Save the Robe Announcement

Preservation Virginia and the John Marshall Foundation
Join Forces in a Campaign to Conserve
Chief Justice John Marshall's Black Judicial Robe,
First Worn in 1801

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                             
September 17, 2019

Richmond, VA – This Constitution Day, Preservation Virginia and the John Marshall Foundation announce the launch of "Save the Robe": a national fundraising and awareness campaign to conserve the only surviving judicial robe of Chief Justice John Marshall, a critical piece of American history.    

Chief Justice Marshall (b. 1755, d. 1835) was the longest serving Chief Justice of the United States, and his robe is the single most important artifact from his defining legacy of establishing the federal judiciary as a constitutional equal of the President and Congress.  Marshall’s efforts as a patriot,  statesman, and chief justice contributed mightily to holding the United States together as one nation between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. 

It was Marshall who first standardized the black robe for Supreme Court justices, and his black judicial robe, owned by Preservation Virginia, owners and operators of the John Marshall House in Richmond, is a rare pre-1850s judicial robe. It is in need of restoration due to acid hydrolysis from the dye and iron mordant used to achieve its deep shade of black. Without immediate stabilization, conservation and documentation, this important artifact in American history could be lost forever. 

Howard Sutcliffe, principal conservator and director of River Region Costume and Textile Conservation has agreed to perform the conservation. Sutcliffe’s previous projects include conserving Tiraz fragments from Medieval Egypt, Tzar Nicholas II’s parade uniform and the original Kermit the Frog puppet.

Once restored, the robe will remain in the permanent collection of Preservation Virginia’s John Marshall House, the home in Richmond’s historic Court End neighborhood Marshall built in 1790 and lived in for forty-five years until his death. The robe will be stored in an archival case as part of a new exhibit.

The $218,000 Save the Robe campaign will also fund civics education programs and three duplicate robes for traveling exhibitions.

Elizabeth Kostelny, CEO of Preservation Virginia, says “Of the many artifacts in our collection related to John Marshall, the robe is the most evocative link to the Chief Justice’s enduring legacy on the Supreme Court. Every person who views the robe feels an immediate and physical connection to its history and importance.  We are grateful to the John Marshall Foundation for this partnership to conserve and protect the robe.”

 “John Marshall’s simple black robe is a national treasure and an irreplaceable icon of American judicial power,” says Kevin Walsh, President of the John Marshall Foundation and Professor of Law at the University of Richmond School of Law.  “The idea that it could be lost for future generations is unthinkable. The John Marshall Foundation is proud to partner with Preservation Virginia on this urgent mission to make sure that never happens.”



Jennifer Hurst-Wender, Director of Museum Operations, Preservation Virginia
[email protected]
(804) 648-1889 ext. 315

Kevin Walsh, President, John Marshall Foundation
[email protected]


About Save the Robe Partners:

Preservation Virginia’s mission is to make Virginia’s communities and historic places of memory stronger, more vital and economically sustainable through preservation, education and advocacy. The John Marshall Foundation exists to educate the public about the rule of law under the Constitution through the life, character, and services of America’s great chief justice.