Penn Libraries at the University of Pennsylvania have acquired the only known copy of Benjamin Franklin’s first printing piece. The broadside, “The Elegy on the Death of Aquila Rose,” was printed by Franklin shortly after his arrival in Philadelphia in 1723. At the time, Franklin was still only a teenager.
Scholars know of approximately 900 works printed by Franklin. The Aquila Rose broadside was the last major piece to be discovered, making Penn Libraries’ acquisition particularly significant.
“Many of these works, especially broadsides and small ephemeral pieces, exist in only one or two copies,” said Mitch Fraas, a Penn Libraries’ curator, in a press statement. “The Penn Libraries now hold more than a third of his print production, making our collection of Franklin’s printing among the most important in the world.”
The broadside was written by the printer Samuel Keimer and concerns the recent death of Philadelphia poet and pressman Aquila Rose. This copy, the only known survivor, briefly appeared in the 1820s before disappearing again for almost two hundred years. The broadside was recently discovered by an antiquarian bookseller inside a 19th-century scrapbook (seen below).
Penn Libraries now owns both the first and last works printed by Franklin.
“As an institution founded by Franklin and dedicated to his passion for the widest possible dissemination of knowledge and the promotion of learning, the Penn Libraries is proud to carry the torch of his legacy, lighting pathways to the future by making Franklin’s work open and accessible to the wider world,” said Vice Provost and Director of Libraries H. Carton Rogers in a press statement.
The broadside is on display until February 10, along with the album in which it was found, on the first floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. A digitized copy of the broadside is already available online.
Images courtesy of Penn Libraries