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Legacies: Collecting America's History at the Smithsonian, by Steven Lubar and Kathleen M. Kendrick
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Franklin press, about 1725Franklin press, about 1725

The brass label affixed to this printing press in 1833 tells an intriguing story. In 1768 Benjamin Franklin, then the American envoy to England, visited a London printing shop, saw this press, and identified it as the one on which he had worked as an English printer's apprentice in 1725-26. Although these claims have been difficult to prove, they convinced John B. Murray, an American working in London, to purchase the "Franklin" press in 1842 and ship it to the United States, where for forty years it was exhibited at the Patent Office. In 1847 Murray, looking for a buyer, offered the press to the Smithsonian for $5,000 but was turned down; in 1848 he attempted to raffle it off but could not sell enough lottery tickets. In 1883 the Franklin press, still on loan from Murray, was transferred to the Smithsonian with the Patent Office collection. In 1892, after Murray's death, his widow offered to sell the press to the Smithsonian for $750. After nearly ten years of bureaucratic wrangling, the Franklin press was officially added to the Smithsonian collections in 1901.

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