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Kitty Preyer and Her Books

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Exhibit slide 1First Wall Case (labeled Cabinet II):


“I was a bookish child and one entranced by my father’s tales – whether true or fanciful – of the participation of family forebears in notable events of the nation’s past. Perhaps it is not surprising that my professional career became that of historian. Over the course of time my scholarship turned toward American legal history in the early national period following the American Revolution.


Book collecting began when I happened upon, for a modest price, a first printing of a famous 17th-century English trial, long a personal favorite. Shortly after this happy occurrence, I acquired an 18th-century American edition of Beccaria’s Essay on Crime and Punishment, a work central to my scholarship at the time. I thereby freed myself a bit from the constraints of doing my research in the special collections of law libraries. The bug had bitten!


My broad interest as a legal historian lies in the various ways in which English law became altered in the post-Revolutionary United States and the means by which knowledge about the law spread to an audience far beyond that of bench and bar. My collection parallels these interests as the examples shown, I hope, will illustrate.”

- Kathryn Conway (“Kitty”) Preyer, 2002


Giles Jacob. Law Grammar; or Rudiments of the Law. 3rd ed. London, 1754 (top shelf, right).

“Well, I am just thrilled with my little Law Grammar on which I have spent so much (for me, anyway!). A very small volume, designed for students, it has a homemade leather binding . . . you would be horrified but I am delighted.”

- Letter from Kitty to John Gordan

James Parker. Conductor Generalis, or, The Office, Duty and Authority of Justices of the Peace. New York, 1788 (top shelf, left).

“The office of Justice of the Peace was central to the English system of justice and equally important in the American colonies. Such legal manuals as this one set out the duties of the justices and supplied forms necessary to their work such as those for recognizances and warrants. An important and popular genre, the manuals were based on English sources and included relevant local statutes. I was delighted to find this post-Revolution copy still in its ‘frontier’ binding.”

- Kitty Preyer, 2002

Commenting on the book’s home-sewn “frontier binding,” Kitty wrote, “I feel sure I am the only person who would pay real money for this but I love it!”

- Letter from Kitty to John Gordan

Cesare Beccaria. An Essay on Crimes and Punishments. 2nd American ed. Philadelphia, 1778 (bottom shelf).

This is one of the first law books Kitty bought. She eventually owned Beccaria’s essay in several English, Italian and American editions, which are on display elsewhere in this room.

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