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Franklin CollectiblesAuthor: Nancy Poore Rufts
( Article orginally published February 1963 )
Of Benjamin Franklin, American statesman, scientist, and writer, born January 17, 1706, Carl Van Doren wrote, "He was more than a single man; he was a harmonious human multitude."
His extreme versatility is apparent to anyone who attempts a collection related to his achievements. Such would include books and pamphletsabout him, by him, or printed on his press; prints and engravings in which he features; early fire itemshe founded the first fire department in this country; lightning rods, fireplace stoves, bifocals-he invented them all. The list could go on and on.
Perhaps the most charming of individual items for present day collectors are the plates and mugs decorated with maxims from his Poor Richard's Almanack.
Franklin began his pocket-sized paperbound Almanacks in 1732, interspersing weather information with witty aphorisms and moral precepts. They sold at a rate of 10,000 annually, providing in many an early household the only reading matter for the famly. The wise sayings of Poor Richard, praising common sense, honesty, and prudence, became wonderfully successful in the instruction of American morals. While they borrowed freely from the classics-Pope, Dryden, Swift, Bacon, Rabalais-they were simplified, sharpened, and flavored with Franklin's own wit and wisdom. Such maxims as "God helps those who help themselves," "Plough deep while sluggards sleep," have long been American proverbs.
Staffordshire potters, who shipped quantities of cottage ware to America between 1780 and 1830, transferred Poor Richard's maxims to colorful mugs and plates, many with alphabet borders. Peddlers, carrying their wares, along with news and gossip, to isolated homes, sold them by the thousands.
An outstanding collection of diversified Franklin items may be seen at Mrs. K's Toll House in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside of Washington, an eating place famous both for its American cuisine and its antiquefilled lounges. To be studied at leisure, in the Benjamin Franklin Room are maxim plates, mugs, and cards, Franklin prints and other memorabilia. Above the mantel hangs the large hand colored steel engraving by O. Pelton, 1859, of Franklin surrounded by twenty-four illustrated Poor Richard maxims shown on this month's cover.
Below: Maxim mugs, many headed "Dr. Franklin's Almanac," decorate the Benjamin Franklin room at Mrs. K's Toll House. Mug with sign below is in rare yellow. Child's set of dishes, bottom shelf, is complete with original box. Alphabet mug in sign language, second shelf, center.