My knowledge of American history is pathetically sparse because I came to this wonderful country as an adult. But even I have heard of Benjamin Franklin! And I am particulary interested in him because of two rare Staffordshire figure of this Founding Father. The first is in in Brighton's Willett Collection.
Staffordshire figure of Benjamin Franklin in the Willett Collection, Brighton
Appropriately, there is an even more gorgeous example in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and it is titled Ben Franklin. I glimpsed it two years ago at a distance across a roped-off room--sadly, the only English pottery figure on display in that museum on that day.
Staffordshire figure of Ben Franklin in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
As I work on my next book, I am trying to tie Staffordshire figures to their design sources. I have been able to find quite obscure sources for some figures, so I assumed Ben Franklin would be easy. Think again!
These pearlware figures of Franklin were made by Ralph Wood probably circa 1790...but I simply cannot find their design source. Despite their resemblance to statues across America, I remain stumped. All these statues postdate the figures by many years. Does anyone know of an eighteenth century source for this figure? Help please! firstname.lastname@example.org
This statue of Franklin in Washington DC looks just like our Staffordshire figure. The figure's design source? No. The statue was erected in 1889, designed by Ernst Plassman (1823-1877) and sculpted by Jacques Jouvenal (1829-?) . Clearly, it could not be the design source for our figure, but I sure wish I knew what Plassman's source was!
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was a great American statesman, scientist, author, printer, diplomat, inventor, and mathematician. Jack of all trades, and Master of All. He considered himself an Englishman...until he became an American Revolutionary! He lived in England for much of his adult life--conveniently leaving behind his his wife because she refused to travel by sea. From 1724-1728, Franklin was in the employ of two famous British printers; from 1757-1762 he was the London agent of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and again from 1764-1775.
Franklin was honored with the British Royal Society's prestigious Copley Medal, was inducted into the Royal Society of Arts, received honorary degrees from Cambridge, Oxford, and the University of Edinburgh, and was honored by both the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society and the Medical Society of London. A hero? That wife back home still bothers me!