Preserving Rare Books: Blackstone’s Commentaries

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Restoration and Rebinding to Celebrate Two Anniversaries

This year, we celebrate two important milestones: the 150th anniversary of the Iowa Law School and the 250th anniversary of William Blackstone’s four-volume Commentaries on the Laws of England, a treatise influential in England and America and which continues to be cited by courts including the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Law Library’s Rare Book Room has many editions of Blackstone’s Commentaries, including the first edition published in England (1765-69) and the first edition published in America (1771-72).

The Law School’s first Dean, William Gardiner Hammond, used Blackstone’s Commentaries as a textbook for the Property and Real Estate classes he taught. He made his personal collection of books available to his law students, and bequeathed his collection to the Law Library.

In honor of the twin anniversaries this year, the Law Library arranged for our English and American first editions of Blackstone's treatise to be restored and rebound in historically accurate leather bindings.

Restoration and Rebinding: English Edition

Our English first edition of the Commentaries was in a stable binding, but the binding was a rather unfortunate artificial leather in an unusual color. It was nicknamed “The Pink Blackstone.”

The volumes were restored to harmonious, period-appropriate bindings sympathetic to the condition of the text by Samuel Feinstein, a professional binder.

The restoration included full light-brown calfskin leather bindings, new board attachments, new boards, hand-sewn silk headbands, double gold lines at the sewing supports, red leather lettering pieces for the titles and green for the volumes, a double-ruled frame in blind on the boards and a gilt decorative roll on the board edges, with marbled paper and handmade paper for the end-sections. Each volume was lightly antiqued.

Before:

English Edition of Blackstone's Commentaries Before Restoration
English Edition of Blackstone's Commentaries Before Restoration

After:

English Edition of Blackstone's Commentaries After Restoration
English Edition of Blackstone's Commentaries After Restoration

English Edition of Blackstone's Commentaries After Restoration
English Edition of Blackstone's Commentaries After Restoration

Restoration and Rebinding: American Edition

Our American first edition of the Commentaries was in fragile condition. Several of the volumes had snapped completely in half at the spine, and the leather, which appeared to be the original binding, was powdery and peeling.

The treatment for these volumes included repair of the failing bindings, replacement of the flaking leather, and protection for the text, as the sewing had snapped on several volumes.

The volumes were rebound in full light-brown calfskin leather bindings (guarding each of the sections with Japanese tissue and resewing on raised cords), with new boards and board attachments, hand-sewn silk headbands, and double gold lines around the raised bands. The volumes were left plain with a number tooled in blind, a double-ruled frame in blind on the boards, and a tooled decorative roll on the board edges. Handmade paper was used for the end-sections, and each volume was lightly antiqued.

Before:

American Edition of Blackstone Commentaries Before Restoration
American Edition of Blackstone Commentaries Before Restoration

After:

American Edition of Blackstone Commentaries After Restoration

American Edition of Blackstone Commentaries After Restoration
American Edition of Blackstone Commentaries After Restoration

Restoration: For Students and Researchers from Iowa and Beyond

Students and researchers from the State of Iowa and around the world consult the rare books in the Law Library’s special collections. We are delighted that the English and American first editions of Blackstone’s Commentaries have been restored for current use and for future generations.