University of Cincinnati Law Review


Court and litigation operations are opaque in the best of times, and the lack of explanatory Nineteenth Century legal records makes it even more difficult to learn how lawyers and judges went about their business. This may be one of the reasons there are so few accounts detailing the nuts and bolts of 1800s law practice. This Article illuminates the development of litigation and the law in the middle of the Nineteenth Century by examining archival court and Patent Office records.

Most accounts of the time focus either on judicial opinions or the relationship of the parties, but few articles focus on how the lawyers and courts went about their business. Unlike today, when court documents are easily available and often widely published, in the 1800s,litigation documents were not generally published. We have unearthed examples to learn about the way lawyers and courts worked in the past.

Our journey to investigate the workings of lawyers and courts is facilitated by the apple parer, a kitchen tool of varying complexity designed to peel and sometimes slice apples. Using the first few cases involving parers, this Article examines the details of how legal practice and precedent were formed in a world without the modern technologies that facilitate our communication. The battle between manufacturers to protect apple parer designs gives a detailed peek behind the dusty opinions we read today.

Our newly acquired archival records yield insights that would be unthinkable today: a lawyer arguing a case before his brother, the judge; printed form complaints with handwritten party names; a learned treatise author omitting the key precedent in briefing; a lawyer testifying about communications with his client; and much more.