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Philadelphia story

Founding father’s first printed work rediscovered

Printing piece
Benjamin Franklin’s first known piece of printing, an elegy for Philadelphia poet Aquila Rose, was recently discovered after 300 years. Image: University of Pennsylvania Libraries

Benjamin Franklin did more than pioneer the national postal system. He revolutionized the printing industry, too.

Researchers recently rediscovered the first printed work of the nation’s first Postmaster General, an elegy titled “The Elegy on the Death of Aquila Rose.”

The whereabouts of the elegy, which a 17-year-old Franklin printed in 1723, were unknown for 200 years.

Franklin, who ran away from Boston to Philadelphia for printing work, used a bold design to create the work that included a woodcut of a skull-and-crossbones motif.

“That’s the introduction of New England print culture to the Philadelphia area — by a runaway teenager,” Carmen D. Valentino, a Philadelphia rare book and manuscript dealer, told The Washington Post.

The Aquila Rose elegy, which hadn’t been seen since 1820, was discovered inside a scrapbook containing other historic works, such as a rare woodcut from a 1780 German almanac depicting Benedict Arnold.

Franklin’s printing will be displayed at the University of Pennsylvania, which he founded in 1740, in honor of his 311th birthday.

“This is the first time this sort of image of the broadside is being publicly displayed,” said the university’s curator, Mitch Frass. “It’s a part of the Philadelphia story.”

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