- Associated Press - Sunday, April 6, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson is a man who loves antiques. A spinning wheel brought over by his Norwegian ancestors stands next to his office fireplace, ornate side tables flank his desk and a collection of old clocks hums and chimes.

So when the state judicial system was given a collection of postcards featuring courthouses from nearly every county in the state, Gilbertson was eager to do something special. He went right to work sharing copies and framing the originals for preservation and display.

“I knew it was a treasure that’s virtually impossible to replace,” Gilbertson said, who already had a framed display of courthouse postcards from his home county, Roberts.

The cards originate from about 1900 to the mid-1950s and were called “penny postcards,” because they required a one-cent stamp to mail. Postcards of the era were a primary source of communication, according to Ken Stewart, an archivist for the South Dakota State Historical Society. They depicted important buildings - courthouses, for example - as well as streets, churches and even families.

This collection came from former Supreme CourtJustice William Srstka, who donated them when he retired in 2013.

“He is a history buff, not just picture postcards, everything about history interests him,” Gilbertson said. “Everything about history interests me too.”

Srstka began collecting the postcards about 20 years ago. He saw that many courthouses were being replaced in the 1970s and 1980s and wanted to preserve a record of them. He said he spent a lot of money - he wouldn’t say how much - buying the cards on eBay and at flea markets.

“They’re works of art,” Srstka said. “The postcards that you see there are historical artifacts.”

Srstka, an architecture fan, said his favorite courthouses are those in the art deco style built in 1930s such as those in Pierre, Mitchell and Wessington. He also likes the old courthouse in Sioux Falls, which was built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, which is characterized by massive stone walls, wide arches and towers and reflects some medieval design.

The collection doesn’t show every courthouse ever built in South Dakota. Thirty-five cards show buildings that no longer stand.

Rodger Hartley, associate editor for the South Dakota Historical Society Press, said courthouses are important to history because they are so often the site of important events.

“Courthouses are some of the most significant buildings in the state both politically and architecturally,” Hartley said.

The Historical Society Press is releasing a book on South Dakota courthouses next year by Arthur Rusch, a retired circuit judge.

The display is located by the Supreme Court courtroom off the rotunda in the Capitol. Justices donated copies to the law school in Vermillion and the Association of County Commissioners, both of whom have displayed them. Gilbertson also hopes copies will be put up in the Minnehaha courthouse in Sioux Falls and the Pennington courthouse in Rapid City.

“I just think it’s a part of our heritage that ought to be preserved,” Gilbertson said. “It is to kind of educate or inform the public as to history of the judicial system, because it’s their judicial system.”