The 1828 Catalogue Project

Time and fire scattered many of the original editions that lined the Rotunda shelves. But in the 1980s, Marsha Trimble, the former Special Collections Librarian at the University of Virginia Law Library, began collecting copies of the law books listed in the 1828 Catalogue.  Since then, Law Archives staff have continued her efforts. Today the Law Library’s 1828 Catalogue Collection includes 336 of the original 369 legal titles. Although none of these books are the originals that once sat in the Rotunda Library, they are exact duplicate copies. Each comes with its own interesting history, provenance, and unique marginalia, providing yet another rich avenue for research. The physical copies of the 1828 Catalogue Collection are housed within the Law Library’s rare book room and form a part of the Library’s broader collection of roughly 10,000 rare books.

Since 2012 the UVA Law Library has worked to construct a digital archive to supplement its physical collection. In 2017, Law Special Collections received a grant from the Jefferson Trust, an alumni organization of the University of Virginia, to digitize our entire 1828 Catalogue Collection and make this historical library available to a broad audience on the web. When this grant-funded work is complete, users will be able to search and explore the Library’s 1828 Catalogue Collection through an interactive Virtual Bookshelf tool.

The Virtual Bookshelf makes these titles more accessible than they ever were in Jefferson’s time. Built using Drupal, an open-source content management system, the site features a user-friendly bookshelf interface that sits atop a robust database of rich metadata.  From a visual standpoint, the bookshelf interface recreates the law books as they would have appeared on the Rotunda shelves in 1828.  From here, researchers can interrogate individual books or the collection as a whole.  Each title is full‑text searchable, downloadable (.pdf or text file), and equipped with detailed bibliographic information. Moreover, researchers can search across the entire collection using a variety of filters such as publication location, date, author, or purchase location.  Those interested in Jefferson’s vision for legal education can further filter to see if a specific title in the 1828 Catalogue appeared in Jefferson’s 1825 wish list for the library. Based on these filters, the site highlights those books that match the search criteria, allowing users to see their results relative to the entire collection. With such a rich database of metadata, the Virtual Bookshelf of the 1828 Catalogue Collection will be useful to researchers interested in law, historical scholarship, bibliographic studies, text mining, and data science. 

In the future, the site will feature interpretative essays that examine the historical significance of select titles in the Catalogue. Additionally, the bibliographic data for each title will include links to instances in which Jefferson mentioned the work. Jefferson repeatedly referenced the legal texts featured in the 1828 Catalogue throughout his letters and other writings. By cross-referencing these writings with digital editions of the texts, researchers will have an even better understanding of Jefferson’s vision for legal training in the early American republic. 

Writing in 1821, Jefferson lamented the difficulty of obtaining books. They were often “too distant and difficult to access for students and writers generally.” With this open-access digital archive, the University of Virginia Law Library seeks to democratize access to these historical books, enabling anyone interested in them to peruse their contents, query their metadata, and study the foundational works of early American law.  

A note on methodology

The 1828 Catalogue, printed by Gilmer, Davis, and Company, is the basis of this virtual library.  It lists abbreviated bibliographic data for the texts held by UVA at the time of its printing, including 375 law titles.  In most instances, this data includes the last name of the author, an abridged title, the publication location, the publication date, the number of volumes held by UVA, and the size of those volumes (i.e. folio, octavo, etc.). When we began this project, this data was crucial to identifying the volumes and editions that lined the Rotunda’s shelves in 1828.

That being said, this bibliographic data is imperfect. Authors' names are misspelled, and publication dates differ. Numbers were inverted in several instances. Some titles are misdated by decades. In one case, the publication location and date are absent entirely. These inconsistencies could be the product of any number of individuals, including the University Librarian who recorded the information; the typesetters of Gilmer, Davis, and Company; or the typesetters of the books themselves. 

Rather than repeat the printing mistakes of the 1828 Catalogue, the “Catalogue Short Titles” used throughout this website reflect—to the best of our knowledge—accurate bibliographic data of the titles that the University of Virginia held when the Catalogue was printed in 1828.  (For those interested in the misprinted text, it can be found in the “Notes” field of the corresponding title and/or volume.) This means that the short titles also reflect the physical 1828 Catalogue collection held by UVA Law Special Collections.  Since the 1980s, the law library staff has been collecting exact duplicate copies of titles listed in the 1828 Catalogue.  This website supplements this physical collection with digital scans of the texts we have in our possession. 

To resolve the inconsistencies of the 1828 Catalogue, we consulted the title and/or volume in question and cross-referenced the bibliographic data against that listed in other UVA catalogs. Small Special Collections has three other nineteenth-century catalogs in its collections.  These three catalogs, unlike the one printed by Gilmer, Davis, and Company, are in manuscript form.  They date to May 1825, June 1825, and 1857.  John Kean, the first University Librarian, created the May 1825 catalog to keep track of books as they arrived at UVA.  The June 1825 catalog was created by Jefferson for use by Cummings, Hilliard, & Company, the booksellers charged with purchasing books for the university.

The 1857 Catalog, despite postdating the 1828 Catalogue by nearly three decades, has proved especially valuable.  It was created by University Librarian Thomas B. Holcombe to enable future librarians to document the library’s expanding collections, and it includes more comprehensive bibliographic data than the 1828 Catalogue. For example, it enabled us to determine why the 1828 Catalogue lists “Coke upon Littleton” by Hargrave and Thomas as a six-volume set instead of a three-volume set.  The 1857 listing for the Coke title indicates that someone had cataloged three other titles (Coke’s SecondThird, and Fourth Institutesas a six-volume set alongside his First Institutes.  The 1857 catalog even lists how each title was numerated within the six-volume set.  

In choosing to be true to the bibliographic data of the physical collection rather than the bibliographic data printed in the 1828 Catalogue, we hope that this website is optimized to assist researchers in their study of early American law and legal education.

A digital scan of the 1828 Catalogue is available here.

Project Team:


Jim Ambuske, Ph.D. (Digital Historian, The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington)

Randi Flaherty, Ph.D. (Special Collections Librarian)

Loren Moulds, Ph.D. (Digital Collections Librarian)


Cecilia Brown

Research, Interpretation, and Development:

Mary Draper, Ph.D.

Susanna Klosko, Ph.D.


Adele McInerney, M.A.

Heeseok Joo

Jeremy Lofthouse

Alderman Library Technical Support:

Michael Durbin

Louis Foster


Bill Kennedy (Agile Humanities)

Dean Irvine (Agile Humanities)

Law Library Director:

Amy Wharton

Past Contributors:

Special Collections Librarian:

Marsha Trimble

Research and Interpretation:

Melissa J. Gismondi, Ph.D.

Kelly Fleming, Ph.D.

Philip Herrington, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Ladner

Cannon Lane


Amber Anglada

Jeannie Kim

Law Library Director:

Taylor Fitchett