1st Ben Franklin Printing on Display

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January 17, 2017

To commemorate the 311th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin, the University of Pennsylvania has displayed the first thing he ever printed.

Franklin, colonial America's Renaissance Man, was a noted statesman, inventor, and jack-of-all trades. Among those trades was printing.

Franklin worked in the shop of his brother for a time. And in 1723, when young Ben was just 17, he published a broadside that contained an elegy for Aquila Rose, a Philadelphia poet. Franklin cherished the printing, as evidence by his inclusion of his recollection of it in his autobiography.

Franklin also had a bit of a alternative streak in him, as evidenced by what else is on the broadside–a skull and crossbones. The broadside is also notable for its woodcut style, which was unusual in Philadelphia at the time.

About 900 examples of things that Franklin printed are still around. The broadside is pasted inside a scrapbook put together by Samuel Hazard, a 19th-Century collector. The broadside had been thought lost because it hadn't been seen in nearly 200 years.

The broadside and scrapbook will be on view at the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center until February 10.

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