A not uncommon question of us at the library is “What is your oldest book?” It seems like an easy question to answer, but are we talking strictly about treatises? Law reports? Legislation? What about that some of our oldest “material” (which for us is always judicial decisions) are reprints – reprints that are well over 100 years old, mind you – and not the “original” publication? Not so simple a question!

But, for this post, if we’re taking legislation and law reports out of the equation, the oldest book in our library is:


Archbold’s Summary of the Law Relating to Pleading and Evidence in Criminal Cases, 5th American Edition, 1846.

I feel like if this blog could have sound effects, then this particular reveal would be met with a giant and unsatisfying clunk, as this certainly isn’t some charming and unusual relic of a bygone era. The Archbold is still published by Sweet and Maxwell (the Carswell outfit in the UK), and is currently released as an annual title (and, of course, is now also available online). It was originally published in 1822, and has long been considered the leading British text on criminal law. We’ve seen our lawyers move to using Canadian texts on criminal practice and procedure almost exclusively, but when the CCLA Library was founded in the late 1880s, this book would have been a critically important title. It appears that someone donated their copy of this to the library (that squiggle at the top right corner certainly looks like the signature of the previous owner to me) – do you think they had any idea that this book would be in the library almost 130 years later? At some point this book was sent out for re-binding, so it is actually in pretty fantastic condition for a book that is 170 years old. If you want to take a flip through it, just ask at the desk and we can get it for you! We’d strongly suggest, however, that you don’t rely on this for your research.

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