Financial History 140 Winter 2022 - Page 34

Jane , a Whitefield devotee — five of the faithful perished .
Sometimes warned by express riders of Whitefield ’ s approach to a town , thousands would pour in from the countryside to see and hear the celebrated goldenhaired evangelist . One report from the Gazette ’ s Newport correspondent ( also a relative of Franklin ’ s ) noted that Whitefield had to preach twice in the same day in the Anglican church to overflow congregations .
The normally tightfisted Franklin attended one of Whitefield ’ s Philadelphia sermons . In his autobiography , Franklin recalled that he was well aware beforehand of the evangelist ’ s mission to raise funds to build an orphanage in Georgia :
I perceived he intended to finish with a Collection , and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me . I had in my Pocket a Handful of Copper Money , three or four silver Dollars and five Pistoles in Gold . As he proceeded I began to soften , and concluded to give the Coppers . Another stroke of his Oratory made me ashamed ’ d of that , and determined me to give the Silver ; and he finished so admirably , that I empty ’ d my Pockets wholly in to the Collector ’ s Dish , Gold and all .
Franklin recognized a business opportunity , and printer and preacher met before Whitefield concluded his first visit to Philadelphia . Together , the two men forged a mutually beneficial publishing partnership .
The itinerant evangelist went off preaching all the way to Georgia while Franklin rushed to publish his sermons . In addition , Franklin contracted to publish American editions of Whitefield ’ s Journals and Sermons , as well as any other books he would write in America .
In November 1739 , Franklin announced in the Gazette his first printing of the Whitefield sermons . Within days , orders for 200 complete sets poured in . Whitefield ’ s style , a blend of autobiography , Christian discourse and travelogue written in plain English , proved an instant success . Soon Franklin was shipping boxes of the books up and down the Atlantic Coast and deep into the hinterland to general stores , bookstores and print shops . Between 1739 and 1741 , Franklin printed 110 Whitefield titles . The profits from Franklin ’ s
association with the evangelist outstripped those from his own bestselling Almanack . In 1740 alone , the sales of Whitefield ’ s writings and printed sermons accounted for 30 % of all works published in America .
Enjoying his most successful year ever , Franklin hurried to publish a popular versification of Ralph Erskine ’ s Gospel Sonnets as well as a second edition of Watts ’ s Psalms and a first of his Hymns and Spiritual Psalms . He recruited two partners for the enterprise , his former apprentice James Parker in New York and Charles Harrison in Boston . Franklin printed the first and last sheets , Parker the rest and Harrison bound them . It marked the first instance of dividing the production and distribution of books .
While he always made more money from the Gazette and the Almanack — together accounting for roughly half his income — Franklin grasped that book publishing was more prestigious and increased his reputation not only with other printerpublishers , but with the reading public .
For the first time in America , Franklin published fellow printer Samuel Richardson ’ s Pamela : or , Virtue Rewarded , arguably the first English novel . Selling at six shillings when a loaf of bread cost a penny ( in other words , the equivalent of 120 loaves ), the novel was considered a luxury . This time , Franklin shipped off unbound lots to Boston , New York and Williamsburg , where one of his readers was young George Washington .
Selling subscriptions to his books through his Gazette , Franklin soon had more subscribers than copies , so he gave preference to anyone who paid in advance or came to his shop with cash in hand . His account ledgers show thousands of retail transactions .
When Franklin began to carry out scientific experiments , he publicized his innovations in newspapers from Massachusetts to Georgia , bringing him even more customers and readers . Investing the profits in real estate , he eventually acquired 89 rental properties in Philadelphia .
Appointed by the province ’ s assembly as Pennsylvania ’ s official printer , Franklin found that each year ’ s new laws guaranteed his newspaper ’ s profitability . He soon also won appointment as clerk to the Pennsylvania Assembly . From his entrepreneurial springboard , Franklin won his first political office as a member of the town ’ s common council .
Poor Richard ’ s Almanack , 1748 .
And when the imperial postal lords in London criticized the tardy remittances of accounts by rival printer Andrew Bradford , Franklin lobbied through contacts in London for the lucrative post of Philadelphia ’ s postmaster . His accurate recordkeeping and ability to transform losses into profits paved the way for him to next win appointment as joint postmaster general for British North America .
Franklin soon proved to be as adept a postmaster general as he was a printer and publisher . He gave detailed instructions to postmasters and introduced a uniform system of accounting and standardized forms for all post offices , reforms that tripled the number of deliveries between Philadelphia and New York and doubled those to New England . Visiting all post offices as far south as Virginia , he tripled revenues , for the first time giving the British colonies an efficient postal service .
In a position carrying the prestige of a royal official , he shared an annual salary of £ 600 ( roughly $ 110,000 today ). For the first time , he received a rare government expense account that enabled him to travel the length of the continent at will and to ship his newspapers and Poor Richard ’ s Almanack postage-free .
Library of Congress
32 FINANCIAL HISTORY | Winter 2022 | www . MoAF . org