To celebrate the connection between Benjamin Franklin and the University of Pennsylvania the Penn Libraries has created the “Franklin Alcove”, an interactive history exhibit that honors Franklin’s legacy at Penn. and houses several of his cherished belongings, including his mahogany writing desk.
Constructed of Mahogany, oak, and brass, the desk measures 28 ¬ x 61 ̊ x 28 ̇ inches (72.5 x 155.8 x 72.4 cm), and it is the only example of Franklin’s furniture that can be documented to a specific maker, Franklin purchased the desk while in London from prominent London cabinetmaker John Mayhew in 1772 for £10.
When Franklin moved back to Philadelphia, he brought the desk with him and used it to review large folios and provide space to store his copy press.
The desk has undergone at least two significant renovations, the first in the 1850s, and the second in 2004 as part of the preparations for the Tercentenary Exhibit, which included a traveling display sent to desk to St. Louis to Houston, Denver and Atlanta.
As noted on upenn.edu . . . the desk design, also known as “partners desk” is identical on both sides, and has drawer fronts with beaded edges, brass bail handles with button escutcheons, and brass-edged keyholes. After Franklin died in 1790, the desk was owned by several Philadelphia families and was displayed at Independence Hall from about 1856 to 1866. The family of The Reverend Edwin Town subsequently gave the desk to Roland Curtin, a Penn alum and Medical School professor, and Curtin’s family donated the desk to Penn in 1916.
Currently, the desk is housed in the Reading Room of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, evoking images of the founding father examining political documents, checking account books or writing correspondences on the inset leather writing surface.
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