In the object-preparation room, Talbott points out rare editions that Franklin cited in his famous Autobiography. John Locke’s Rules of a Society (1720), for example, inspired the formation of Franklin’s Junto, a Philadelphia group interested in civic improvements. It is being lent by the Walter J. and Leonore Annenberg Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Penn. Also from Penn’s rare books repository comes a handwritten household-account book kept by Franklin’s major domo at his household in Passy, France, in 1783-84. “It’s a piece of ephemera,” Talbott says, that his family nevertheless cherished through the centuries. “Unlike the artifacts, which got distributed very fast, I think that they understood that Franklin was a man for posterity in terms of his writings.”

A Wellesley graduate with a master’s degree from the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in American Culture, as well as a Penn doctorate in American Civilization, Talbott joined the exhibition team (and took over as associate director of the Tercentenary) in January 2003. By then, a committee of scholars already had developed the show’s themes. Among them was J.A. Leo Lemay, author of a multivolume biography of Franklin being published by the University of Pennsylvania Press and the H.F. Winterthur Professor of English at the University of Delaware. Lemay, who is currently completing the third volume, calls Franklin “the earliest and most thorough of all the revolutionaries.”

As curator, Talbott devised a 79-page, single-spaced outline, many of whose details—like a discussion of the impact of key Puritan leaders on Franklin’s thought—never found their way into the exhibition. But the document served as a roadmap for the long, tortuous process of identifying desired artifacts and working out loans.

High on Talbott’s wish list was a pastel of Polly Stevenson (ca. 1772), the daughter of Franklin’s London landlady, and a close friend who helped care for him in America before his death in 1790. “We knew that it existed, we had seen images of it, but we didn’t know where it was,” says Talbott. “It had disappeared from the face of the earth as far as we knew.” Then, one day, she was contacted by a man named Theodore E. Wiederseim, who owns an auction business in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, and who knew that a Franklin exhibition was in the works. “Lo and behold,” says Talbott, “he happens to be a descendant of Polly Stevenson—and he had the pastel. And he was willing to lend it.”

(10) “Join, or Die” cartoon published in the May 9, 1754 Pennsylvania Gazette, from the Library Company. (11) French pearwood chess set (1750-1780) owned by Franklin, from the American Philosophical Society. (12) Top portion of one of the earliest lightning rods erected by Franklin (ca. 1756), on the John Wister house on High (now Market) Street; the tip was probably melted by a lightning strike and then bent by wind, from the Frankliniana Collection, The Franklin Institute, Inc. Photos (11, 12) by Peter Harholdt.

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COVER STORY: Stuff of Legend By Julia M. Klein

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(7) Illustration of the parts of a “Franklin Stove” in “An Account of the New Invented Pennsylvanian Fire-Places,” artist/author: Benjamin Franklin (1744), from the Library Company of Philadelphia. (8) Second Philadelphia lottery ticket, printed by Franklin in 1748 for the Association for Defense, to raise money for strengthening the city’s defenses, from the Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia. (9) Mahogany, silver, and brass walking stick (French, late 18th century), owned by Franklin and given to the Marquis de Lafayette, Penn Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Photos by Peter Harholdt.