Rare Collection of Benjamin Franklin’s Privately Printed ‘Bagatelles’ on the Block

NEW YORK – An extremely rare, finely bound collection of Benjamin Franklin’s privately printed “Bagatelles”—light essays, witty dialogues and satirical sketches printed by Franklin himself—will be a featured lot in of Christie’s Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts sale, slated for June 23.

Written by Franklin at his residence in Passy, a Paris suburb, while serving as U.S. Commissioner to France from 1778-1784 (working to win France’s aid and assistance in the American Revolution), the bagatelles, most of which are in French, were printed in very few limited run and intended for the amusement of Franklin’s intimate friends. Franklin only printed a handful of copies and this volume is estimated to bring between $250,000-$350,000 at the auction.

Franklin had learned the printing trade as a young man in his brother’s print-shop and he became the foremost printer in colonial Philadelphia. Appointed by Congress as Commissioner to France, he took up residence in the Paris suburb of Passy in the latter part of 1776. Not long afterwards, he acquired a small press and purchased a generous supply of printing types. While he used both to print official forms and records for the U.S., in his spare time he used the press for more personal purposes: the bagatelles.

Elegantly printed on fine hand-made paper, the bagatelles furnish a delightful glimpse into Franklin’s private circle. They include an imaginary debate between Franklin and his gout; a humorous petition from the flies in Franklin’s Passy home; a sharp satire against the Royal Society of Belgium (proposing a prize for a cure for flatulence); “The Story of the Whistle,” a moralizing reminiscence from his childhood; cautionary advice for persons planning to emigrate to America, and a brief essay on the manners of the American Indian, to name a few.

Bound with these rarities are five additional bagatelles neatly hand-written in a fine italic hand of the period.

For more information about this auction, visit the Christie’s web site.

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