The Franklin Institute

Celebrate Ben with a Cup of Tea!

Tea cup and saucer

It is Benjamin Franklin’s birthday this month, and what better way to celebrate him than curling up with a cup of tea and looking into our Frankliniana collection!  Our Curatorial Staff agree, Franklin's Tea Set (FI Catalog # 4001) is a favorite, not only for its beauty, but for its story. 

This porcelain tea set includes six cups and saucers, which fit perfectly into the velvet lined sections of a wooden box.  Hand-painted gilded leaves and flower clusters circle the pottery, and the handles of the cups resemble two curved stems with leaves. 

Though their design is lovely, the fact that these cups and saucers were given to Franklin by a love interest makes them even more appealing. During Franklin’s time abroad in France from late 1776 to1785 he stayed in Passy, a town west of Paris. His neighbor and widow of philosopher Claude Helvétius, Anne-Catherine de Ligniville, hosted parties at her home which were attended by famous artists, politicians, and scientists, including Franklin. Smitten with Madam Helvétius’ intellect and accomplishments, Franklin, who was also widowed, coyly proposed marriage to her in a poem. In the poem, Franklin describes being transported to the afterlife where he learns that her late husband and his late wife, Deborah, have married. He argues that it would be perfect revenge on their previous partners if  Madam Helvétius tied the knot with him on earth.  She refused his proposal, but gifted him with this tea set. 

January 19, 2021, 02:11pm

Susannah Carroll

Assistant Director of Collections and Curatorial

Susannah Carroll maintains stewardship of the museum’s 3-D objects, prints, photographs, and drawings, archives, Library, and Audio/Visual collections. She has worked with the museum’s collections since 2005, presenting research at various museum conferences, supporting the Institute on traveling exhibitions with management of artifacts from Italy, the Netherlands, Israel, and China, and exploring the Institute’s collections with museum guests. Susannah holds a BA in Anthropology and an MA in Museum Studies, and worked in historical houses in Germantown before coming to the Institute. Her favorite activities include wandering the Institute’s collections storage areas, curling up with a book and her cats, and visiting museums around the world.

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