The Great Library’s Oldest Book

Book spine in front of bookshelves

Every once in a while we get tired of writing posts about legal research, new books and websites, and other serious stuff, so we look for something fun to write about. This involves a different kind of research and, even more fun, getting to go down a rabbit hole. Each fact that is uncovered raises a potential new research path and rabbit hole until finally the brain shouts “Enough, stop!” This week’s rabbit hole is about the library’s oldest book.

The library’s book collection has been acquired by both purchases and donations. According to Christopher Moore’s The Law Society of Upper Canada and Ontario’s Lawyers 1797-1997, “Convocation formed a library committee in 1827, and Solicitor General Boulton, then visiting London, spent nearly £300 on books for the society that year”1. This was the first book purchase.

Title page of Novellarum

We can’t be sure but we believe that the library’s oldest book was published in 1531:

Nearōn Ioustinianou basileōs, ton en tō nyn heuriskomenōn, kai hōs heuriskontai biblion: prostithentai de kai hoi kanones tōn hagiōn apostolōn dia Klementios athroisthentes = Novellarum constitutionum dn. Iustiniani principis, quae exstant, et ut exstant, volumen: appositi sunt item canones sanctoru[m] apostoloru[m] per Clementem in unu[m] congesti by Gregorio Haloandro.

Publishing information: Norembergae: Siue in castro Norico, apud Io. Petreium, Anno Domini 1531.

Since it was written in both Greek and Latin we have to rely on its subject headings for the contents, which are Roman Law and Byzantine Law.

Greek text and initial drop capital letter with illustration from book text.

But wait, it gets better! There is a bookplate inside the cover:

Donation plate inside book indicating prior owner, Henry Scadding

So, this book had been owned by Henricus Scadding a.k.a. Reverend Dr. Henry Scadding, a Toronto historian and author, and was received by the Great Library “Sep 24, 1954”, which is the date stamped inside. It is 488 years old and is in beautiful condition, but because of its age it is kept in the library’s Rare Book Room and is not available for public viewing.

[photos of cover and bookplate]1 Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997, p.68