About this Exhibit
This exhibit is designed to feature some of the notable portraits and documents available in the United States Supreme Court: Portraits and Autographs collection at the University of Chicago D'Angelo Law Library, as well as to provide some resources for further research on these individuals and documents.
This exhibit specifically features the portraits and signed letters/documents of the following U.S. Supreme Court Justices: John Jay, John Rutledge, Oliver Ellsworth, John Marshall, William Johnson, John McLean, Roger Brooke Taney, Peter Vivian Daniel, David Davis, Salmon Portland Chase, William Strong, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Rufus Day, and William Howard Taft.
The documents featured in the exhibit cover a wide range of topics and span many years. The earliest document featured in this exhibit is from 1762 (the Writ from King George III on the John Rutledge page) and the latest document featured in the exhibit is from 1922 (a letter from William Howard Taft to Florence Pitney, wife of Justice Mahlon Pitney). While there is great variety in the topics mentioned in the various letters and documents, a few common threads emerged to connect some of these documents together: the founding of the United States, the American Civil War, and Justice Mahlon Pitney.
The Founding of the United States
Several letters and documents included in the exhibit may be of interest to those with an interest in the founding of the United States and/or the transition from British colonial rule to a new American government. You can find these documents on the pages highlighting the following Justices:
- John Jay: The 1783 letter from John Jay was written while he was negotiating the Treaty of Paris to end the Revolutionary War.
- John Marshall: The 1789 letter from John Marshall was sent to the soon-to-be first President of the United States, George Washington, about a month before his inauguration.
- John Rutledge: The 1762 Writ from King George III was issued when South Carolina was still a British colony.
- Oliver Ellsworth: The 1797 document signed by Ellsworth is a bank draft on an account in the First Bank of the United States.
- William Johnson: The 1823 letter from William Johnson mentions Dr. David Hosack, the doctor who was famously requested by both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr at their duel.
The American Civil War
Several letters and documents included in the exhibit may be of interest to those with an interest in the American Civil War. You can find these documents on the pages highlighting the following Justices:
- John McLean: John McLean was a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln's and an abolitionist who dissented in the Dred Scott case.
- Roger Brooke Taney: The 1860 letter from Roger B. Taney was sent just before the 1860 election and the start of the Civil War.
- David Davis: The 1861 letter from David Davis was sent in the midst of the first year of the Civil War.
- Salmon Portland Chase: The 1860 letter from Salmon Portland Chase discusses the election of 1860 and Abraham Lincoln's likely electoral success.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes: The 1880 letter from Oliver Wendell Holmes includes a mention of Holmes's military service, which was in the American Civil War.
- Also of interest in the collection, the portrait of the Chase Court was taken by Alexander Gardner, a photographer who was most famous for photographing the Civil War.
Justice Mahlon Pitney
Many of the later letters and documents included in the collection are either addressed to or otherwise related to Justice Mahlon Pitney and his family. You can find these documents on the pages highlighting the following Justices:
- Oliver Wendell Holmes: The 1916 letter from Oliver Wendell Holmes is addressed to Justice Pitney. The third letter from Holmes, sent in either 1907 or 1917 may also be to Justice Pitney, but we cannot confirm that.
- William Rufus Day: Four of the letters in the collection from William Rufus Day are addressed to Justice Pitney: the 1912 letter, the 1915 letter, and two of the 1916 letters.
- William Howard Taft: The 1914 and 1921 letters from William Howard Taft are to John O. H. Pitney, Justice Pitney's brother. The 1922 letter, sent the day before Justice Pitney's resignation from the Court, is from Taft is to Florence Pitney, Justice Pitney's wife.
About the Creation of this Web Exhibit
This exhibit was created by the D'Angelo Law Library's 2019 Judith M. Wright Fellow, Mary L. Shelly. Mary is an aspiring law librarian who is currently studying library and information science at the University of Michigan School of Information. She received her B.A. from the University of Michigan, and her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.
About the Collection
This exhibit is based on a bound collection of manuscripts donated by Louis Silver (JD ’28), a noted rare book and manuscript collector. It was given to the Law School in the late 1950’s. The collection contains at least one letter or signed document from every Supreme Court Justice from John Jay to Edward Douglass White, plus signed documents from most of the Justices from White to William Howard Taft. These are accompanied by sixty signed miniature portraits of the Justices by Philadelphia artists Max and Albert Rosenthal, and a few photographs of later Justices.
An article in The University of Chicago Law School Record describes a few of the highlights of the collection, with comments by Professors Alison LaCroix and William Baude.
- Becky Beaupre Gillespie, "Hidden Treasures: An Unexpected discovery in the D’Angelo Law Library unearthed an original letter from John Marshall to George Washington. And that wasn’t all," The University of Chicago Law School Record 63, no. 2 (Spring 2017): 20.
There is much that we do not know about the origins of the collection: who collected the individual prints and documents contained in it, who organized and bound them, when it came into the possession of Louis H. Silver, etc. One of the few clues about the provenance of the collection is a small stamp on one of the front pages of the album that reads "E. F. Bonaventure, New-York." Edmond F. Bonaventure was a rare book and manuscript dealer in New York.
- “Bonaventure’s Galleries,” New-York Tribune, December 15, 1901, 2; Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress, accessed July 26, 2019, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030214/1901-12-15/ed-1/seq-2/.
- “Alsatian, Trained as Engineer, Won Friendship of Collectors of Rare Volumes,” New York Herald, September 11, 1918, 7; accessed July 26, 2019, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/25595022/ef_bonaventure_1918_obit/.
About the Donor, Louis H. Silver
Louis H. Silver, a 1928 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, was a hotelier and noted rare book and manuscript collector. During his life he was a generous donor to the University of Chicago, gifting many important volumes to the Library, including this collection of United States Supreme Court: Portraits and Autographs that was donated to the Law Library in the 1950s. After his death, his personal collection of rare books and manuscripts sold in 1964 to the Newberry Library in Chicago for 2.75 million dollars.
For more about Louis H. Silver and his collection, see:
- Kenneth Nebenzahl, Old and Rare Collectors I Have Known (Chicago: Newberry Library, 2007).
- Robert K. Lifton, An Entrepreneur's Journey: Stories from a Life in Business and Personal Diplomacy (Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2012).
- Includes 2 sections discussing the author's relations with Louis H. Silver and Silver's rare book collection.
- Newberry Library, A Selection of Books and Manuscripts from the Louis H. Silver Collection Now in the Newberry Library: A Handlist (Chicago: Newberry Library, 1964).
- Newberry Library, A Catalogue of an Exhibition of Books and Manuscripts Selected from the Louis H. Silver Collection in Honor of a Visit of the Grolier Club to the Newberry Library, Chicago, May 15, 1965 (Chicago: Newberry Library, 1965).
- "The Louis H. Silver Sale," Chicago's Great 20th Century Bookman: The Newberry Career of James M. Wells (1917-2014), Newberry Digital Exhibitions, Newberry Library, accessed July 10, 2019, https://publications.newberry.org/digitalexhibitions/exhibits/show/james-m-wells/the-silver-sale/the-louis-h--silver-sale.
- "John Fleming: An Inventory of His Papers in the Manuscript Collection at the Harry Ransom Center," Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, accessed July 10, 2019, https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/taro/uthrc/00697/hrc-00697.html.
- John Fleming was a rare book and manuscript dealer with a long working relationship with Louis H. Silver. This collection contains papers and correspondence related to that business relationship and to the lawsuit against the executor of Silver's estate regarding the sale of his collection to the Newberry Library.
About the Links in this Exhibit
Links to the items in the United States Supreme Court: Portraits and Autographs collection will lead you to the Collection page for this item, where you will be able to access the full, digitized copy of this collection.
Links to University of Chicago materials and resources will be linked from the titles of those referenced materials.
Links to resources outside of the University of Chicago will be linked from the full URLs of those resources.
About the Transcriptions in this Exhibit
The transcriptions of the letters and documents in this exhibit are intended to give context to the materials in the exhibit and to aid with the accessibility of the exhibit. They represent our best efforts to transcribe the handwriting of the individuals featured in this exhibit, but may contain errors or omissions.