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Published: Thursday, 10/7/2004

Tracing the path to law and order


It's rare books gone wild at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

Freed for a time from their usual, lonely confines, a collection of more than 30 historic materials tracing the evolution of law in the region - some dating to the 18th century - are on display in the library's main branch downtown.

Called, "From the Wild, Wild West to Law and Order: The Evolution of the Law in the Northwest Territory," the free exhibit is open through Nov. 29 in The Blade Rare Book Room on the library's third floor.

The exhibit is the first to have an extended stay in the rare book room, and it is one of particular significance to Library Director Clyde Scoles.

"With our emphasis on northwest Ohio history, the materials fit very nicely into our collection," he said. "It's the past. It's the baseline for which we draw our history, our literature, what we are, and what we have become."

The books on display in glass cases follow the development of law in the region from 1750, when much of what is now Ohio was claimed by Connecticut, to 1868, when the Toledo Police Force initially was organized. Among the offenses noted in the police force's laws and regulations: "Hanging upon or placing any article against, or hitching any animal to any public lamp-post."

Most of the materials are on loan from the personal collection of John Robinson Block, The Blade's publisher and editor-in-chief. The rest are rarely seen items from the library's holdings. A pamphlet provides descriptions and context for each of the materials.

One highlight for library officials is a rare copy of what is known as the Maxwell Code, so-named because it was published by a printer of that name in Cincinnati in 1796. It contains the criminal and civil legal code for the Northwest Territory.

"Maxwell's Code is so important not only because of its legal importance but because it was the first book printed within the boundaries of what became Ohio," said Michael W. Lora, curator of rare books.

Another eye-catcher is the journal of the Lucas County commissioners that begins with their first meeting in 1835. It is a hefty tome filled with beautiful flowing script handwriting.

Mr. Scoles said the library eventually hopes to have five or six exhibits each year. Now that it has a rare book room with the proper climate controls, fire suppression systems, and security, it should be easier to attract both local and national materials, he said.

When the library kicked off the exhibit last month, it used the occasion to announce the formation of its Antiquarian Society, whose goal is to increase attention to and understanding of preserving books, and to add to the library's rare book collection.

Jamie Black, a member of the society with his wife, Ellen, had high praise for the exhibit. The items on display, while sometimes yellowed with age, allow those interested in the area's history to understand what is in place now by seeing the first laws.

Just as important, he said, "I think it's marvelous whenever anyone is willing to share their collection."

Dr. Louis Ravin was a visitor to the collection and dubbed it "an excellent exhibit."

"I'm 90 years of age, I've lived in this area all my life, and I was interested in [the subject matter,]" he said. "It was displayed well and you could actually read the pages in the book."

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:


or 419-724-6103.

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