Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dr. Franklin's Maxims (and other bits of wisdom... or decorative art...)

Recently I created an exhibit of objects from the collection related to Benjamin Franklin - it is quite varied in subject and materials; including plates and cups with "Franklin's Proverbs;" a lovely framed silhouette of Ben; and "A Treaty... With The Indians Of The Six Nations..." printed and sold by Benjamin Franklin.

He was a man of many talents and interests, as noted in this entry from Wikipedia, "Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790) was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author and printer, satirist, political theorist, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. He invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and the glass 'armonica'. He formed both the first public lending library in America and the first fire department in Pennsylvania. He was an early proponent of colonial unity, and as a political writer and activist he supported the idea of an American nation. As a diplomat during the American Revolution he secured the French alliance that helped to make independence of the United States possible."

In these lean times I can't help but be struck by some of the words of our wise and inventive statesman. His original maxims appeared in Poor Richard's Almanac between the years 1732 - 1758. We are all familiar with the saying, "Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise." But some of the sayings on our transfer-ware plates and cups will be less familiar. Staffordshire ceramics factories began producing smaller china for children around 1790 (coincidentally the same year Franklin died.) Designs and sayings from books and magazines were freely "borrowed" (despite copyright laws forbidding this) and Ben Franklin's proverbs were printed on plates and cups made for children and containing "Lessons for Youth on Industry, Temperance & Frugality..."

On the cup: "If you would know the value of money try to borrow some. When the well is dry thy know the worth of water..."

Alice T. Miner purchased these cups and plates some time before 1924. They are usually housed with other transfer-ware pieces in one of the cases lining the walls of the ballroom. I've selected a few to include in this exhibit to allow visitors a closer look at this collection within a collection.

"Keep Thy Shop and Thy Shop Will Keep Thee..."

"Women and wine, game and deceit, make the wealth small and the want great. What maintains one vice, would bring up two children."

There are two images in the exhibit representing Benjamin Franklin. One is a framed steel engraving and the other a simple silhouette or "shade." The silhouette of Franklin in The Alice's collection shows the familiar and oft reproduced profile. Held in a lovely gold frame, this image dates to circa 1800.

The most extraordinary item in this exhibit is a 1744 treaty printed by Benjamin Franklin and is his account of a meeting between representatives of the Provinces of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland with "The Indians of the Six Nations" held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in June 1744.

The last image I'll reveal of this exhibit is a J.F.E. Prud'homme framed steel engraving after John Trumbull's "The Declaration of Independence." This image may be familiar to you from the back of the $2 bill. Ben Franklin is among the five statesman standing in front of the table - he is the gentleman on our right holding his spectacles. To see this image larger simply click on the photo... or, better yet, come to The Alice for a tour and see the exhibit for yourself!

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