1828 Catalogue Collection Adds Spelman’s Discourse

This week Sir Henry Spelman’s Discourse on Law Terms, an explanation of Jewish, Grecian, Roman, Norman, and Saxon law published in London in 1684, arrived at the University of Virginia Law Library well-preserved and with that smoky smell of many readings beside a fireplace.[1] 

The acquisition of Spelman’s work continues a forty-year effort by the Law Library’s Special Collections to reconstruct the collection of 375 law books listed in the 1828 Catalogue of the University of Virginia library. Many of the titles inventoried in 1828 burned in the U.Va. Rotunda and Annex fire of 1895 or scattered over time. To date, Special Collections has acquired duplicate editions—the same as those originally acquired by the University of Virginia— of 318 law texts from the 1828 library Catalogue. This Spelman acquisition is currently the only physical copy of Law Terms within the University of Virginia Library system. 

How did Spelman’s Law Terms become part of the University’s original library? Thomas Jefferson. In 1825, Jefferson compiled a 7,000-volume wish list of books, including Spelman’s Law Terms, to guide acquisitions for the new University of Virginia library. Jefferson, who believed law dictionaries would be a “1st want” of the original thirty students to study law at the University in 1826, likely selected Spelman’s Law Terms from John Clarke’s Bibliotheca Legum, published in London in 1819 and Jefferson’s go-to guide for law titles, or from his own personal library.[2] In 1825, the University hired Boston booksellers Cummings, Hilliard & Company to acquire books for the University library using Jefferson’s book list, and the firm purchased Law Terms in London along with many of the titles in the original library inventory. 

After a quick stop for some preservation, the Law Library is excited to add Spelman’s Law Terms to its Special Collections and make it available to students and researchers. Meanwhile, Special Collections staff continue the hunt for the missing 1828 Catalogue texts!

For more information on the 1828 Catalogue Law Books Collection or to research other items at the Law Library Special Collections, see our webpage or contact Special Collections at refdesk@law.virginia.edu.

– Randi Flaherty 



Handley, Stuart. “Spelman, Sir Henry (1563/4–1641).” Stuart Handley In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman, October 2005. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26104 (accessed October 9, 2014).

University of Virginia, and William Peden. 1828 Catalogue of the Library of the University of Virginia. Charlottesville: Printed for the Alderman Library of the University of Virginia, 1945.

1828 Catalogue Law Books Collection at the University of Virginia Law School Special Collections: http://lib.law.virginia.edu/specialcollections/collections/1828-catalogue

Thomas Jefferson’s Libraries Project at Monticello: http://tjlibraries.monticello.org/

[1] Henry Spelman, Of the law-terms, a discourse wherein the laws of the Jews, Grecians, Romans, Saxons and Normans, relating to this subject are fully explained (London: Printed for Matthew Gillyflower, 1684).

[2] Thomas Jefferson to Cummings, Hilliard & Company, April 22, 1826, printed in Elizabeth Cometti, ed., Jefferson’s Ideas on a University Library: Letters from the Founder of the University of Virginia to a Boston Bookseller (Charlottesville: The University of Virginia, 1950), 43.  For Jefferson’s reliance on John Clarke’s Catalogue, see Thomas Jefferson to William Hilliard, August 7, 1825 in the same volume.  John Clarke, Clarke’s Bibliotheca Legum; Or, Complete Catalogue of the Common and Statute Law-books of the United Kingdom, with an Account of Their Dates and Prices, Arranged in a New Manner. New ed. (London: W. Clarke and Sons, 1819).

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Randi Flaherty

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