Monday, November 28th, 2016...9:30 am

The Gift of Ben Franklin

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A recent project seeking to improve and reclaim legacy cataloging data uncovered this artifact of colonial American history, recorded in Houghton’s card-based shelf list but absent until now from our online catalog. This copy of Votes and proceedings of the House of Representatives of the province of Pennsylvania, the first of three volumes printed and sold by Benjamin Franklin and his partner David Hall, was Franklin’s gift to his British ally Peter Collinson, and is inscribed as such in Collinson’s hand. Collinson (1694-1768) was a botanist and Fellow of the Royal Society; he facilitated the communication of Franklin’s theories of electricity to the Society. Franklin and Collinson corresponded regularly on topics scientific, political, and otherwise, and it stands to reason Franklin would wish to share with his friend this record of the ongoing development of his province’s political identity. A letter from Collinson, dated January 27, 1753, acknowledges Franklin’s gift of Votes and proceedings, apparently among a number of other volumes:

I have now to Thank you my Dear Friend for yours of December 2. The Packett with all the Books is come safe to hand. I am extreamly obliged to you for your Kind Present of your Votes which are very Entertaining to observe the progress of your Settlement.*

Following Franklin and Hall’s three volumes of Votes and proceedings, Henry Miller went on to publish three more, covering the remainder of the colonial period. Lost to history is the means by which this particular copy came into Harvard’s possession – the date and source of acquisition were not recorded on the item itself, and we have only a note that it received a library binding in 1893.

*Full text of letter available online here: ( Original in the archives of the American Philosophical Society.

Votes and proceedings…: Pa Doc 1.5* (B)

[Thanks to rare book cataloger Ryan Wheeler for contributing this post.]

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