Colorful History of The Florida Supreme Court Being Restored

The historic en banc photographs of Florida’s Supreme Court justices – 57 total, with 22 of those black/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, who served from 1904 to 1943.

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

Since 1983, sittings have included both the lawyers’ lounge and the more formal courtroom justices’ bench. The five photos on public display were taken in the lawyers’ lounge, a more informal setting. They are 1983 (Alderman CJ); 1984 (Boyd CJ); 1987 (McDonald CJ); 1992 (Barkett CJ); and 2005 (Wells CJ).

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

Digitizing and Restoring

According to the Library of Congress, four principal factors contribute to the deterioration of photographs: poor environmental storage conditions, poor storage enclosures, rough or inappropriate handling that results in unnecessary wear and tear and shelving conditions, and in some cases, the presence of residual photographic processing chemicals or the use of exhausted processing chemicals.

Following an inventory and examination of the color photos, it was determined that 10 needed immediate attention.

Those taken between 1974 and 1983 suffered from severe color fading due to a then-new Kodak dye formula and likely overexposure to sunlight and ultraviolet light.

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

A local framing company removed images removed the image from the frames and digitally scanned and saved them in their actual size without any color correction. Those images were then uploaded by a photo restoration expert for correction, requiring continuous feedback/monitoring until the expert had correctly and fully restored the images.

The corrected images are ink jet-printed with UV-protected ink on 16x20 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 the archival hard drive in the Court library.”

Additional Preservation Efforts

The Florida Supreme Court Historical Society also provides funds for the archiving of the justices’ papers stored in their original acidic folders. Justice Overton, who served on the Court from 1974 to 1999, was also instrumental in this project.

After donating his “chamber papers” to the Supreme Court Library in 2009, he encouraged others who served on the Court to donate their personal and official papers to the Supreme Court Library, which has been continuously in existence since 1845.

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

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

After his death in 2012, the 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.

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