Charters of the Province of Pensylvania

Benjamin FRANKLIN

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Item#: 121666 price:$32,000.00

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"PENNSYLVANIA WAS A PORTENT OF THE AMERICA TO BE": FIRST EDITION OF FRANKLIN'S PRINTING OF PENNSYLVANIA CHARTERS AND LAWS, ONE OF ONLY 120 COPIES, VERY RARE ASSOCIATION COPY WITH OWNER INSCRIPTION DATED 1754, EXCEPTIONAL REVOLUTIONARY PROVENANCE OF PUBLISHER ZACHARIAH POULSON, JR., CONTEMPORARY OF FRANKLIN

(FRANKLIN, Benjamin). The Charters of the Province of Pensilvania and City of Philadelphia. BOUND WITH: A Collection of All the Laws of the Province of Pennsylvania: Now in Force. Published by Order of the Assembly. BOUND WITH: An Appendix; Containing a Summary of Such Acts of Assembly As have been formerly in Force within this Province, For Regulating of Descents, And Transfering the Property of Lands, &c. But since expired, altered or repealed. Philadelphia: Printed by B. Franklin, 1742 [i.e. 1743]. One volume. Folio, period-style full brown calf, raised bands, burgundy morocco spine label; pp. (1-2), 3-30, (1-2), 3-529, (530), 531-562, (i-ii), iii-iv, 1-24, i-xi (1). $32,000.

First edition of this folio volume of colonial Pennsylvania’s Charters and Laws, documents in which "English concepts of liberty and self-government had been planted," published by Franklin per order of the Pennsylvania Assembly, one of only 120 copies printed, an especially rare association copy signed by William Pidgeon, dated by him on the title page. The Trenton home of Pidgeon was "occupied by the Hessians" in the Battle of Trenton, and this copy's distinctive provenance is heightened by a separate inscription noting purchase by leading Revolutionary-era publisher Zachariah Poulson, a key "printer for the State Senate," whose Philadelphia print shop was around the corner from Franklin’s.

By 1700, the colony of "Pennsylvania was a portent of the America to be." Published by Benjamin Franklin, this rare volume, one of only 120 copies issued, affirms the force of that statement in its assemblage of Pennsylvania's Charters and colonial laws. Here fundamental "English concepts of liberty and self-government had been planted" that would ultimately compel American independence (Morison, 131-33). In 1736 Franklin's success as a printer led to his selection as clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly. There Franklin was able, in his words, to secure "the business of printing the votes, laws, paper money and other occasional jobs for the public" (Isaacson, 114). This record of pre-Revolutionary governance came at the Assembly's urging, which requested "a revision of the whole body of the laws… On Aug. 12, 1741, the Assembly passed the resolution authorizing the new edition… with the stipulation 'that One Hundred and Twenty Copies be bound for the Use of the Publick…' [Franklin] finished the presswork in the spring of 1743… one year later than the date on the imprint" (Miller 288). Within eight years Franklin's own election to the Assembly momentously "began his career in politics" and secured his influence on America (Isaacson, 154).

The preliminary blank leaf in this copy contains a contemporary inscription: "Bought at Bell's Auction by Poulson, Junr 1782." While the signature remains unconfirmed, it signals a clear and important link to Zachariah Poulson, Jr., born in 1761, who was one of Pennsylvania's major printers and publishers. He owned a printing press on Chestnut Street near 3rd, not far from Franklin's press, and "for many years was printer for the State Senate" (Woodbury, Public Opinion). Poulson's publications include a multi-volume History of Pennsylvania and records of the conventions of Abolition Societies. In 1800 he purchased Claypoole's American Daily Advertiser and continued its publication as one of Pennsylvania's most influential newspapers, issuing it as Poulson's American Daily Advertiser for decades prior to his death in 1844 (Brigham V.II:947). The inscribed "Bell" in the inscription's "Bell's Auction" likely references another prominent Revolutionary printer, Robert Bell. The copy notably contains the deaccession bookplate of Philadelphia's prestigious Library Company: "America's first successful lending library and oldest cultural institution," founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731 (Library Company). That exceptional provenance is enhanced by the owner signature on the general title page of "Willie Pidgeon," present near the inscription: "Price paid in Crock £1_1.15, 1754." While unconfirmed, the signature is reportedly that of the era's prominent New Jersey attorney, William Pidgeon. "Admitted to the Bar in 1750," he was "a man of standing and importance," whose home, during the Battle of Trenton, "was occupied by the Hessians" (Trenton Historical Society). The first collection of the Laws of Pennsylvania was printed in 1714 by Franklin's publishing rival Andrew Bradford. With the Laws "arranged chronologically as passed by each Assembly from 1700 to 1742" (Church 943). Mispagination (without loss of text) and catchwords as issued. Included are laws on property rights, elections, the creation of a post office, a hospital, "Houses of Correction and Work-Houses," laws on commerce and relations with the Indians, punishments for adultery and bigamy, and many others: in one volume, as issued, with printings of the 1681 Royal Charter, Penn's Charter of Privileges (1701) and his Charter of the City of Philadelphia (1701). Tower 670. Benedict 437. Campbell, 76. Evans 5033. Harvard Law Catalogue II:322. Hildeburn 755, 757. Sabin 59973, 59982. ESTC W1554. See Streeter II:848. 953. Small bit of scattered marginalia, some contemporary (in an unidentified cursive).

Interior fresh with trace of scattered foxing, ten leaves with restoration to margins, not affecting text. An especially handsome copy with a very memorable Revolutionary provenance.

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