History In Ink® Historical Autographs
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Magnificent large-format portrait of Justice Frankfurter, signed and dated in 1950
Felix Frankfurter, 1882–1965. Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court, 1939–1962. Scarce, superb large-format photograph, inscribed and signed With the good wishes of / Felix Frankfurter / May 19/50.
This is a magnificent signed portrait of a pensive Justice Frankfurter. The bespectacled law professor turned Supreme Court justice, seated in his robe, looks left toward the camera.
Frankfurterʼs signed photographs are very scarce. Our research has found only three signed individual portrait photographs of Frankfurter that have been offered at auction since 1975—one in 1987, and two others more recently. Frankfurter is more often found in signed photographs of the entire Supreme Court than in individual portraits such as this one.
This large-format portrait, which measures 9½" x 13", is by Harris & Ewing, the preeminent Washington, D.C., photographers who photographed Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, and other federal government officials, as well as scores of others, or more than 70 years. George Harris was the studioʼs principal photographer from its opening in 1905 until he retired in 1955. Upon his retirement, Harris donated some 700,000 glass and film negatives to the Library of Congress, which still maintains the collection. Harris & Ewing ceased business in 1977.
Justice Frankfurter, the son of a Jewish merchant, was born in Vienna and immigrated with his parents to New York in 1894, when he was 12 years old. When he arrived in the United States he spoke no English. A hard worker, he graduated from New York City College in 1902 and graduated first in his Harvard Law School class in 1906.
He practiced law briefly before serving for three years as an Assistant United States Attorney in New York under Henry L. Stimson. When President William Howard Taft appointed Stimson Secretary of War, Frankfurter joined the War Department as a legal counsel. In 1914, Frankfurter joined the Harvard Law School faculty, where he remained until President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1939.
As a law professor, Frankfurter remained involved in public affairs. He advised Roosevelt when he was Governor of New York. Later, as President, Roosevelt often consulted Frankfurter about the legal implications of New Deal legislation. When Roosevelt had the opportunity to reshape the Supreme Court, he made Frankfurter his third appointment. Frankfurter, a social progressive but an advocate of judicial restraint, would later feud with fellow Roosevelt appointees Hugo L. Black and William O. Douglas.
Justice Frankfurter has inscribed and signed this photograph in black fountain pen. The handwriting is a bit light, but still nicely readable, at the ends of the inscription and signature from where Frankfurterʼs pen exhausted its ink. Harris & Ewingʼs blind-embossed stamp appears beneath the image, and Frankfurter has written around it. The gray and white borders around the portrait are intentional parts of the original print.
This photograph is in very fine condition. Only a slight bit of almost imperceptible rippling at the bottom center of the photograph keeps us from grading it extra fine.
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