Philly is full of hidden historical treasures – like the Library Company. Founded in 1731 by (you guessed it) Ben Franklin, as an off-shoot of the Junto – his enlightenment era book group/discussion club. Basically, it was a way for well-off, but not rich, members to have access to books that they normally wouldn’t be able to afford. Members pooled their money to purchase books that were then loaned out to the members (and anyone else who could cover the book’s cost if it wasn’t returned) free of charge. This was the first subscription library in the colonies and a forerunner of today’s public lending libraries. Over the years, the library has continued to collect material and accept donations, and today houses one of the most significant collections of historically valuable manuscripts and printed material in the US (including over 2,000 items belonging to Ben Franklin). Like the American Philosophical Society (Treasures of the American Philosophical Society), this is primarily a research library, but they have a small gallery with rotating exhibits that is free and open to the public. The winter 2019 exhibit (“Stylish Books”) was full of interesting 18th and 19th century furniture design books. I totally need to re-decorate, just so I can have these curtains! Although this adjustable, four sided writing desk, complete with locking compartment was really cool (c. 1770’s and originally owned by founding father and Library Company member, John Dickinson), the coolest item was this lion’s mouth suggestion box (c. 1750), hung to solicit members’ suggestions for books to be purchased.
A past exhibit on the Philadelphia home-front during World War I had these recipes, which we are definitely going to try one day:
The Library Company offers a variety of programs and lectures throughout the year (listed on the website).
Tobey says: Most of the stuff is boring, but the WWI recipes were kind of interesting.
If you are in the area, it’s worth popping next door to the Pennsylvania Historical Society. This is also primarily a research institution (they have a very active genealogy program), but they have several cases in the reading room that contain rotating displays of items in the collection. Founded in 1824, the historical society houses over 19 million items ranging from photograph albums and scrapbooks of ordinary citizens to Martha Washington’s cookbook and William Penn’s archives (but they no longer house art and artifacts – those were transferred to the Philadelphia History Museum in 2002 after the theft of over 200 objects by a janitor. You can read about it in the book “Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures.” Note: the Philadelphia History Museum closed in 2018 due to lack of funding. It is currently looking for a new home for the collections). Admission is free – you just have to check in at the front desk. They also host a variety of classes and lectures.
FIELD TRIPS: the Historical Society offers a variety of field trip opportunities, utilizing primary source materials in the collection. The programs are free and can be customized to topics of your choice. We have done several programs focusing on Constitutional rights and one on the changing roles of women in society.