Baylor Central Libraries buys almanac signed by Ben Franklin

By Josh Day

An original copy of “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” printed by Benjamin Franklin himself, has been purchased by the Baylor Central Libraries.

The 1761 edition of the iconic colonial publication was purchased this week from an Austrian rare book and antiquities seller for $6,500.

“For something of that time period, it’s not bad,” said Baylor librarian Carol Schuetz. “There aren’t many examples of this out on the market.”

Schuetz and director of the Special Collections Kathy Hillman chose the almanac to add to the collection as an example of Franklin’s printing production.

“We wanted one that was done by Franklin,” Hillman said. “This was the one that was within the price range that we could afford.”

After the two decided which almanac to purchase, an unnamed donor covered the cost in full.

According to Jennifer Borderud, a Baylor rare books catalog librarian, the donor gave the library the necessary funds after hearing the library’s plan to purchase the antique almanac.

“Kathy Hillman worked with a donor who was interested in supporting the libraries and supporting Baylor students,” Borderud said.

The addition of the “Poor Richard’s Almanac” will be the third piece of Franklin’s literature the library has acquired in the past three years, the first two being a 1748 edition of “The Doctrine of the Quakers Vindicated” and a 1749 copy of Franklin’s colonial newspaper “The Pennsylvania Gazette.”

Andrea Turner, the library acquisitions unit leader, said the opportunity to get an item as exceptional as the “Poor Richard’s Almanac” is rare.

“Maybe once a year do we get something as exciting as this,” Turner said.

“Poor Richard’s Almanac” was printed yearly and was a best-selling pamphlet that contained information on a wide variety of topics, including weather forecasts, travel, medical advice, astrological information and the occasional proverbs that are credited to Franklin.

“The Poor Richard’s were the best selling piece of literature in colonial America,” said professor of management Blaine McCormick. “They were like the colonial smart-phone. Everyone had one.”

McCormick, who is a board member for the Friends of Franklin, spearheaded the effort for the library to acquire examples of Benjamin Franklin’s publications. His class, “Business, the Economy, and World Affairs,” centers on the life, the printing techniques and the business practices of Benjamin Franklin.

The almanac will be available for the class’s students to directly read and touch during the course, under the supervision of one of the librarians.

McCormick said that he was happy to exhibit the original publications to the hundreds of students that enroll in his class and was pleased with cooperation of the library.

“Not every library shares their special collection so freely,” McCormick said.

Hillman said the “Poor Richard’s Almanac” and the materials of the Baylor special collections will be available to students, faculty and small classes for the students to see and use for research, upon appointment.

Students will be able to hold the almanac, but are not allowed to check it out from the library with their Baylor ID.

“If the dog ate it you would owe us money,” Hillman said. “We can’t handle those kind of surprises.”

Schuetz said the library was glad to obtain an artifact that would be shared among the students.

“We’re pretty excited about it because it’s something that we can take out and show to the students,” Schuetz said. “It won’t sit on the shelf in a temperature-controlled room that we have in the library for these things. It’s something that will actually go out to a class as a way for the students to see a bit of living history, something from when our country was first starting out.”

She said she hopes that in the future the library will continue to acquire things that are both relevant and accessible to the Baylor students, but she also said she doesn’t know what they are planning to acquire next.

“Who knows,” she said. “Word might get around that we’ve got this, and someone else might have another idea for what we should go out and look for.”