Working closely with the Curator of the Supreme Court of the United States, the Society seeks to identify and obtain — through deed of gift or purchase — items of particular relevance to the Court. Special emphasis is placed on acquiring unique items and items that fill gaps in the Court’s existing collection. The collection includes pieces of furniture, decorative items and artwork, original antique newspaper clippings, historic photographs and drawings, diaries, scrapbooks, ledgers, histories, biographies, genealogies, maps, audio and video recordings of oral history interviews, color slides and films. Items owned by the Society are used in the Supreme Court Building itself and are utilized in exhibits mounted for the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Supreme Court Building. Some of the graphic arts items are used as illustrations in publications produced by the Society.
The collection is processed, cataloged, preserved and stored according to current archival practices by the members of the Office of the Curator of the Court. The items in the collection are available for research and interpretive needs. Work is underway to provide a database for these materials that will be accessible through the internet.
In concert with the collections portion of the Acquisitions program, the Society has commissioned portraits of past and recent Justices to provide images of all members of the Court. Many of these portraits are displayed in public areas of the Supreme Court Building. In addition, the Society has provided funds to enable the maintenance of portraits and other items in the collection.
Past special projects include the manufacture of scale models of the current Supreme Court Chamber and the Restored Supreme Court Chamber where the Court sat in the US Capitol Building. Costs associated with the production of these models were paid by the Society. The models are displayed in the Lower Great Hall for visitors to view.
Below are samples of the items acquired by the Supreme Court Historical Society:
Silhouette of Chief Justice John Marshall, c. 1840-1890
Framed anonymous hollow-cut silhouette of Chief Justice John Marshall, depicted in his robes and sitting in a chair, facing right, holding a sheaf of papers out in front of him. Written below in faded ink is “John Marshall/Chief Justice U.S.”
Pencil Sketch of Charles Evans Hughes, c. 1939-1941
Lightly drawn bust-length pencil sketch of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes by Austrian artist Oskar Stoessel. It is probably a preliminary sketch, drawn from life, for Stoessel’s etching of Hughes, a copy of which was acquired through the Supreme Court Historical Society in 2006. Hughes’ face has been drawn and shaded in detail while his shirt collar and tie are barely rendered. Signed in pencil is “St” [Stoessel]. This is the fourteenth piece by Mr. Stoessel in the Court’s collection, and the first drawing.
Agnes Stone Watercolor: Mexican Landscape, c. 1930-1958
Watercolor landscape of a small Mexican village by Agnes Stone, wife of Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone. Interestingly, on the back of the painting is another of a Maine fishing scene, also in watercolor. She clearly favored the Mexican landscape, for it was facing out when the framed piece was purchased, and was also signed (the Maine scene appears to be unfinished, and is unsigned). Mrs. Stone was an accomplished amateur painter who showed often in the mid-Atlantic, with three solo exhibits at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in the 1930s and 1940s.
Maine Fishing Scene
(back of Mexican Landscape)
Photograph of Chief Justice William H. Taft, c. 1926
Framed, bust-length formal photograph of Chief Justice Taft, by Barnett Clinedinst. Inscribed by Taft to Lee Basye, Assistant Attorney General of Nebraska.
Photographs of Harlan F. Stone
Top Left: Justice Stone rowing near his summer home in Isle au Haute, Maine, August 11, 1937.
Top Right: Justice Stone with his wife Agnes in the back seat of a car, on their way to the annual State Reception to the Judiciary, hosted by President Roosevelt at the White House, January 6, 1939. In addition, a bequest of several items relating to Justice Gabriel Duvall was made to the Supreme Court by the late Dr. & Mrs. William L. Guyton. Mrs. Guyton was a descendant of Justice Duvall. Their bequest includes: An oil portrait of Justice Duvall, by an unknown artist, mid-19th Century. A framed engraving of Justice Duvall, by Saint-Memin, 1806. An engraving of Justice Duvall by Albert Rosenthal, 1888. A hand-painted copy of the Du Val family coat of arms.
Bottom Left: Justice Stone seated in his robes, March 2, 1925. The press caption reads, in part: “Justice Stone has already been sworn in by Chief Justice Taft and is seen [here] for the first time in his judicial robes.”
Bottom Right: Justice Stone standing on the sidewalk outside his home, February 1, 1937. Press caption reads, in part: “Justice Stone has been seriously ill for the last three months. Several important decisions have been awaiting his return to the Bench.”
These four acquisitions were made in 2011
Stephen Field’s 1885 Term Docket Book
There are many stories about the link between baseball and the Supreme Court, but the safeguarding of Justice Stephen Field’s 1885 Term Docket Book has not been one of them, until now. Apparently a baseball memorabilia collector preserved the book because someone pasted into it baseball box scores from the 1888 season of the Washington Senators—not because of its connection to the highest court in the land. It eventually fell into the hands of a dealer near Richmond, VA who realized its significance and contacted the Supreme Court Historical Society.
Matthew Hofstedt, Associate Curator of the Supreme Court, made the trip down to Richmond to examine the book. He found the overall condition to be very good, including the intact red leather covers embossed with gold letters that say “Docket/Supreme Court, U.S./October Term, 1885/Mr. Justice Field.” (Field served on the Court from 1863 to 1897, having made his early career as a lawyer and judge in California.) Hofstedt recognized it immediately as a “Bench” Docket Book, which was given to each Justice at the beginning of the Term with the names of all the holdover cases on the docket printed inside. As new cases were added during the Term, a clerk would hand write their names and numbers on the remaining blank pages. The Justices also had another type of Docket Book, a “Locked” one, which was used in private Conference to write down tentative votes and other observations a Justice wanted to preserve for himself about the deliberation of cases. The information in those books about pending cases needed to remain secret so they had sturdy locks, allowing the Justices to freely transport them from home to the Court and open them with a key. Leather docket books were phased out after the 1945 Term in favor of more economical and adaptable three-ring binders with printed pages.
Although it does not appear to contain writing in Field’s hand, his “Bench” Docket Book is an important find. It is the first, and only, docket book owned by Justice Field known to exist. “It puts you in a time and a place. It’s a perfect artifact,” says Hofstedt. The book lists cases on the docket but also the attorneys who argued them, including Belva Lockwood who became the first woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court in 1880. Future Justices Melville W. Fuller and George Shiras, Jr. are also listed as advocates. During the 1885 Term the Court docketed 1,348 cases and disposed of 444. Field’s biographer, Paul Kens, author of Justice Stephen Field: Shaping Liberty from the Gold Rush to the Gilded Age (1997), says Field wrote many opinions that Term and that the book’s discovery is “really exciting.”
How the book survived is still a bit of mystery, including how it ended up near Richmond. It is presumed that Field or his staff destroyed his Supreme Court papers and docket books after his retirement in 1897, because no significant collection of his papers exists today. The 1885 Docket Book must therefore have left his possession earlier. The rest of Field’s personal law library was donated by his widow, Sue Field, to the Stanford University Law Library around 1900, but none of his other docket books are located there today.
The SCHS acquired the Field Docket Book through its Acquisitions Fund, chaired by Dorothy Goldman, and it was transferred to the Curator’s Office at the Supreme Court for preservation. The Curator’s Office has other docket books in its collection, which are made available to scholars upon request. If you know of a Justice’s Docket Book, the Acquisitions Committee would like to hear from you. Please contact Matthew Hofstedt.