At a recent public event, I presented a display of books from the Law Library’s Rare Book Collection including this unusually printed 1591 edition of Littleton’s Tenures. One of the attractive features of the book is that it contains two very nice engravings that were bound into it ahead of the title page. The engravings, which are likely to postdate the printing of the book by several decades, are copies of a portrait of Sir Thomas Littleton that was much reproduced both anonymously and by well-known engravers during the course of the 17th century. It is unknown who created the two engravings in the Law Library’s copy of the book.
Although the two engravings are nearly identical, they are not the same. The way the binder juxtaposed the two on facing pages, the first on the verso of the preceding leaf, the second on the recto of the following leaf, emphasizes the differences. Some of the guests who were present at the rare book display began trying to find all the points where the two engravings reproduced below differ. Within a very short time the conversation turned to a Roman Polanski film based on an adventure novel by Arturo Perez Reverte in which a handful of nearly identical 17th century woodcut prints held the answer to a very dark puzzle. But real life can be so disappointing: the guests gave up their search before they found any esoteric meanings in the differences between the engravings.
Please have a look and decide which engraving is the “True Portraiture of Judge Littleton.”
This was originally engraved by Robert Vaughan for the 1629 edition of Coke on Littleton, and was reused in the 1633 and 1636 editions. The anonymous copies are later, from the 1670 and 1684 editions.
Many Thanks, Professor Baker.
– Nathan Dorn