Friday, January 20, 2012

Coffee Tales - Benjamin Franklin 1706-1790

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A classic English engine-turned redware coffee pot, circa 1770

"Among the numerous luxuries of the table...coffee may be considered as one of the most valuable. It excites cheerfulness without intoxication; and the pleasing flow of spirits which it occasions...is never followed by sadness, languor or debility." American printer & politician Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) portrait by David Martin (1737-1797) c 1766-67

In 1766, Franklin was in London, lobbying & attempting to testify before the House of Commons for the repeal of the Stamp Act. Even though he was well-known in the English Parliament, he was not successful in convincing them to change their minds. At that time, Franklin's reputation rested on his scientific achievements. His Experiments and Observations on Electricity (1751) had been reprinted, and he had received numerous honorary degrees & awards for that work. While in London, Franklin's portrait was commissioned by his friend, Edinburgh wine merchant Robert Alexander. Alexander paid fellow Scot David Martin to paint the portrait. Franklin liked his wine, & evidently he also liked the portrait, which was exhibited to London audiences in the spring of 1767, for he commissioned this slightly modified replica & shipped it back home to Philadelphia. Here the artist portrays Franklin in a blue suit with elaborate gold braid & buttons, a far cry from the simple frontier dress he affected at the French court in later years. He also wears a popular wig of the era called "physical," usually worn by physicians & other men of learning. Martin portrayed Franklin as a studious, prosperous man of science, seated amongst books & papers. The impressive beribboned document held by Franklin in the portrait is not a treaty or an Act of Parliament, but one of wine merchant Alexander's property deeds! The other books & pamphlets & the bust of Isaac Newton invoke Enlightenment ideals. Here Franklin supports his head with his hand, a pose traditionally associated with deep thought; but in this case only the thumb actually supports his head, giving far more alertness to the pose than that of an aging 67-year-old. Some refer to this as the "thumb portrait."

For more early morning coffee tales, click here.
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