Legacy Libraries on librarything.com

Massachusetts Law Updates 2014-10-02

Legacy Libraries are the catalogs of  libraries of historical people, assembled by volunteers from a variety of sources including published bibliographies, auction catalogs, probate inventories and the like.

The first Legacy Library catalog to become part of the do-it-yourself library catalogs on librarything.com was,  appropriately enough, a list of the books belonging to Thomas Jefferson. This list is now maintained by librarians at Monticello. After the destruction of the first Library of Congress by the British in the War of 1812, Jefferson sold 6,487 books from his personal library to form the core of the new Library of Congress. Congress paid him $23,950 for these books. The Library of Congress is attempting to reassemble Jefferson’s library as it was sold to Congress, with the exact editions that he owned. “On the Hunt for Jefferson’s Lost Books” gives details about the search.

In 2008, LibraryThing launched the Libraries of Early America project, an effort to create an as  comprehensive as possible database of early American private libraries through 1800. It is not surprsing to find lawyers among  the list of early Americans with libraries, and it is interesting to note what law books they may have owned and used. Catalogs of the libraries of John Adams, Francis Dana and Joseph Story  provide examples of Massachusetts lawyers' Legacy Libraries.

In 1978, Herbert A. Johnson published Imported Eighteenth-Century Law Treatises in American Libraries 1700-1799. Like Legacy Libraries, “this is a composite bibliography developed through the examiniation of extant eighteeth-century law libraries and the reconstruction of other libraries from surviving lists or estate inventories showing library holdings.” It “attempts to assemble in a convenient form a list of imported law books that were in active use in eighteenth-century America.”

When talking about early American law books, one would be remiss not to mention Morris L. Cohen’s seminal 7 volume work, the Bibliography of Early American Law, popularly known as BEAL. With over 14,000 entries, BEAL "lists and describes the monographic and trial literature of American law published in this country or abroad, from its beginnings to the end of 1860."