The 300th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) is the occasion for an unprecedented display of one the unique treasures in the Huntington Library Art Collections and Botanical Gardens: the autographed manuscript of Franklin’s renowned Autobiography.
“The Art of Virtue: Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography” will be on view in the Library’s West Hall through March 26, 2006.
For the first time in nearly 200 years, the manuscript will be partially disassembled to allow visitors to see a series of pages at one time. Because the book was originally a collection of loose sheets of paper, disassembling (or disbinding) it was a simple, noninvasive process undertaken by Huntington conservators.
Initially, the loose pages had been glued to strips of paper known as tabs; the tabs were then sewn together. Conservators sliced through the tabs – not the pages of the book – to remove individual sheets.)
“The experience of seeing this extraordinary document in this way should give visitors a deeper understanding of what makes this such an iconic, celebrated American testament,” said John Rhodehamel, Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts at The Huntington.
The exhibition focuses on the central theme of the book, which Franklin called “the Art of Virtue.” The attainment of virtue was key to his plan for finding happiness through self-improvement and service to others.“The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” is a cornerstone of American literature, one of the most popular and enduring books ever written. Never out of print since its initial publication in 1791, it has been translated into every major world language. “The influence of these few hundred pages is matched by no other American book,” the late historian Clinton Rossiter once said.