Supreme Court of the United States
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History of the Collection

Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol, c. 1934
The Supreme Court of the United States has been acquiring works of art since the 1830s. These early acquisitions were mostly portraits and busts of Chief Justices used to decorate the Supreme Court Chamber and Robing Room in the U.S. Capitol. The move to the Supreme Court Building greatly increased the space for works of art and many objects were acquired during the 1930s and 1940s through the tireless efforts of Marshal Thomas E. Waggaman. Over the years, additional objects were acquired through Congressional appropriation, purchase, gift and bequest.
 
In 1973, under the leadership of Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, the Office of the Curator was created to care for what has subsequently become known as the "Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States." Over the ensuing years, the collection has expanded to include objects that document the lives of individual Justices, the institutional history of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court Building. A public exhibition program was started to share the Court's rich history with the thousands of visitors who tour the building each year. The acquisition of objects and many of the decorative arts on exhibit throughout the building were acquired with the assistance of the Supreme Court Historical Society.

Chief Justice Warren E. Burger
 

The Collection is organized into several departments:

Archives

includes oaths of office, speeches, docket books, miscellaneous papers of Justices, as well as some documents relating to the construction and architecture of the Supreme Court Building.
  • To request access to the small collection of historic docket books, please follow these Instructions.
  • The official case-related papers are transferred by the Clerk's Office to the National Archives.
  • For a complete listing of the location of Justices papers, please refer to the Directory of Manuscript Collections Related to Federal Judges maintained by the Federal Judicial Center.
Decorative Arts

includes historic furnishings, antique furniture, and other decorative arts. Collection pieces are used in many rooms throughout the building. Significant items include Chief Justice John Marshall's Bench Chair, a clock owned by Joseph Story and Late Federal sideboard, attributed to Thomas Seymour, Boston, Mass., c. 1815.
Fine Arts

includes portraits, miniatures, and busts of Justices and those associated with the Court many of which are on exhibit throughout the building.
Graphic Arts

includes lithographs, engravings, and photographs associated with the Justices, former meeting places of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court Building, and other related topics.
Memorabilia & Ephemera

includes objects that are associated with Justices such as furniture, robes, desk sets, clocks, and traveling cases.
 

The Curator's office provides reasonable reference services about the collection in support of educational purposes. Objects and images from the Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States may not be used for any advertising or commercial endorsement purposes, nor in any way that would convey a false impression of Supreme Court sponsorship or approval.

If you have questions relating to the collection, please submit your inquiry to the Curator's Office.

All Media and Press inquiries about the collection should be directed to the Public Information Office.

June 24, 2017 | Version 2014.2