December 11, 2007-February 2, 2008
Benjamin Franklin, Writer and Printer
Curated by James N. Green and Peter Stallybrass
Sponsored by the Library Company of Philadelphia
At the time of his death, Franklin was well known around the world as a scientist and a diplomat; however, he chose to be remembered as simply, Benjamin Franklin, Printer. Ironically, his success as a printer and writer have been comparatively overlooked aspects of his life, until now.
Opening on December 12, 2007, Benjamin Franklin, Writer and Printer, takes a fresh, even surprising look at Franklin’s dual relationship to the book as printer and author. The exhibition, originally conceived as the centerpiece of the Library Company of Philadelphia’s 275th Anniversary celebration in 2006, is curated by James Green, Librarian of the Library Company, and University of Pennsylvania English Professor Peter Stallybrass.
Incorporating more than eighty artifacts, the exhibition is divided into three main sections, the first focusing on Franklin’s career as a printer, the next on his writing, and the final section devoted to his Autobiography, an international best-seller and the most widely-published autobiography of all time.
The exhibition first takes visitors through Franklin's career as a printer, during which he made a living producing newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets, broadsides, laws, government printing, blank forms, lottery tickets, and almost everything but books. On display will be the Library Company’s preeminent collection of Franklin imprints as well as examples of the entire range of his output, from ephemera to massive folio tomes. One highlight, a rare artifact not seen in the Philadelphia exhibit, is the Franklin edition of Samuel Richardson's Pamela, the only known copy of the book, and the first novel published in America.
The second section explores Franklin’s early writing, a pursuit to which he was drawn as a result of his printing career. Franklin employed just about every genre and mode of authorship, using an amazing variety of masks to cloak his true identity from his readers. Among other artifacts, visitors can see the only known copy of the earliest broadside edition of Franklin’s most popular work, The Way to Wealth.
The final section of the exhibition focuses on Franklin’s Autobiography, the work that transformed Benjamin Franklin, Printer, into Benjamin Franklin, Author. Although the Autobiography was an international best-seller, the greatest literary achievement of the American eighteenth century, it was not available in complete book form as Franklin wrote it until long after his death. A compelling item in this section is the printer’s copy of the first publication of all four parts of the Autobiography.
The original exhibition, organized to mark the Library Company’s 275th anniversary year, received such a positive response that the curators felt compelled to create a bigger and better version in 2007. The exhibition hopes to provide the public with an intimate look at Benjamin Franklin in all facets of his professional life in print, so that visitors come away with a greater appreciation for the impact of Franklin’s career as a printer and writer.
About The Library Company of Philadelphia:
The Library Company of Philadelphia, founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin, is an independent research library encompassing over half a million rare books, prints, and photographs documenting every aspect of American history and culture from the 17th through the 19th centuries. It is a research center serving a national and international constituency of scholars and presents exhibitions and programs for the public. The Library Company can be found online at www.librarycompany.org.
An accompanying hardcover publication by James N. Green and Peter Stallybrass, Benjamin Franklin, Writer and Printer, published by Oak Knoll Press, The Library Company of Philadelphia and The British Library will be available for $50.00 at the Club (member price $40).
Location and times: Benjamin Franklin, Writer and Printer will be on view at the Grolier Club from. Dec. 12, 2007 - Feb. 2, 2008, with the exception of Dec. 24 - 26, when the Club is closed for the Christmas holiday, and on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, for the New Year’s holiday. Hours: Monday-Saturday 10 AM – 5 PM. Open to the public free of charge. For more information call the Grolier Club at (212) 838-6690, or e-mail Grolier Club Exhibitions Coordinator Megan Smith.