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Thursday, January 2, 2020

Upcoming Exhibits: Treasures from the Riesenfeld Center

In the spring semester, the Riesenfeld Center will host a new exhibit, "Noted and Notable: Treasures of the Riesenfeld Rare Books Center." Displayed will be selected older collection items as well as newer acquisitions which have special significance (and often beauty) as historical objects. These are not only famous editions or canonical texts, but books that have added historical value, whether it is a famous former owner, revealing handwritten notes, a beautiful binding, or remarkable engravings. Rare books tell their own stories, often through features that at first seem ancillary to the texts themselves. In fact, these features greatly enrich the value of a book as a historical artifact and object of study.

In some cases, a text itself may be unusually notable, particularly when it is unique. Manuscript books, for example, call attention to the origins of standardized printed texts, and can raise questions about the permanence and stability of textual information. In the upcoming exhibit, one manuscript book deserves special notice. This is a copy of William Lambard's Archeion: or, a Treatise of the High Courts of Justice in England, which was made from another manuscript probably around 1600. 

Lambard (1536-1601) was a lawyer, antiquarian, and the leading legal treatise writer of his day. He was appointed under Elizabeth I as the keeper of the rolls, and became keeper of the records in the Tower of London. His Archaionomia (1568), compiled with Laurence Nowell, was the first printed collection of Anglo-Saxon laws in Old English, and included the first printed map of England. 

Around 1591, Lambard completed Archeion, the most useful treatise on courts and court procedure in Elizabethan England. It circulated among lawyers and students like many works did (particularly law reports) - in handwritten copies painstakingly made from other manuscripts. Archeion was not printed until 1635, after Lambard's death, when it appeared in an unauthorized edition produced from a circulating copy like the one in our collection. The accuracy of the text was quickly contested by Lambard's own grandson, who rushed an "authorized" version of Archeion to print in the same year.

Manuscript variations are an enduring issue for scholars studying the history of English (and other) law. Manuscript copies of course vary from printed editions as well, and variations can raise genuine questions of interpretation. This remarkable manuscript also awaits a scholar to discover its (perhaps surprising) variations!

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

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