Benjamin Franklin Papers

Franklin’s Specimen of Polytype Printing, 24 April 1783

Franklin’s Specimen of Polytype Printing1

ADS: Yale University Library

[April 24, 1783]

A Wit’s a Feather, & a Chief’s a Rod;

An honest Man’s the noblest Work of God.


1On April 10, WTF and others had visited François Hoffmann and participated in a demonstration of his polytype process, a method of reproducing handwriting or line drawings. (See the annotation of Samuel Vaughan, Jr., to BF, [April] 6, above.) BF visited Hoffmann on April 24 and wrote this specimen. The polytype method involved having an individual write or draw on a highly-polished copper plate with special ink. The ink, which contained “an earthy substance,” had sufficient contour that Hoffmann could press the copper plate onto another metal surface that would received its impression, creating a reverse image. This second “engraved” plate would be inked and used to print multiple copies: Jefferson Papers, X, 318–24.

BF would have recognized Hoffmann’s method as similar in concept to what he had devised many years earlier in America; see XXXIII, 117.

2BF had inscribed the same verse in Steinsky’s autograph book on Jan. 27, 1781: XXXIV, 316.

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