Trading Old Law Books in 2014: A Booksellers Perspective


For centuries, law professors and lawyers have built large private law libraries all over Europe. These were indispensable for the study of the law, especially customary law. Until recently, their libraries also included books published in the 16th, 17th  and 18th  century. Many elderly professors donated their libraries to universities or passed their books on to their most promising students. Occasionally, these private libraries went up for sale, often at an auction. In the Netherlands, in the last century, the auctions of classical & legal books by Burgersdijk & Niermans in Leiden usually attracted a full house of dedicated buyers. Collecting legal books, to build a quality library, was a tradition, making the hunt for the books a very important secondary matter for many.

Blog by Hans Schokkenbroek, Antiquariaat de Kloof & Scientia Verlag; Member of the NVVA, Dutch Antiquarian Society; Limmerick 7, 1046 AR Amsterdam, Netherlands

In the 20th century, the trade in antiquarian legal books was slow, but steady, because of the constant interest in Roman law, History of Law and Jurisprudence. For books published in the 15th-18th century the 1960s became a golden age for trading these books, since jurists became wealthier and could afford to buy such books again. In the same period, university libraries in the US started to collect European books, including law books, in an unprecedented way never seen before. Japanese and European libraries followed later. As a result, in the Netherlands, Jongbloed  in The Hague grew from an antiquarian law bookshop into the main supplier of all legal books in the Netherlands. The owner, K.P. Jongbloed, himself build an impressive collection of editions by Hugo Grotius, beautifully described by A. Knigge in Rvit Hora (1997), only surpassed by the – almost complete - Grotius collection in the Peace Palace Library in The Hague.

As the new owner of Antiquariaat de Kloof, founded by Jaap Buijs, I started to buy law books at the end of the 1980s, selling them in a bookshop, located in a 16th century Amsterdam canal house next to the University of Amsterdam, with a stock of over 200.000 academic books.  During the years, we bought numerous private libraries of lawyers, public legal officials and law professors in the Netherlands. Many had a separate study with 3 or 4 walls covered with law books, containing their professional and intellectual interest. Besides Dutch law books, many Latin, German and French books were obtained this way, and sold by catalogues to scholarly customers throughout Europe. Now we closed our shop and we sell only through the internet via our website. On the internet it is possible to sell our ever expanding stock of common, unusual and rare law books throughout the world continuously. In 2007, we acquired the German publisher Scientia Verlag Aalen, widely known for their fine reprints of hard-to-get classic law books.

In the Netherlands, until the 1970s, law students had to be trained in Latin and the basics of Roman Law. For many jurists, this stimulated a life-long interest in the study of ancient legal systems and their peculiarities. Latin was the lingua franca of jurists all over the world, and the international understanding of it made the study of law, its foundations, principles and history universal.

Today the study of the History of Law and Jurisprudence is often neglected. University professors teaching Roman Law, History of Law or Jurisprudence are not always succeeded and courses in these subjects are marginal. Not many law students are able to read Latin, and they are not trained nor required to read the basic texts on the History of Law and Philosophy of Law anymore.

In spite of this, the Peace Palace in the Netherlands for example and the Max-Planck-Institutes in Germany have become very important. These institutions continue to collect, research and digitalize old law books and manuscripts, making them available in their libraries and disclosing them on the internet for a worldwide audience.