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Colorful history of the Florida Supreme Court restoration effort underway

News in Photos
Restored court photos

The Florida Supreme Court Historical Society is restoring the color en banc photos of the justices displayed in the official portrait gallery along the courtroom’s inner and outer walls. The first 10 to be restored, taken from 1974-1984, were printed with a then-new Kodak dye formula and exposed to years of sunlight and ultraviolet light. The photos were removed from the frames, digitally scanned, and saved in their actual size without any color modifications. The digitized images were then corrected by a restoration expert, inkjet printed with UV-protected ink on 16×20 archival gloss paper, mounted back into the original frame, and sealed with an acid-free dust cover. The projected life of these images is 150 years while in the framed glass. Pictured above is the 1976 court. Check out this short video about the project and FlCourtHistory.org for more information.

An essential part of the colorful history of Florida’s highest court is being restored thanks to advances in digitizing and correcting color photos and efforts by the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society.

In keeping with the Historical Society’s mission to celebrate, honor, and preserve the history of the Supreme Court, the project to begin restoring color en banc photos of the justices started in early 2022. The first 10 to be restored, picturing the court’s members from 1974-1984, are now completed and returned to the official portrait gallery along the courtroom’s inner and outer walls.

Digitizing and Restoring the First 10

According to the Library of Congress, four principal factors contribute to the deterioration of photographs: poor environmental storage/display conditions; inadequate storage enclosures; inappropriate handling/unnecessary wear and tear and shelving conditions; and residual processing chemicals.

Following an inventory and examination of the en banc color photos in the Florida Supreme Court’s portrait gallery, it was clear that 10 needed immediate attention due to severe fading. Taken in the mid-70s and early 80s and printed with a then-new Kodak dye formula, these were also exposed to sunlight and ultraviolet light.

The images were removed from the frames, digitally scanned, and saved in their actual size without any color modifications. The digitized images were then uploaded to a photo restoration expert for correction, requiring continuous feedback/monitoring from the Historical Society until the expert entirely and faithfully restored the pictures.

The corrected images are inkjet printed with UV-protected ink on 16×20 archival gloss paper, mounted back into the original frame, and sealed with an acid-free dust cover. The projected life of these images is 150 years while in the framed glass.

Now rehung in the gallery, a placard reads: “The original En Banc photograph is enclosed in this frame. The photograph was digitally scanned to restore and preserve the color image. The file used to create the inkjet print and the original scanned image are stored on an archival hard drive in the court library.”

Other photos in the gallery have faded due to direct light exposure while on public exhibit over the course of many years. The Historical Society plans to work on digitizing those in the future.

The Portrait Gallery’s History

The public display of en banc photographs of Florida’s justices, which document the members of the court from 1949 to the present, was initiated and made possible with a gift from Justice Ben F. and Marilyn Overton. The south hallway outside the courtroom has been the gallery’s location since the Overtons initiated the idea before he retired from the court in 1999.

The historic en banc photos – 57 total, with 22 in black and white – reflect changes in the court’s makeup and physical location.

The first two, from 1947 and 1948, were taken in the first separate Supreme Court building, later named the Whitfield Building in 1952 after the then-longest-serving Justice James B. Whitfield (1904-1943).

After the opening of the current building in December 1948, most of the photos were taken in the courtroom and also reflected changes during the court’s extensive renovation and expansion, especially the 1990 addition of two wings.

Since 1983, backgrounds have included both the lawyers’ lounge and the more formal courtroom justices’ bench.

The first color en banc photo is from 1974, when James C. Adkins was chief justice.

Additional Historical Preservation Efforts

The Florida Supreme Court Historical Society also provides funds to archive the justices’ papers by removing them from their original acidic folders. Justice Overton served on the court from 1974 to 1999 and was also instrumental in this project.

After donating his “chamber papers” to the Supreme Court Library in 2009, Overton encouraged others who served to do the same. The library has been continuously in existence since 1845.

To ensure these historical records would remain for generations to come, the court – with funding from the Historical Society – began upgrading the overstuffed, acidic accordion folders to subdivided, archive-quality folders.

The document collection included in this project is housed in the Archival Collection of the Florida Supreme Court and includes numerous chamber papers donated by former justices.

After his death in 2012, Overton’s children, William, Robert, and Catherine, donated 124 boxes comprising 186 cubic feet of papers. His is, so far, the second-largest donation to the Supreme Court Library’s archives as of September 2022.

 Make History: Become an “Amicus Curiae” Today

In a recent appeal to Bar members via the annual fee statement, Historical Society President Scott Rost said: “Membership in the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society makes you a part of unique opportunities to honor our court and its rich history. Equally important, your tax-deductible membership contribution helps expand public awareness and understanding of the judicial branch and its role in our system of government.”

The historical society also sponsors the annual “A Supreme Evening” event to celebrate Florida’s judicial system, acquires artifacts for the Supreme Court’s library and archives, publishes Historical Review magazine, supports the court’s outreach and education programs through the online gift shop sales at FlCourtGifts.org, and assists in celebrating milestones like the 75th anniversary of the current court building.

Membership levels include individual, judicial, young lawyer, law student, and paralegal, as well as contributor, patron and sustainer. Active and inactive Bar members may join or renew when completing the 2023-24 fee statement (in the voluntary contributions section); other levels are posted at FlCourtHistory.org/Join-FSCHS.

Learn more about the portrait gallery at SupremeCourt.flcourts.gov/About-the-Court/Portrait-Gallery and visit the courthouse at 500 South Duval Street, Tallahassee, Monday – Friday (excluding court holidays) from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. For group and school tours, email [email protected].

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