75. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, Printer

It was as a printer that Franklin asked to be remembered. The inscription he wrote for his tombstone in 1728 reads: “B. Franklin, Printer”. His last will and testament begins: “I, Benjamin Franklin, Printer”, before it goes on to “late Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States of America to the Court of France, now President of Pennsylvania” . Although by the end of his life, Franklin was invariably addressed as “Excellency” and “Doctor”, having in fact received degrees for his contribution to science from the great universities of Europe, he wished no other honorific than “Printer”. For Franklin believed in the trade of printing as indispensable to his highest goals for society: the spread of knowledge and ideas necessary to self-governance. He laid out these views in his essay “An Apology for Printers”.

As the patron saint of American printers, Franklin has inspired tributes from his colleagues down the ages. The Franklin anniversaries are occasions for masterworks by later printers and book designers, who have taken up the Autobiography, his longest book, as a challenge. Thus for the two hundredth anniversary in 1906, Bruce Rogers, arguably the greatest book designer of the twentieth century, produced his interpretation of the Autobiography. For the two-hundred twenty-fifth anniversary in 1931, John Henry Nash printed the Autobiography for the Limited Editions Club in the elegant, decorative style for which he was renowned. Both are, appropriately, works of printing of their own time. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, with a major Franklin anniversary, the three-hundredth, being celebrated in 2006, it is fitting that an American printer of today, Andrew Hoyem, carry on this tradition with a new design and printing of the Autobiography.

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