Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Personal Library Is Up for Auction

The late Supreme Court justice’s collection includes novels, law books, notes and other documents dating back to her youth

2013 photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her judicial robes
The Bonhams sale features more than 1,000 books from the late Supreme Court justice's personal library. Photo by Nikki Kahn / The Washington Post via Getty Images

More than 1,000 books from the personal collection of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg are up for auction at Bonhams. The trove features legal textbooks, photos, feminist literature and other documents spanning some 60 years of Ginsburg’s career, reports Harriet Sherwood for the Guardian.

“A person’s library can give us a sense of who the individual is and how she came to be,” says Catherine Williamson, director of Bonhams’ book department, in a statement. “Justice Ginsburg’s library is no different, as it records her evolution from student (and voracious reader) to lawyer and law professor, to judge and finally, justice of the United States Supreme Court.”

Williamson tells People’s Aaron Parsley that a mutual acquaintance connected Bonhams with the Ginsburg family, which offered the auction house the justice’s library after her death in September 2020.

“They found institutional homes for a lot of her things,” Williamson adds. “The Supreme Court archives have a tremendous amount of her material. … What we have are the books that were on the library shelves in the D.C. apartment after other things were dispersed to institutions.”

Harvard Law Review Book
Ginsburg’s annotated edition of the 1957–58 Harvard Law Review is expected to fetch between $2,500 and $3,500.  Bonhams

Items in the collection include such novels as J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye; Toni Morrison’s Beloved, with a personal note from the author to Ginsburg and her husband, Marty; and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Also up for sale are works by Leo Tolstoy and Alexis de Tocqueville, as well as annotated tomes from the justice’s time as a Harvard University law student.

“I was hoping I would find law books,” Williamson tells People. “I was hoping I would find books that were important in her career.”

A highlight of the auction is a first edition of feminist activist Gloria Steinem’s 2015 memoir, My Life on the Road, with an inscription that reads, “To dearest Ruth—who paved the road for us all—with a lifetime of love and gratitude—Gloria.” Per Daniel Cassady of the Art Newspaper, the sale also includes books authored by fellow Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor, Neil Gorsuch and Antonin Scalia.

Ginsburg’s personal copy of My Own Words—a collection of her writings and speeches from eighth grade onward—is estimated to fetch between $1,000 and $2,000. According to the lot listing, the “deluxe” edition was created especially for the justice and features her personal bookplate.

Online bidding for the auction, which features approximately 100 lots, closes on January 27.

A copy of The Columbia Journal of Law and Arts pamphlet next to handwritten notes on a sheet of lined notebook paper
Ginsburg’s handwritten notes Bonhams

Ginsburg died of pancreatic cancer on September 18, 2020, at the age of 87. A highly accomplished jurist, she weighed in on some of the most significant Supreme Court cases in modern American history, including United States v. Virginia and Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. During her 27 years on the bench, she advocated for reproductive and civil rights, education, and gender equality; later in life, the justice became a pop culture icon, earning the nickname “Notorious R.B.G.” and inspiring books, a documentary and a 2018 biopic titled On the Basis of Sex.

Born in Brooklyn in 1933, Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School in 1956 as one of only nine women in her class. (She later transferred to Columbia to complete her degree.) In 1972, she joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as the founding director of the organization’s Women’s Rights Project. In this role, Ginsburg assisted with 34 Supreme Court cases, winning five of the six cases she argued in front of the court, according to the ACLU website. President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court in 1993, making her only the second woman to serve in the nation’s highest judicial body.

“I tell the law students … if you’re going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, well, you have a skill, so you’re very much like a plumber,” said Ginsburg at a Stanford University conference in 2017. “If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself, … something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you.”

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