was appointed Chief Justice, Speaker of the Legislative Council, and President of the Executive Council of Upper Canada. As a judge he has had few equals in the history of Canadian judicature. [Motto: Propere et provide, or Quickly and cautiously]

Cartwright, John S., QC (1804-1845)Engraved armorial. 10.6 x 6.7 cm. Gagnon I, 4796 who gives J. R. Cartwright; Harrod& Ayearst, p. 43, who assign his death date to 1860; Masson Collection Vol. III, #439.

John Solomon Cartwright was born in Kingston, Upper Canada, the son of Richard Cartwright and Magdalen Secord (the sister of Laura Secord). He studied law in York, UC (now Toronto) in the law office of John Beverley Robinson (whose bookplate is shown above) and was called to the Bar in 1825. He went to London to pursue further legal studies at Lincoln’s Inn, but by the autumn of 1830 had returned to Kingston, where he resumed his law practice. His seriousness about his profession is shown by the large sum he was spending on legal books. In England he had probably laid out £250 for a “law library”. In 1834 he was appointed a judge of the Midland District Court; he was elected a bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1835 and in 1838 he was made a QC. He became the first president of the Commercial Bank of Kingston in 1831. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada in 1836 and to the Legislative Assembly of United Canada in 1841. He opposed the Union of 1840 and turned down the solicitor-generalship from Sir Charles Bagot in 1842. He died at Kingston. His great-grandson, John Robert Cartwright (1895-1979), a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, 1967-1970.

If you’re interested in learning more about bookplates, head to the ultimate resource at the Bookplate Society.

The Lawes Resolution of Women’s Rights, or The Woman’s Lawyer (1632)

The Balfour Halevy Special Collections has acquired an exciting new item, The Lawes Resolution of Women’s Rights, also known as The Woman’s Lawyer. Why is this exciting? The Woman’s Lawyer is the earliest work in English devoted to laws relating exclusively to women. Some particular topics include the age of consent, dower, hermaphrodites, polygamy, wooing, partition, chattels, divorce, descent, seisin, treason, felonies and rape. This 1632 text was authored anonymously, but is commonly attributed to either Thomas Edgar or Sir John Doderidge, an important legal figure during the reign of James I.

Though the title refers to “women’s rights”, its meaning is foreign to us who today think of suffrage, the fight for equality, and modern feminism when we hear the phrase. This book early on references the “especiall bane” suffered by women for Eve’s transgression in Eden, and takes this same sin as the reason “that Women have no voyse in Parliament, They make no Lawes, they consent to none, they abrogate none.” Here, women’s rights refers only to the rights of women in all their limitations, and is not a treatise for their advancement.

Nevertheless, the specific attention to the place of women in the law might be a step in the right direction, albeit a small one. Indeed, the work makes no judgment as to the correctness or morality of the laws contained therein, but only claims to collect them so that “profitable and usefull Learning [...] be well knowne”. The editor laments the difficulty the law poses to the common person, and praises the author, who has made “this scattered part of Learning, in the great Volumes of the Common-Law-Bookes, and there darkly described, to be one entyre body, and more ready, and clearer to the view of the Reader”. The Norton Anthology generously describes how the work would “help women understand how the law impinged on them”, so this book may have, in compiling legislation related to women, simply highlighted the astounding injustice afforded them in the period. Bravo, anonymous author!

In addition to finding this book in our special collections, you can find an excellent digitized edition of the text via the London School of Economics library or, if you can dispense with page scans, a searchable text is available via the University of Michigan.

A new year is here again…

After a winter that would have caused even the Abominable Snowman to consider decamping to Hawaii, it is safe to say that we were all looking forward to three or four months of warm weather. Well, it’s the end of August and – apart from a few bracing blasts of heat –  we’re still waiting. And guess what? It’s already time to return to school, as today’s start of O-Week attests to.

It’s hard to believe that eight years ago, I was in the exact same position – a freshly minted Section A Ozzie. As many of the current crop can doubtlessly attest, the feeling is a mixture of exhilaration and sheer terror. Everybody has heard the stories of the brutalizing effect that law school can have (or have, at the very least, seen the Paper Chase) and it would be a lie to say that the pressure – particularly at exam time – doesn’t weigh heavily. It does, and you’ll have to do it at least six times before you graduate. But it is also counterbalanced by meeting a wide number of interesting people – some of whom will undoubtedly become friends, and many of whom will be future colleagues (which you would be wise to remember) – and many good times. The adage of working hard and playing hard is seldom more true than the three years you will put in to get your J.D.

The temptation exists to be all-law all-the-time, but that’s a quick route to burning out. Maintain pre-law school interests, friends, and relationships. Work out. Join something (I was the editor of the Obiter Dicta for two years). Do whatever it takes to break the spell from periodically. You may think that perpetually dreaming of Hadley v. Baxendale, Foakes v. Beer, and the thin-skull principle is healthy. It’s not. Your brain will be overworked and overtired as it is, so give it a break from time to time. Otherwise, it will make you something something.

While the library may be a focal point for your studying and, by extension, associated with the stress of keeping up to date with your readings, drafting summaries, and generally working harder than you’ve ever had to in your academic careers, this isn’t our sole purpose. Or it shouldn’t be, at least. Believe it or not, we want to make the library as pleasant and helpful a place as possible for our users.

While we work hard on the day-to-day realities of keeping the collections current and maintaining Canada’s largest law library, we also have a vested interest in making the lives of students less stressful and (hopefully) improving your overall law school experience.

Don’t know something? Ask us. Can’t find something? Ask us. Feeling stressed out and overwhelmed? Tell us.

Our resources are not intended to be well-guarded secrets, knowable only to those who possess the requisite knowledge. That’s why we go out of our way to come to your classes and tell you about how to research, prepare LibGuides, maintain a reference e-mail account, and spend time at the reference desk – to ensure that our students can reap the fullest rewards of their years of law school. Much like your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the summer. If the Farmer’s Almanac is right, you’ll be grateful that you did. Winter (and exams) will feel like this:

Good luck!