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Curiosities of the Bar
Original Documents from the Archives
of the New York City Bar
May 2010

The Library of the New York City Bar provides a magnificent educational opportunity for all members. In addition to the every-day tools of the lawyer’s craft, the library contains an exceptional historical collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps and other curiosities. This exhibit is a celebration of some of the unique items in the City Bar’s collection.

Pleading and Practice Grand March Two Step

pleading and practice march












This delightful item from 1898 is an advertisement for The Encyclopedia of Practice and Procedure published by The Edward Thompson Company in the form of sheet music to a two-step march written by George Bishop. The Edward Thompson Company is perhaps best known for originally publishing McKinney’s Consolidated Laws of New York and the American Law Reports.

Alexander Hamilton Signature

This 1669 folio edition of the Fourth part of Coke’s Institutes is signed by Alexander Hamilton, the first United States Secretary of the Treasury and Founding Father. The volume gathers miscellaneous materials that were not in the first three Institutes, and includes translations of ancient statutes that appeared in the earlier Institutes.

cokes institutes hamilton2


 1964 New York World’s Fair  

worlds fairThe 1964 New York World's Fair was the third major World's Fair to be held in New York City. The fair was held in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens on the site of the 1939 World’s Fair. It featured 140 pavilions on 646 acres and spotlighted American industry. Exhibits from many of the nations leading companies including General Electric, Ford, General Motors, I.B.M., and Pepsi Cola were the highlights of the fair. Two of the more popular exhibits were “Dinoland,” sponsored by Sinclair Oil Corporation, featuring life-size replicas of nine different dinosaurs, and Walt Disney’s "It's a Small World" attraction at the Pepsi Pavilion, where animated dolls and animals frolicked on a boat-ride around the world. Disney relocated several of their exhibits to Disneyland. Disney’s EPCOT Center, built in 1982, was designed as a tribute to the spirit of international unity at the 1964 World's Fair. These items are from a scrapbook commemorating the 1964 ABA Convention held in New York.


 Great Seal of the Realm - King George the Fifth

Tgreat seal-1he Great Seal of the Realm is the chief seal of the Crown, used to show the monarch's approval of important state documents, without the King actually having to sign each individual document. The Great Seal for each successive monarch is inscribed with the monarch's name and titles on both sides of the seal. The uniqueness of each monarch’s official seal made it difficult t o forge or tamper with official documents. Different colored sealing material was used for different types of document, with scarlet red being used for documents appointing a bishop and for most patents. This copy of the seal was presented to Frank Russell in October 1920. The inscription reads: “George the Fifth, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland, and the Lands across the sea which are in the British Dominion, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.”


 brooklyn eagle

 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was published from1841 to1955. At one point in time it was the most popular afternoon paper in the United States. Among its many editors was famed poet and journalist, Walt Whitman from 1846-1848. Whitman’s contributions to the paper were collected inThe Gathering of Forces in 1920. This 75th anniversary issue, published in 1916, is a fascinating look at the birth and growth of the City of Brooklyn, which was just seven years old when the newspaper debuted. The Brooklyn Public Library maintains an online archive of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle through 1902.



astorJohn Jacob Astor Signature

John Jacob Astor was the first prominent member of the Astor family and the first multi-millionaire in the United States. A German immigrant, Astor came to America after the Revolutionary War and built a fur-trading empire. Astor, along with his wife Sarah Todd, lived frugally, and were devoted almost exclusively to making money. In 1804, Astor purchased a lease on Manhattan property from Aaron Burr. At the time, Burr was serving as vice president under Thomas Jefferson and desperately needed the purchase price of $62,500. Astor began subdividing the land into nearly 250 lots and subleased them. This is one of those original signed leases. His obituary printed in the New York Herald stated that Astor “exhibited at best but the ingenious powers of a self-invented money-making machine.”




Birth of the National Reporter System

In 1872, John B. West and his brother, Horatio began selling law treatises, legal forms, and dictionaries in St. Paul, Minnesota. One of their early publications was a lawyers guide to the Minnesota court rules in Swedish. In 1876, The Syllabi, a weekly pamphlet of legal excerpts and forerunner to the National Reporter System, was launched by West. Just six months later the North Western Reporter replaced The Syllabi. In 1879 West announced the first of its regional reporters, with the familiar title of Northwestern Reporter that covered Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan and the Dakota territory. In two years The Supreme Court Reporter and the Federal Reporter followed and by 1885 West began publishing four regional reporters, assuring nationwide coverage for its subscribers. By 1893 West described itself as “one of the largest publishing houses of any kind in the country.”


James Kent Signed Documents

James Kent was one of the nation’s first great jurists and legal scholars. He is best known for serving as Chancellor of the State of New York and for his tenure as Columbia’s first professor of law. He was also author of the landmark treatise,Commentaries on American Law. These early 19th century licenses to practice law were presented to Abraham P. Holdridge, who would go on to become a judge in Columbia County.

 james kent

Wigmore, John Henry. A panorama of the world’s legal systems / by John Henry Wigmore, with five hundred illustrations. Saint Paul: West Pub. Co., 192

  pope gregory

Autographed by the author, there were nineteen hundred and ninety copies printed of this scarce first edition. The copy on display is numbered 113. Wigmore examines the sixteen principal legal systems, past and present, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Hebrew, Chinese, Hindu, Greek, Roman, Japanese, Mohammedan, Keltic, Slavic, Germanic, maritime, ecclesiastical, Romanesque, and Anglican. The illustration shown, one of 500 in the book, is of the painting by Raphael in the Vatican depicting Pope Gregory IX issuing the papal rulings. One of the most prized possessions in the City Bar’s collection is a very rare 1498 copy of Pope Gregory’s Decretals.


 Harris B. Steinberg Cartoon

steinbergThis amusing cartoon was drawn by noted attorney Harris B. Steinberg. Steinberg was considered a "legend of the New York Bar." He served as president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (1960-1961) and chair of the Association’s Executive Committee (1961-1962). He was dramatic in the courtroom; a master caricaturist who could produce cartoons on-the-spot using charcoal on large sheets of paper. This was a useful talent in the days well before Powerpoint presentations. He died of brain cancer in 1969 at the age of 57. Justice Burger described Mr. Steinberg as,”exemplifying the best of the traditions of the American criminal defense lawyer.”


Vietnam Peace Treaty Pen  vietnam pen

The Vietnam Peace Agreement was signed in Paris on January 27, 1973. Secretary of State William P. Rogers wrote his name 62 times on documents providing a settlement for one of the most divisive foreign wars in America's history. This gift, donated to the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, is one of the many pens used to sign the treaty. It is a Sheaffer Touchdown Imperial desk style fountain pen in black with a white dot and a 14 kt gold inlaid nib in extra fine point.


Richard Tuske, Director of the Library