The Kresge Law Library recently acquired several rare English legal documents from the 15th to 18th centuries through a donation from Notre Dame alumnus Lt. Col. (Ret.) James R. Anthony ’63, ’66 J.D.
The items, rare examples of English legal history, are now part of the permanent Kresge Law Library holdings and comprise the James R. Anthony Collection.
“These items are among the oldest we have at the Kresge Law Library,” said Thomas Mills, associate dean and director of the law library. “They are fantastic examples of English legal history and a valuable teaching tool for our students studying the history of property law.”
The 14 documents are all forms of legal instruments for the conveyance of real property, ranging from simple deeds to others addressing various additional needs of the parties or aspects of pertinent English law. These other forms include final concords; indentures, where more than one copy of the handwritten vellum instrument is required; common recoveries, to evade the strictures of entailment; and bonds. Excellent and comprehensive discussion and examples of such instruments can be found at the University of Nottingham, Manuscripts and Special Collections, Anthony noted.
Steven A. Mitchell, research and instruction librarian at the Kresge Law Library, is currently working with the collection to catalogue it in detail. The items in the collection are centuries old; the oldest item, a deed drafted during the reign of King Henry VI, is from 1430.
Librarians at the Kresge Law Library have put a display of some of the items in one of the cases near the circulation desk.
Anthony was recently able to visit to see the display of some of the items, as well as the framed indentures permanently hanging on the wall of the library near the law librarian offices.
“Our U.S. legal system is grounded on that of England, and very much so in property law,” Anthony said. “The dean of our law school years, Joseph O’Meara, stressed this point. Thus the donated pieces can, with proper commentary, provide a tangible visible progression of our legal heritage.”
Anthony began collecting the items in the 1970s, when a classifieds listing in the American Bar Association Journal advertised a few English vellum indentures for sale. He has continued to add to his collection ever since, purchasing documents that he finds interesting.
“It was an experience just holding these in my hand,” Anthony said. “These very old ones are in Latin and very succinct on small vellum pieces.”