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Collection Development with Litteratura Iuris, or, Heads Will Roll – Pic of the Week

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This week’s Pic of the Week post gives you a glimpse of, well, something that defies all expectations…

Litteratura Iuris
Sifting out unwanted heads: A gruesome metaphor for collection development from the title page of Karl Ferdinand Hommel’s Litteratura Iuris (second edition), 1779.

The image above depicts an engraving of a person (arms only) shaking a sieve full of the dismembered heads of several species, including human beings, so that all of the animal heads fall out and only the human heads remain.  What could this mean?

The engraving appears on the title page of a book entitled Litteratura Iuris (Editio Secunda) by the German academic legal scholar Karl Ferdinand Hommel (1722-1781).  Hommel’s book is a bibliographical guide to the literature of the law.  In it, the author divides the legal literature of his day into categories and then presents bibliographical essays that walk the practicing lawyer through the maze of books and scholars for each of the various fields of law.  There are essays on biblical law, on the literature of the civil law, on canon law, on public law, on customary law and others.  Especially interesting are his essays on rare books, on prohibited books and on literary fraud: plagiarism and false attributions of authorship.  The second part of the book is a collection of biographical essays on the lives of the most important people in legal scholarship from the 12th to the 18th Century.

Throughout the work, Hommel conscientiously relates to the problems of reducing a guidebook for the literature of the law to the size of a single volume, explaining his method and his outlook at each turn.  In the preface to the first edition of the work (1761), he suggests that a handful of the essays from the first half of the work will give you the keys to developing a highly scaled down, but excellent collection of law books: “notitia librorum exhibetur, neque tamen omnium, sed classicorum tantum, quos si quis possideat, de parva quidem, sed splendida et selectissima iuris bibliotheca sibi gratulari possit.”  But what’s the price of scaling down a collection?  Sifting out the lesser creatures…



  1. Wonderful! Thank you!

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