St. Louis Circuit Court Historical Records Project

In 1999, the Missouri State Archives entered into a partnership with the St. Louis Circuit Court to organize, conserve, and microfilm more than 1.3 million important court documents. The St. Louis Circuit Court Historical Records Project decided that the papers relating to Dred Scott, whose petition for freedom from slavery became a landmark Supreme Court decision, were the most significant papers in the collection and should be the first to be conserved.

Conservators at the Missouri State Archives determined that most of the documents had probably been treated in the 1930s under the Works Progress Administration. These treatments included adhering sheets of tissue to each side of a document, which made reading the documents more difficult, and thicker paper patches applied over areas of loss.
New treatment began with a surface cleaning of the non-tissued areas, then an alkaline water bath to soften adhesives. Tissue and paper patches were carefully removed, and the documents were soaked in a fresh water bath to remove soluble acids from the paper, which helps prolong the life of the documents. After drying, Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste were used to mend tears and areas of loss. The documents were then encapsulated between two pieces of thin polyester film; this treatment differs from lamination in that it is reversible, but it still provides physical support during handling and protects the documents from dirt and other pollutants.

Preservation and access are the primary goals of the Historical Records Project; the preservation of other case documents continues, and digital copies of the documents are accessible on the Washington University Web site.