West’s Words, Ho! Law Books by the Million, Plus a Few

Green Bag 2d, Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 301-339, Spring 2011

George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 11-26

40 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2011 Last revised: 29 Jun 2011

See all articles by Ross E. Davies

Ross E. Davies

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty; The Green Bag

Date Written: June 1, 2011


This essay introduces an interesting but nearly invisible artifact of American law: a promotional pamphlet titled Law Books by the Million: An Account of the Largest Law-Book House in the World, - the Home Establishment of the National Reporter System and the American Digest System. It was produced by the West Publishing Company in 1901 and is reprinted in its entirety below at pages 311 to 339 of this issue of the Green Bag. Professor Robert Jarvis has quite rightly bemoaned the meager public information about John West, founder of the West Publishing Company and an important figure in American legal history. A similar, albeit less severe, paucity of information plagues the West Publishing Company itself (now owned by Thomson Reuters). There isn’t much out there about the company’s early years, and what little there is can be strangely difficult to get hold of. For example, the biggest single source of West history – William Marvin’s 1969 book, West Publishing Company: Origin, Growth, Leadership – is out of print, rare, and not available on the Internet. The same goes for The Publications of West Publishing Company and The Romance of Law Reporting: Serving the Bench and Bar, pamphlets published by West in 1901 and 1934 respectively. Law Books by the Million is nearly as hard to find, but at least it is in the library and in the public domain, and therefore susceptible to reproduction here. And it is worth the trouble and expense. Law Books by the Million provides a readable, richly illustrated narrative of the processes West used to create and disseminate its products in the early years (that is, the late 19th and early 20th centuries) of those simultaneously democratizing and costly, mutually reinforcing revolutions in American law: the expansion of the bar and the legal information explosion.

Keywords: Eagan, Giveaways, Justice James T. Mitchell, John Marshall, Lawrence Friedman, Marketing, Medallions, Memorabilia, Minnesota, Paperweights, Playing Cards, Promotions, Reporters, Robert Berring, St. Paul, Stress Toy Videos, Syllabi, Tchotchkes, Thomas Woxland, Travel Mugs, United States Code Annotate

JEL Classification: A20, C15, C80, C93, D71, D72, K00, K20, K21, K23, K40, L82

Suggested Citation

Davies, Ross E., West’s Words, Ho! Law Books by the Million, Plus a Few (June 1, 2011). Green Bag 2d, Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 301-339, Spring 2011, George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 11-26, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1856710

Ross E. Davies (Contact Author)

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