Picturing the Law, Part Two: Collecting Illustrated French Law Codes

Recently, Becky Beaupre Gillespie, the University of Chicago Law School Director of Content, published a story on the collection I’m building titled “The Cartoonists’ Guide to Law: D’Angelo Law Library’s New Collection of Illustrated Legal Codes Offers Insight into Statutes and Society” (July 8, 2019)(also published at the University of Chicago Library News site, July 18, 2019). It is the culmination of several years of trying to hunt down and acquire hard to find copies of foreign law codes illustrated by Joseph Hémard and others.

[Click the image to see a larger version.]

So, how did I go about identifying and acquiring these illustrated law codes? Our cataloger and metadata specialist extraordinaire, Patricia Sayre-McCoy, who had helped me find interesting rare books and special collections to highlight in my first Slaw piece on Picturing the Law, helped me with subject headings and search terms to use to locate law books containing extensive illustrations. And our head of collections services, Julie Stauffer, generated a list of illustrated law rare books that I could review. Besides the subheadings “Caricatures and cartoons” and “Pictorial works”, there are some general terms used in library catalog record descriptions for locating illustrated books.

This includes books generally described as having illustrations (some color) or “ill.” or containing specifically:

  • Frontispieces
  • Woodcuts
  • Charts
  • Maps
  • Plates
  • Engravings
  • Vignettes
  • Portraits
  • Tables (including Genealogical Tables)
  • Photographs
  • Plans
  • Diagrams
  • Coats of arms.

[Click the image to see a larger version.]

But, locating these cartoon-illustrated books is hard because they’re generally not described with the subject heading “Caricatures and cartoons” unless specially requested to be added to the catalog record by a selector, curator, or bibliographer.

Another way I identified these works is by using Michael Widener and Mark S. Weiner’s Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection, and Mike’s website collecting these types of works. “Illustrated Law” draws from the subject headings added to works in Yale’s law library catalog and includes “Caricatures”.

[Click the image to see a larger version.]

When I attended Yale Law Rare Book School, because of my interest in illustrated law books, Mike Widener alerted me to Farley P. Katz’ article in the 2006 The Tax Lawyer on “The Art of Taxation: Joseph Hémard’s Illustrated Tax Code”. And Mike helped me on several occasions when I was trying to obtain copies of illustrated law books.

And I also consulted with Lawbook Exchange. They were the ones who originally got me interested in collecting these codes. About five or six years ago, one of the Lawbook Exchange folks showed me and my colleague, Bill Schwesig, cartoons from Joseph Hémard’s illustrated French civil code and tax code. We were charmed and amused, and I was intrigued. So I followed up with them about acquiring other illustrated law codes generally and elusive copies of the ones illustrated by Joseph Hémard.

[Click the image to see a larger version.]

I consulted also with Joe Luttrell at Meyer Boswell Books, and everywhere I could think of. Rare book catalogs and websites. I Googled a lot!

I am very happy with the collection we have so far and I’m looking forward to growing it and creating physical and web exhibits to highlight our wonderful foreign law collections.


  1. LL-J – we’ve been down this delightful road before:

  2. Lyonette Louis-Jacques

    Ayyyyy! Thanks, Simon! I tried to find all the previous Slaw pieces re illustrated law codes to link to them and didn’t find this one, even though I’d seen it before. My apologies, and thanks for the wonderful article! Useful background for folks considering collecting these colorful codes themselves. Best, Lyo.

    Cartoons and the Code
    Simon Chester
    April 1, 2010