January 20, 2017

Rediscovered early Benjamin Franklin print goes on view


A Benjamin Franklin broadside printed in 1723

The print that may have launched Benjamin Franklin’s career, lost for almost two centuries, has just gone on view at the University of Pennsylvania, the New York Times’ Jennifer Schuessler reports.

At age seventeen, not long after he’d fled Boston for Philadelphia, Franklin printed an elegy for the printer Aquila Rose, decorated along the top border with a skull and crossbones motif. “The broadside… first surfaced in the 1820s, amid a wave of antiquarian interest in America’s founding generation, but then disappeared from view, until a dealer recently discovered it pasted inside a scrapbook,” Schuessler relates.

In a blog post, Penn Libraries, which acquired the print, describe the it as a formative work that may well have determined the trajectory of Franklin’s career. We know about it because he mentioned it in his autobiography, describing how he’d made it on an “old shattr’d press” in printer Samuel Keimer’s shop. According to Franklin expert Jim Green, the printing technique as “impeccable,” and it may even have led to his first job in the city.

Which fits in nicely with the what we know about Franklin’s early ambitions. As he explains in his autobiography, that was about the same time he went vegetarian, partly to save money, but also to save time, for while his comrades at the printing house took their lunch break, he “remain’d there alone, and dispatching presently my light repast (which often was no more than a biscuit or a slice of bread, a handful of raisins or a tart from the pastry cook’s, and a glass of water) had the rest of the time till their return for study, in which I made the greater progress from that greater clearness of head and quicker apprehension which usually attend temperance in eating and drinking.”

The broadside, along with the album in which it was found, will be on display at Penn’s Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center through February 10.


Note: So, we’ve heard there’s some kind of big news story going on? There’ll surely be plenty to say about the American government in the weeks, months, and, ugh, years ahead. But, for today at least, we would prefer not to. Instead, we’re thinking about a few other things, and we invite you to think about them with us. Stay strong, listen to your heart, and we’ll see you on the other side.



Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.