Where to find law memorabilia?
February 6, 2007 1:39 PM   Subscribe

Collectibles/antiques/memoribilia relating to law and legal practice. Where to find/buy?

I am thinking original manuscripts of famous legal cases (if such manuscripts exist), letters by famous judges or participants, first editions of famous law books or discussions, or possibly even artefacts. I am mostly interested in civil law memorabilia from common law countries and not interested in law enforcement memorabilia (but you might as well include that stuff here in case anybody else is and comes across this thread).
posted by DirtyCreature to Law & Government (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Estate sales. My friend is an antiques dealer/collector in Houston who scours estate sales, and always finds letters and other legal documents. If you get lucky and hit the estate of a judge or lawyer you'll find paydirt.
posted by Brittanie at 2:48 PM on February 6, 2007

most of those items seem to be in the $2K and up range, and usually way up. A letter from a participant in a famous case, first editions of famous books and significant artifacts will run you several thousand at the least. Further, each of those types of items can usually be found in a different sort of shop or sale. You can dedicate yourself to scouring the world for random jewels, but it'll be hard to find things unless you focus in on collections of people who participated in or were related to your historical interests. Besides the laws and society they helped to form, ephemera (or, paper) is really all that survives of important legal cases and precedents. And because that is all that is left, this type of ephemera has great symbolic value, and thus is prized by not only collectors but educational institutions, governments and those who created the documents. Such documents won't necessarily be hard to find, it's more about price.
posted by Salvatorparadise at 4:54 PM on February 6, 2007

Salvatorparadise: " Such documents won't necessarily be hard to find, it's more about price."

Any suggestions of where to start looking?
posted by DirtyCreature at 5:19 PM on February 6, 2007

Antique publications such as Maine Antiques Digest, which I think is one of the best, are a good place to start looking for sales that will suit your interests


I would also contact the major auction houses such as sotheby's, christie's, bonham's, Cowan's, Garth's etc. and also look to regional auction houses, let them know what you're looking for and get on their mailing lists.

Familiarize yourself with the markets, and then wait for sales that interest you. Attend, or bid online, and off you go.

For a more expensive but less time consuming alternative, seek out rare book and manuscript dealers. You can also put them on the lookout for you.

Most good dealers have a slew of people they're working with who put them 'on the lookout' for whatever...

beware of forgeries and fakes, they're all over the place...i was going to say ebay is a fun place to look for documents, but before spending big bucks learn about signs of forgery, employ experts and always examine closely before buying...

this is truly a buyer beware field...
posted by Salvatorparadise at 5:44 PM on February 6, 2007

Well for the books you can start with Abebooks.If it's being sold, it's on Abe. An excellent source for rare and unusual books.

There are quite a few auction houses that deal in autographs of the kind you're looking for. One of my favorites is RR Auction. They usually have an incredible selection of consignments and (the best part) is you can bid online.

I have no idea where you live but there is someone in your town that owns what you're looking for. It's just a matter of letting them know you're looking for it and you want to buy it. There are two ways that I find work best.

One is the good old fashioned "wanted to buy" ad in the local newspaper. You'd be amazed what people will call you with (oh yea, both good and bad). Before you place any ads, have a business card printed up that says what you're buying and your phone number. Every call you go on give the person at least three cards. I've had people call me years after I've given them a card.

The other is to find out who are the local antique dealers and pickers. Go to the antique shops and drop off your new business card. If you go to your local flea markets early in the morning you'll see the real antique pickers at work. Not the people selling at the flea market but the people buying at the market. Every flea has at least a dozen dealers who regularly work the market.... buying antiques. Introduce yourself and give them your new card. They will find you great stuff.

Drop off your card at the local auction houses. You can find nearby auctions by going to Auctionzip and doing a zip code search. Go to a few of the auctions. Talk to the people who run the auction. Give them your card tell them what you're looking for. See who is buying paper goods at the auction and ...yep, give them your card.

Antiques are a people business. The more people who know you and what you look for, the more "good stuff" you'll see.

The average collectors are the ones who spend all day on Ebay searching for things that slip through the cracks.

The good collector is the who networks and isn't afraid to put some time and effort into building the collection.

The great collector is obsessed to the point of lunacy.

The amazing collectors are (usually and unfortunately) people who have enough money to hire someone to do the collecting for them.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 6:46 PM on February 6, 2007

And be patient - you might come up with one prized piece a year, but a really great collection will take a lifetime
posted by Salvatorparadise at 7:15 PM on February 6, 2007

I was at Sam Weller Books in Salt Lake City week before last, and I did visit the legal section. They've got lots of old legal books in a back room downstairs.

Sam Weller has an online presence here. A phone call would probably be a good place to start.
posted by SlyBevel at 7:31 AM on February 7, 2007

« Older Earbuds and the law, state by state   |   how to ask neighbor to be quiet Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.