The Brune Room

About Judge Frederick W. Brune - 1894-1972

Images from the Special Collections Named for Judge Frederick W. Brune (1894-1972), the Brune Room houses the Thurgood Marshall Law Library's collection of rare legal books from all eras of American history. The Brune Room's primary resource, the Donaldson Collection, consists of legal literature from the colonial period through the 19th century. The Donaldson Collection was donated by Judge Brune to honor his uncle and mentor John J. Donaldson. More about the history of the Brune Room

Important works in the rare book collection include copies of Lilly's Practical Register (1710); Brownlow's Declarations and Pleadings (1653); A Treatise of Tenures (1794); Law of the Seas (1818); and Hall's Office and Authority of a Justice of the Peace in the State of Maryland (1815).

The rare book collection also holds a complete collection of early Maryland statutes and a full set of The Archives of Maryland; material on the history of the University of Maryland School of Law including course catalogs, yearbooks, grade books from the 19th century; a near complete run of the Raven, and commencement addresses; and a collection of material written by the Law School's founder David Hoffman.

Through additional gifts and the transfer of pre-1830 American imprints from the general collection, the Library's special collections has grown to include over one thousand items including a growing collection of digital and manuscript material devoted to African American practitioners.

The unique resources of the Thurgood Marshall Law Library may be found by searching the Catalog. The Special Collections of the Brune Room are open without fee to students, faculty and staff of the University System of Maryland and Affiliated Institutions (USMAI), and members of the public for non-circulating, in-house use.  Access to the Brune Room is by appointment only.  For more information or to make an appointment, please contact Special Collections in the Library. 

Judge Frederick W. Brune - 1894-1972

Judge Brune was a distinguished citizen of Baltimore. His early education was at the Country School for Boys (now Gilman School). After completing his first year of college at Johns Hopkins University, he transferred to Harvard where he took his B.A. and entered the law school. Between his second and third years of law study, Judge Brune entered the military service and served in a World War I ambulance unit in France. By the end of the war he was an officer in U.S. Army Intelligence.

After graduating from Harvard Law School and gaining a perfect score on the Maryland Bar Examination, Judge Brune entered the practice of law in Baltimore. Between 1923 and 1927 he was a partner in Coleman, Fell, Morgan and Brune. In 1927 the firm became Morgan and Brune; however, the next year the firm merged with Semmes, Bowen and Semmes, the firm with which he remained associated until his appointment to the court in 1954. He served as Chief Judge on the Court of Appeals of Maryland for ten years.

Judge Brune's public service was broad and demanding. He served on the Board of Overseers of Harvard University, was President of the Maryland Historical Society and served on the boards of Goucher College, Union Memorial and the Maryland School for the Blind. After retirement he immersed himself in the revision of the state criminal code, serving as Commission Chairman at the time of his death.

After Judge Brune's parents died when he was a young boy, he went to live with his uncle, John J. Donaldson, a prominent local attorney. It was Mr. Donaldson's personal library, much of it inherited from his family, on which Judge Brune built his excellent collection of legal materials. In his bequest of his library to the Law School, Judge Brune requested that the books be kept and identified as the Donaldson Collection. These books form the basis of the Library's developing collection of early legal publications.

The John Johnston Donaldson Collection

When Judge Brune undertook the study and practice of law, he had in hand an historical collection of legal literature stretching back to the colonial period.

The collection was begun by Judge Brune's ancestor, Samuel Johnston, born August 7, 1707. He practiced law through the Revolution and was still acquiring law books in 1791. The works purchased by Johnston were primarily of English and Irish origin and tended to be of practical nature, what we would today call "How to" books, since little in the way of substantive law was published until the latter part of the 18th century. The 1710 edition of Lilly's important edition of Style's Practical Register and the 1712 work, The Infant's Lawyer are good examples of the practice book. Sir Robert Heath's Maxims and Rules of Pleading, 1771 and the famous Brownlow's Declarations and Pleadings, 1653 were standard 17th and 18th century titles Johnston acquired. A singularly important title in the collection is the Irish publication, A Treaties of Tenures, 1754, by Lord Gilbert, said to influence Blackstone and the entire corpus of 18th century legal literature.

Law reports were from the high courts of England and Johnston's collection had the notable Dumford's Reports of Cases… in the Court of King's Bench, 1791-1800 and Salkeld's 1742 Reports from the same court. Sir George Croke's Reports, published in Norman French, and translated by Sir Harebotle Grimston in 1657, is in the collection, as are the famous Blackstone Reports which provide a quite admirable representation of English decisions.

Lord Gilbert's treatises, such as those on equity, distress and replevin, and contracts, were said by Holdsworth to be the best texts on legal topics from the 18th century. At least five titles by Gilbert are in the Johnston collection. In 1787 Mr. Johnston acquired the just-published Laws of Maryland, one of the first compilations of Maryland statutes. This work is recognized for it accuracy, completeness and masterful printing. It is the work of Frederick Green of Annapolis.

Mr. Johnston's collection passed to a nephew, Thomas Donaldson, who apparently had the use of it very briefly. He enriched it through the acquisition of Plowden's Commentaries, 1779, together with contemporary law reports. An English statute of 1731 changed language of legal records from Latin to English, creating a need for new books on pleading. While Donaldson had purchased the classic 1657 Hearne's Pleader, he also acquired the more popular Ever's A System of Pleading, 1771, and English translation of a recognized Norman French practice book.

In the early 19th century, the collection passed first to John J. Donaldson who began acquiring the ever-expanding American legal literature. Desty's Manual of Practice in the Courts of the United States, 1877, was one of the first practical works on federal practice. Jacobsen's Law of the Seas, Baltimore, 1818 and the first American edition of Beames' Elements of Pleas in Equity, 1824 were examples of early American legal publication and the continued demand to adapt important English texts to American needs. Mr. Donaldson continued to acquire some English books, but emphasized the increasingly popular American writings.

By 1830 the collection was in the hands of Samuel Donaldson, who practiced for at least fifty years and greatly expanded the collection. As the law became more elaborate, books on special topics, such as Jones, An Essay on the Law of Bailments, 1804, became more common. One unique and very scarce title he purchased is William West's The First Book of Symbolaeography, 1594 which explains the art of drafting extra-judicial instruments.


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