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Six Benjamin Franklin Signed Receipts – Including his Earliest Obtainable Autograph — Acknowledging a Donation to the Famous Library Company He Founded, and Five Payments for His Pennsylvania Gazette
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[BENJAMIN FRANKLIN]. A manuscript receipt book kept by physician John Paschall, 70 leaves (140 pages), 4 x 7¼ in., Philadelphia, 1731-1744, the entire volume filled in a variety of hands on recto and verso together with additional receipts inserted loosely. Among the many entries are six Benjamin Franklin Autograph Endorsements Signed, “B. Franklin,” (four on separate pages and two together on one page), May 9, 1732; October 8, 1734; October 4, 1736; October 29, 1741 (2); and January 19, 1743/4.

Inventory #23815       Price: $85,000

A unique survival that features some of the earliest obtainable examples of Franklin’s hand, accomplished during his most formative years. (The 1732 document here is the earliest we find after checking more than 50 years of major auction records. The next earliest sale found is a document from 1733. The 1734 and 1736 here are the third and fourth earliest respectively, and the two 1741 and the 1743/4 documents are still within the earliest ten.) 

The owner of the receipt book, John Paschall (1706/7-1779) was a self-taught physician who practiced medicine in Darby Township, outside of Philadelphia, and became noted for his “Golden Elixir” cure-all. Paschall eventually became the owner of considerable property in the Philadelphia area, including several farms, a saw mill, and the Blue Bell Tavern. He was a founding member of the Library Company of Philadelphia and in 1768 was elected to the American Philosophical Society. Born a Quaker, Paschall was disowned by his local Meeting following accusations that he had fathered a bastard child. (For more on Paschall, see Whitfield Jenks Bell, Patriot-Improvers: 1743-1768 (The American Philosophical Society, 1997.)

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) had arrived in the burgeoning Pennsylvania capital at age 17 after fleeing his apprenticeship with his brother James in Boston. Following several years in London working as a typesetter, Franklin returned to Philadelphia where he soon established himself as a leading printer and publisher. His experience in London had a tremendous influence on Franklin, who, at age 21, established the Junto, a group of “like minded aspiring artisans and tradesman who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community.” (http://www.librarycompany.org/treasures/ad1.htm). In 1729, he became the publisher of The Pennsylvania Gazette.

One of the most significant institutions born of his small group of ambitious tradesman was The Library Company, which Franklin helped found in 1731, describing it as “my first project of a public nature... [which] by the help of my friends in the Junto procured fifty subscribers of forty shillings each to begin with and ten shillings a year...” Autobiography, 1901, p. 74). Paschall was one of these original contributors Philada May 9. 1732. Receiv’d of Mr John Paschal Forty Shillings, to be paid on his Acct to Wm Coleman for the Use of the Library – B. Franklin.”

The same page also bears a signature of the “King of the Quakers,” Israel Pemberton, Jr. (1715-1779). He would go on to oppose the Stamp Act and sign the Non-Importation Resolution of 1765, only to find himself exiled during the Revolutionary War due to his pacifist beliefs.

That fall, with sufficient funds on hand, Franklin hired Louis Timothée to manage the company, making him America’s first professional librarian. The journal includes several endorsements signed by William Coleman (1704-1769), a Junto member who Franklin recalled “had the coolest, clearest head, the best heart, and exactest morals of almost any man I have ever met with.” (Autobiography, pp. 63-64) Coleman also raised his nephew who was orphaned at age one, Declaration Signer George Clymer (1739-1813).

The five additional receipts Franklin signs here concern transactions with The Pennsylvania Gazette, printed once a week and distributed on Sunday. Per this receipt book, a one-year subscription cost 10 shillings. On October 8, 1734, Franklin receives from Paschall 20 shillings as payment “in full for two years Gazette.” That subscription is renewed on October 4, 1736: “One Pound Seven Shillings and Sixpence in full for the Gazette and all Accts to this Day.”

On October 29, 1741, Franklin makes two endorsements, the first for “Ten Shillings in full for one year’s Gazette.” The second is a receipt for an advertisement Paschall placed in the Gazette: “Receiv’d Oct. 29 1741 of John Paschal[l] Five Shillings for an Advertisem[en]t relating to Jno Fisher’s Estate per me B Franklin.” A copy of the ad is attached below  (“To be Sold / An Island …”).

The final receipt is also for the Gazette. The date of “1743/4” reflects the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. Before 1752, England and its colonies held to the old Julian calendar with March 25th as the first day of the calendar year. “Received Jan. 19. 1743/4 of Mr John Paschal Ten Shillings on Acct of the Gazette per me B Franklin.”

The journal includes hundreds of entries from other prominent Philadelphians and mercantile firms such as Willing & Shippen, Logan & Shippen, and William & Jacob Morris. Edward Shippen (1703-1781) served as mayor of Philadelphia, was the founder of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, and one of the founders of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University). He was the grandfather of Margaret “Peggy” Shippen, the wife of Benedict Arnold. Richard Sewall (Oct 25, 1731) and Joseph Wharton (Aug. 8, 1734) are also represented, as is Anthony Benezet (1713-1784), a French-born educator who arrived in Philadelphia in 1731 and became one of America’s first abolitionists. In 1770 he founded the Negro School. In 1775 he founded the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully held in Bondage.  

Examples of Franklin’s holograph from this early and formative period in his career are incredibly rare. In auction records going back at least 50 years, we find only two other Franklins from the 1730s: one from 1733, and another from 1738. Other than examples at the American Philosophical Society and Pennsylvania Historical Society, which house the bulk of Franklin’s surviving papers, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin records only a half dozen or so entries from 1732 or earlier. As of the 1950s, all but one were in institutional collections.

Benjamin Franklin was one of the first great American renaissance men, succeeding as a statesman, scientist, writer, printer and diplomat. Born in Boston, his father planned for him to become a minister, but ran out of money after he received only two years of formal education. In 1718, at the age of twelve, Franklin was sent to work as an apprentice to his half-brother, who had founded a newspaper, the New England Courant.

After spending a short time in London, Franklin settled in Philadelphia and established his own printing business in 1728.  In 1732, he published the first edition of his Poor Richard’s Almanac, an entertaining combination of traditional almanac material and maxims taken from around the world.  His witty sayings fueled the popularity of the book in America and in Europe. During the 1740s, he developed an interest in science, invented the Franklin stove, and performed a series of key experiments on electricity.  In 1757, he returned to England as Pennsylvania’s representative in a tax dispute and successfully negotiated a settlement. 

In 1764 he again found himself in England, this time arguing (unsuccessfully) against a proposed Stamp Act.  In the following years, he was retained as a colonial agent in London by Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. When the tension between England and the American colonies increased, he returned home and served as a member of the Second Continental Congress, where he organized a new postal system and helped draft the Declaration of Independence.  As minister to France, he negotiated for military and financial assistance during the War for Independence, and arranged the commercial and strategic alliance with that country in 1778. Franklin played an integral role in the Treaty of Paris of 1783, settling peace between the U.S. and Britain. Franklin went on to serve as president of Pennsylvania, and delegate and elder statesman to the Constitutional Convention, while continuing his scientific investigations. Franklin remains one of the great intellectual and political figures in American history.

Condition

The receipt book is bound in leather boards with ribbed spine. Normal wear to covers including some rubbing at corners and spine, pages only lightly soiled, else very good to fine condition. Housed in a custom clamshell case and matching slipcase bound in brown cloth with a ribbed, gilt-titled spine.


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