Precedents So Scrawl'd and Blurr'd: Readers' Marks in Law Books


Early modern citators. The most common marginalia in early printed law books are citations to relevant authorities. This example comes from one of the Year Books, the series of anonymous case reports that stretch from the 13th to 16th centuries. Most of the citations in the margins of this Year Book, from the reign of Henry VIII, are to statutes, given in regnal years. The citation "14 H6 23", for example, signifies chapter 23 of the statutes from the 14th year of the reign of Henry VI, i.e. 1435/1436. There is one citation to Littleton's Tenures ("Litt 76/77") and one that might be to Coke's Reports, which would date that note to the early 17th century. Today legal databases provide such citations.

Year Book, 27 Henry VIII , 1556

[Year Books. Henry VIII.] De termino Pasche anno regni Regis Henrici Octavi. XXVII. London: Richard Tottel, 1556.

Early modern pocket parts. Once a small Italian commune like Camerino (near Assisi in central Italy) published its statutes, it was impractical to reprint them every time new laws were adopted. Instead, updates were added to the volume by hand. This is one of dozens of such examples in our Italian Statute Collection, the largest such collection outside of Italy.

Camerino (Italy). Statuta populi civitatis Camerini. Camerino: Antonio Gioioso, 1563.

Do-it-yourself book repair. Someone carefully replaced the missing text on this page (and on the preceding page) by imitating the original letter forms and spacing, obviously using a complete copy as a model. Note also the pointing hand, called a manicule, on the facing page.

Knights of Malta. Li privilegii della sacra religione di S. Gio. Gierosolimitano. Rome: Giacomo Tornieri, 1589.

Our books are leading a double life. As well as being containers of words, they are things imbued with their own significance. Their importance ... goes far beyond the words or images they contain.
        Tom Mole, The Secret Life of Books (2019)