Designs Relating To Franklin
THE great popularity and long residence of Benjamin Franklin abroad would account for the many and varied ceramic relics relating to him that were manufactured in England and France during his lifetime, and that are still in existence, more varied in quality and shape even than those relating to Washington. Nor after his death did the production cease. I will place at the head of the list the most beautiful of them all.
39. Group of Louis XVI. and Benjamin Franklin. Niderviller.
This lovely statuette is of purest white porcelain bisque, and is about twelve inches in height, and ten inches in length. The face of the figure of Franklin is exceedingly fine, and. is, in a degree, unlike any other portrait of him that I have seen. It has all the benignancy and sweetness of expression with which we are familiar, and an added nobility and intelligence which is more marked and more impressive than in any other likeness. It is an ideal portrait of Franklin, which must be regarded with pleasure and interest by every historical student. The figure of the King is also extremely fine and imposing. The face is beautiful, the carriage manly, and the half suit of armor, with the long royal cloak of ermine, form an impressive contrast with the simple fur-trimmed garment of Franklin, whose figure is slightly bent, but still impressive. The King holds in his hand a parchment book or scroll bearing on one leaf in golden letters the words, "Independance de 1'Amerique," and on another leaf, "Liberte des Mers." This group was made to commemorate our treaty with France in 1788. It is beautifully modelled and of highest artistic merit, and must take rank as the most important relic of our country that has yet been figulated. It bears the stamp " Niderviller," and was made at that factory while it was owned 'by Count Custine. He had fought with Lafayette in the war for American Independence, and doubt-less knew Franklin. The statue was evidently modelled from life. Count Custine also gave to Washington the beautiful tea-service described on page 244 et seq. Three only of these portrait groups of Franklin and Louis XVI. are known to exist ; the only perfect one is owned by William C. Prime, Esq., of New York, and will form part of the Trumbull-Prime Collection at Princeton ; from it the illustration here given was taken. Another imperfect one is in the possession of William A. Hoppin, Esq., of Providence ; and a third and mutilated specimen is in the Huntington Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
40. Franklin. Medallions. Nini.
Some very good medallions of Benjamin Franklin were manufactured by Jean Baptiste Nini, who in 176o entered the em-ploy of M. Leray, or M. de Chaumont, at Chaumont. Nini was a glass engraver of rare merit, and his work on these medallions was very beautiful. The fine copper moulds for his medallions that he employed were melted down into ingots in 1820. His work may be known by the mark engraved in the soft paste of ",Nini," or "J. B. Nini F."—sometimes with the date. He made at least six different sizes of medallions of Franklin, some of which bear the date in relief.
Franklin, writing from Passy in 1779 to his daughter, Mrs. Sarah Bache, speaks thus of these Nini medallions : " The clay medallion of me you say you gave Mr. Hopkinson was the first of the kind made in France. A variety of others have been made since of various sizes ; some to be set in the lids of snuff-boxes, and some so small as to be worn in rings ; and the numbers sold are incredible. These, with the pictures and prints (of which copies upon copies are spread everywhere), have made your father's face as well known as that of the moon, so that he durst not do anything that would oblige him to run away, as his phiz would discover him whereever he should venture to show it.. It is said by learned etymologists that the name of doll for the image children play with is derived from the word idol. From the number of dolls now made of him he may be truly said, in that sense, to be idolized in this country."
In several other published letters Franklin speaks of making gifts of these medallions to his friends, and states that they were made at Chaumont. Madame de Campan says that they were sold at the palace of Versailles, and bore this motto, " Eripuit coelo fulmen, scet rurmque tyrannis."
There are in the Huntington Collection several specimens of these Nini medallions, that collection containing in all eleven medallions of Franklin, many of which being unmarked it is futile to attempt to classify. A Nini medallion having a fine fur-cap portrait sold in the Governor Lyon sale for ten dollars. Mr. Huntington wrote thus to Hon. John Bigelow, of Nini and his medallions : " He must have had a certain vogue in his time, medallions of folks of the superior classes from his hand still turning up at sales and in curiosity shops. He did two Franklins—both at the Metropolitan Museum—dated and signed. The smaller one, with the cap, 1777 B. Franklin, Americain,' was among the earliest of the Franklin idols made here, and has been numerously reproduced by French, English, and other engravers. The larger, which is of the more usual size of Nini's work, is much rarer, has never been engraved from, as far as I know, and is to my notion one of the most finely characterized of all the Franklin portraits—1799 (and in some copies MDCCLXXIX. ; you will find specimens of both in the museum), with Turgot's lines for the legend. In his letter to his daughter, Passy, 3d of June, B. F. writes : ` The clay medallion of me you say you gave Mr. Hopkinson was the first of the kind made in France.' This must be the one with the cap. If the Ven. F. is correct in his statement, it would curiously seem that his friend Chaumont set Nini at him as soon as he caught the artist, to start (we should now say inaugurate) his furnace at Chaumont with the likeness of his friend."
41. Franklin. Medallion. Wedgwood.
This appears in Wedgwood's Catalogue of 1787 under the head of " Illustrious Moderns." It was made in black basalt and blue and white jasper. There appear to have been two of these portraits ; for at the sale of the collection of Dr. Gibson, in London, March, 1877, a blue jasper medallion of Dr. Franklin, by Wedgwood & Bentley, was sold for L12 12s., while one with the fur-cap by Wedgwood sold for £11. Specimens can be seen in the Huntington Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in the Trumbull-Prime Collection at Princeton.
42. Franklin. Cameo. Wedgwood. In Wedgwood's Catalogue of 1787. Made in white on colored grounds, and in pure white.
43. Franklin. Intaglio. Wedgwood.
This is named in Wedgwood's Catalogue of 178y It was smaller, to be used as a seal, and was of black ware highly polished. One may be seen in the Trumbull-Prime Collection.
44. Franklin. Oval Plaque. Bristol. This medallion of Franklin is upon one of Richard Champion's exquisite flower-plaques. This plaque is considered by Owen to be " the most important" of Champion's work. Champion was an ardent admirer of America and Americans, and his special veneration for Franklin evidently impelled him to produce this elaborate work. It is eight and a half inches in length, and seven and a half in width, the portrait bust being surrounded immediately by a laurel wreath tied with a bow-knot, and outside the laurel wreath by a rich wreath of roses and lilies in highly raised and most delicate work. Another specimen of the same medallion is known to exist upon a plain ground plaque, and has often been attributed to the Sevres manufactory. One of these flower-plaques with the bust of Franklin was exhibited at the Loan Collection in New York, in 1889, by Dr. Caspar Wister Hodge, of Princeton, N. J. Rev. Dr. Hodge was the grandson of William Bache, the grandson of Franklin. Dr. Hodge's mother was born in Franklin's house in Philadelphia, and her account of the flower-plaque was that it was made at the Sevres manufactory and was the gift of Louis XVI. to Benjamin Franklin ; that it had been sent to America by private hands, in connection with a similar one of George Washington, which was surmounted by a gilt crown ; and that the messenger, in officious democratic zeal, picked off the crown with his penknife be-fore delivering the medallion.
Dr. Hodge said it was a complete surprise to him, and it could not have been a very pleasant one, when he offered the plaque for exhibition in New York, to be told that it was Bristol china, and was not unique. Of course these latter facts might be so without destroying the other part of the family tradition—that it was a royal gift ; but it is far more probable that Richard Champion presented this choice specimen of his work to Franklin, for in a letter to Champion, written from Paris, January 2, 1778, the unknown writer speaks of a visit to Franklin, and says : " He begs his compliments and is much obliged for your present, which arrived in perfect safety. He says that there is a good likeness with Wedgwood & Bentley's, only with this difference, that he wears his hair, which is rather straight and long, instead of a wig, and is very high in his forehead."
In the Lewis sale of Washington relics, held in Philadelphia, in December, 1890, there was sold an "oval porcelain plaque with a bust of Benjamin Franklin in a wreath of china roses and lilies, 81 inches by 7i inches." This I believe to have been the one which tradition in the Hodge family says came over to Washington. Some of the Bristol flower-plaques had a crown above the medallion ; one in Mr. Edkin's Collection is illustrated in Owen's " Two Centuries of Ceramic Art in Bristol." The Franklin plaque sold in Philadelphia for ninety dollars—a price to make an English collector groan with envy—while the one in Mr. Edkin's Collection (from which is taken the engraving in Mr. Owen's book) sold in England in 1874 for 150 . Dr. Hodge had an insurance of one thousand dollars offered to him on his Franklin plaque when it was in New York.
45. Franklin. Medallion. Neale & Co. The head of Dr. Franklin in pottery, by Neale & Co., Hanley. It is an oval medallion.
Franklin. Relief Portrait. Dresden. See No. 29.
46. Franklin. Statuette. Wood.
This pottery statue is fifteen inches in height, and is neither very impressive nor well modelled. One in the Huntington Collection is colored, Poor Richard being gayly attired in gray coat, yellow waistcoat, and pink breeches. He carries his hat under his left arm, and a scroll in his left hand. Another in the same collection is precisely like it, save that the head only is colored. It is labelled, in gold letters, " General Washington." This mistake easily arose, for the statuette of Washington, described in No. 24, is exactly like this Franklin statuette except the head, which in the latter has flowing natural hair. A number of these Franklin statuettes bear the name of Washington, and it does not matter much, for they do not closely resemble either of the great Americans. This statuette is attributed to Ralph Wood or Enoch Wood, of Burslem. There are three of these figures in the Trumbull-Prime Collection, dressed in vari-colored garments, one being much smaller, about thirteen inches in height. But for the right arm being more extended, it would appear that the original mould had become worn and a new one cast, which in shrinking made this reduction in the size of this figure. One of these statuettes of Franklin in the S. L. M. Barlow Collection was sold in 1890 for forty-two dollars.
47. Franklin. Statuette.
In the Catalogue of the Museum of Practical Geology, Number G. 374, is described thus : "Statuette of Dr. Franklin painted in colors. Height, 13 1/4 inches. Mounted on square marbled pedestal with oval yellow medallions in relief ; unmarked. This may be a Salopian figure." One of these statuettes is in the Huntington Collection ; the medallions being in blue and white. Dr. Franklin wears in this case white breeches, blue waistcoat, scarlet coat, a blue ribbon with an order, and a long ermine cloak. This statuette is rather funny, though at first glance it is quite impressive. The Doctor, comparatively de-void of pendulous chin, stands erect and beautiful, with his head thrown back with a most imperious and even imperial air, to which the ermine cloak gives added weight and zest. He is so erect and so slender that we hardly know him. But when we glance at his feet, the impression of youthfulness and beauty' vanishes. With feet several sizes too large for his figure, and gaudy light-green slippers several sizes too large even for those feet, we turn away to our familiar good- old dewlapped man with the fur cap, and like him better than this splay-footed, ermine-cloaked plantigrade.
48. Franklin. Statuette.
Parian figure about seven inches in height. The likeness is good, though the feet are abnormally narrow and pointed ; unmarked. A copy may be seen in the Huntington Collection.
49. Franklin. Statuette.
Pottery figure about seven inches in height, leaning on a pink pedestal decorated with raised white eagles. The coat is black, breeches yellow, and waistcoat pink. This gayly garbed slim young fellow does not at all resemble our own Franklin. The statuette is unmarked. A specimen may be seen in the Huntington Collection.
50. Franklin. Statuette.
This pottery figure is fifteen inches in height, and is in feature and figure and dress like No. 46, and was evidently modelled by the same hand. It is a poor thing, and bears but little resemblance to Franklin. A dilapidated specimen is in the Huntington Collection.
51. Franklin. Mirror Knob.
Print of Franklin in black on oval porcelain plaque in a mirror knob. For description of these knobs see page 159 et seq.
52. Franklin. Fur-cap Portrait.
Round plate with fluted border, with splashes of purple and yellow like No. 81. In the centre a good rendering of the fur-cap portrait of Franklin. In the Huntington Collection.
53. Franklin. Fur-cap Portrait. Plate with pierced border like No. 82. Well-painted portrait in centre. In the Huntington Collection.
54. Franklin. Portrait. Dresden. A Dresden plate with flower border and good portrait of Franklin. In Huntington Collection.
55. Franklin. Bust.
Small bust of Franklin in bisque, mounted on a yellow and gold pedestal. Marked Francklin." In Huntington Collection.
56. Franklin. Bust.
A bust of Franklin in what appears to be modern majolica. In Huntington Collection.
57. Franklin. Bust.
White pottery bust glazed, about ten inches in height. Around the base a wreath of laurel. In Huntington Collection.
58. Franklin. Bust.
White porcelain bisque bust, five inches in height, mounted on dark blue and gold stand. In Huntington Collection.
59. Franklin. Portrait. Dresden.
A portrait of Franklin on a great cylindrical covered jar, twenty inches in height and eight inches in diameter. The portrait is good, though the mouth is exaggeratedly small and the chin exaggeratedly remultiplied. It is surrounded by a well-painted wreath of flowers.
Franklin. Figure on Pitcher.
See No. 17.
Franklin. Fur-cap Portrait.
See No. 13.
Franklin. Emblem of America Pitcher.
See No. 98.
60. Franklin. Tomb.
This design was printed in dark blue on dinner, breakfast, tea, and toilet services in vast numbers. In such large numbers, in fact, that the pieces with this design are cheaper than any others bearing the names of any historical personages. I have bought a large teapot for 'a dollar, cups and saucers for a dollar, etc. This might be classed among the .Lafayette prints, but as we are not sure that the seated figure is in-tended for Lafayette, and Franklin cannot escape the formal witness of his inscribed tomb, we place it in this place in the list. A teapot bearing this print is here shown.
61. Franklin. Print. Fur-cap Portrait.
This print is in black on pitchers and bowls. It is the fur-cap portrait with the' glasses. The legend reads : " Ben Franklin Esq. LL.D. and F.R.S., the brave defender of the country against the oppression of taxation without representation—author of the greatest discovery in Natural Philosophy since those of Sir Isaac Newton, viz.: that lightning is the same with the electric fire." See No. 18.
62. Franklin. Portrait.
A full-length print of Franklin on mug, with various maxims of Poor Richard's.
63. Franklin. Portrait.
A light-blue print of Franklin found on toilet services. The philosopher is seen flying his famous kite.
64. Dr. Franklin's Maxims.
Plate of cream ware with relief border of scrolls and scallops intertwined, with words in ornamental capitals, "Fear God : Honour your Parents." In the centre is a green print of a view of the inside and outside of a shop, with figures. Those within are working, those without are idle. Above, the words, " Dr. Franklin's Maxims." Below, the maxims, " Keep thy shop and thy shop will keep thee," " If you would have your business done, go ; if not, send." This plate is in the possession of Mrs. Nealy, of Washington, D. C.
65. Franklin's Morals. Staffordshire.
Dark-blue plate with waving edge, and dainty border of fruit, shells, and flowers. In the centre a man carrying a large key. Houses and a bridge in the background. On the back of the plate the words, " Franklin's Morals, ' The used key is always bright.' "
66. Franklin. House at Passy.
Upon a beautiful Sevres vase at the Executive Mansion in Washington is seen a view of Franklin's house at Passy.
67. Franklin. Portrait Plaque.
Oval plaque of Italian majolica marked with inscription, " Cortoni Fab Alari.. Beniamino Franklin, C. Brunacci Depinse." In the Huntington Collection. There are also three other majolica plates and plaques in this collection hearing portraits of Franklin.
I may say, in conclusion, what I have already shown in detail, that there can be no better opportunity of studying the face of Franklin, as shown in pottery and porcelain, than in the Huntington Collection. There are eleven relief medallions, eleven enamels, nine busts, six statues, and a large number of plates and plaques. You can also compare these ceramic portraits with innumerable bronzes, engravings, art gems, cameos, gold and silver and pewter work bearing the same serene, benignant face, and with some very funny though unintentional caricatures of Franklin by Japanese and Chinese artists, in some of which the well-known fur-cap has been transformed into a close crop of short woolly curls.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )