Cincinnati Law Library Association Collection

Collection Review

The Cincinnati Law Library Association Collection (hereinafter the Collection) at the Marx Law Library consists of approximately 10,000 volumes of historical legal books and pamphlets printed during the mid-1500s through mid-1900s.  The majority of the items in the Collection consists of scholarly, out of print, books on English and American law and legal history.  These include numerous classics in the field.  The books have been individually selected and function together as a comprehensive research tool providing services to scholars and legal communities locally, nationally, and internationally on various aspects of the law and legal history, thus contributing to the further advancement of legal education and scholarship.

The Collection is strongest in the areas of constitutional history and early English law.  Of note are copies of the Magna Charta, dated 1578, William Backstone’s Commentaries published 1769, multiple 18th century volumes with accounts of English trials, other early legal works such as the Grand Abridgement in four volumes, two volumes from by George Fitzherbert (1565) and two volumes from by Robert Brooke (1573).

The Collection has numerous early printings of the various laws and constitutions of American colonies, states, and territories. These are books of exceptional rarity and importance, being the original first editions of some of the key works in American legal and constitutional history. Examples of these include a first printing of The Federalist Papers and a first edition of The Constitutions of Several Independents States of America, printed 1781.
The Charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, published 1714, Laws of the Territory of the United States northwest of the river Ohio, printed in Cincinnati 1800. The Collection also contains very rare and unique items on the history of slavery in the United States and the works of the lawyers, judges, and activists leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Of note is the Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave. Written by himself .., Published in Dublin, Ireland by the abolitionist printer Richard D. Webb in 1846.

History of the Collection

The Collection was gifted to the University of Cincinnati College of Law by the Cincinnati Law Library Association in 2008.

The Cincinnati Law Library Association was founded in 1847, the first institution of its kind in the Northwest. Its mission, as stated in its constitution, was the “foundation of a Law Library” to serve the members of the Bench and Bar of Ohio particularly and more importantly “the cultivation of the science of law.”

The formation of the Cincinnati Law Library and its collection has a special historical relationship to the College of Law and the University of Cincinnati.  Many College of Law Faculty members, including Timothy Walker, co-founder of the Cincinnati Law School and Dean of Faculty 1833-1844, Salmon P. Chase, Alphonso Taft, George E. Pugh, W.S. William Y. Gholson, William S. Groesbeck, and many others championed the foundation of the library and were strong advocates of expanding its collection, fund raising for its purpose, and serving as its first board members.

Following the 1884 burning of the Hamilton County Courthouse and the Law Library, Rufus King, Dean of the Cincinnati Law School and Board of Trustee of the Cincinnati Law Library, 1851-1890, organized donations from colleagues and local attorneys to build a new downtown law library.  Many of the treasured books in the current Collection are among those donated and purchased in response to his efforts almost a century and half ago.

In 1899, Edwin Gholson, a graduate of the Cincinnati College of Law, class of 1885, was elected head librarian of the Cincinnati Law Library Association, a position he held for the next few decades.  During those years Mr. Gholson tirelessly continued putting together a collection of law books.

Rufas King commissioned Edwin Davis French, a renowned bookplate engraver artist to design a bookplate for the Cincinnati Law Library books. King’s devotion to the library continued through his life and he left an endowment of $20,000.00 for the expansion of the collection upon his death in 1891.  

Digitization Project

The University of Cincinnati College of Law Robert S. Marx Law Library has been collaborating with the William S. Hein Company – a prominent legal publisher, to digitize exclusive rare items within the collection. This nationally renowned digitization project serves to help preserve these rare items and more importantly, provides access to these unique, rare, and out of print legal books to scholars and the legal community worldwide.

Cataloging and Classification

The Robert S. Marx Law Library is continuing to catalog and classify the Collection. Bibliographic records and citations of the cataloged books can be found in the Robert S. Marx Law Library online catalog: