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Yale Collection of Benjamin Franklin Manuscripts

Call Number: GEN MSS 1457

Scope and Contents

The Yale Collection of Benjamin Franklin Manuscripts contains correspondence, writings, documents, personal papers of Benjamin Franklin and his contemporaries, and ancillary research and acquisition correspondence and papers about the collection itself. The collection spans the dates 1699-1981, but the bulk of the material dates from 1740 to 1825.

The core of the collection is the manuscript portion of the William Smith Mason Collection of Benjamin Franklin, a 1935 gift to Yale University Library. The collection also includes material collected by the library after that date, including original material as well as facsimiles, transcripts, and other copies in a variety of formats, much of which was likely added to facilitate the Franklin Editorial Project. The collection therefore documents not only the life and legacy of Benjamin Franklin, but the project to edit Franklin’s papers for publication and the library’s management of the papers as a resource for that project.

Throughout this guide are references to numbers assigned by William Smith Mason, expressed in the list as M #[]. Other notes refer to “Smyth,” which is a ten-volume work by Albert Henry Smyth, The Writings of Benjamin Franklin; collected and ed., with a life and introduction (Macmillan, 1905-07).

More information about the collection may be found in the following early published descriptions of the collection:

Eddy, George Simpson. “The Mason-Franklin Collection.” The Yale University Library Gazette, Vol. 10, No. 4 (April 1936), pp. 65-90.

B., D. W. “The Mason-Franklin Collection.” The Yale University Library Gazette, Vol. 15, No. 1 (July 1940), pp. 16-19.


  • 1699 - 1981
  • Majority of material found within 1740 - 1825


Language of Materials

Materials chiefly in English and French.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Yale Collection of Benjamin Franklin Manuscripts is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of William Smith Mason, 1935, with later acquisitions. Transferred from Sterling Memorial Library, 1984.


Organized into five series: Series I. Materials By, To, and About Benjamin Franklin, 1699-1828. Series II. Materials About Franklin, 1834-1958. Series III. Twentieth Century Writings About Franklin, 1923-1981. Series IV. Miscellaneous Photostats, undated. Series V. Catalog Cards and Accession Records, undated.

Related Materials

William Smith Mason papers, GEN MSS 1459.


49.86 Linear Feet ((82 boxes) + 5 broadside)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Yale Collection of Benjamin Franklin Manuscripts contains correspondence, writings, documents, personal papers of Benjamin Franklin and his contemporaries, and ancillary research and acquisition correspondence and papers about the collection itself.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

American writer, printer, statesman, diplomat, and scientist.

William Smith Mason (1866-1961)

William Smith Mason (1866-1961) was an American real estate and railroad executive and collector of historical books and manuscripts, particularly those related to Benjamin Franklin. Born in Millburn, Illinois in 1866, he was graduated from Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School with a B.Phil in Engineering in 1889. An active member of many bibliographical and historical societies, including the Grolier Club and the American Philosophical Society, Mason donated his entire collection of books, pamphlets, ephemera and manuscripts by and related to Benjamin Franklin to Yale University Library in 1935. He died in Rancho Santa Fe, California, in January 1961 at the age of 94.

The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (Editorial Project)

The Papers of Benjamin Franklin is an ongoing editorial project to collect, edit, and publish the writings of Benjamin Franklin. Established in 1954, it is a collaboration between Yale University and the American Philosophical Society.

Custodial History

The core of the collection is the manuscript portion of the William Smith Mason Collection of Benjamin Franklin. Donated to Yale in 1935, the Mason-Franklin Collection, as it was often called, was perhaps the single most valuable gift to the Yale Library up until that time. The collection included, in addition to the extensive manuscript holdings, books, pamphlets, periodicals, broadsides, cartoons, and other printed documents by or about Franklin and his revolutionary contemporaries, as well as a rich research collection of histories, biographies, and bibliographies concerning Franklin and the history of his period.

Over time, additions were made by Yale to this core collection. The library continued to acquire single manuscripts and small groups of manuscripts from various sources, sometimes from Mason or with funds supplied by Mason, and between 1935 and 1980 or so these were routinely added by Yale University Library staff to the manuscript files of the Mason-Franklin collection, often accompanied by correspondence, invoices, or other purchase documentation. Brief descriptions of these acquisitions can be found in the Yale University Library Gazette. Mason himself had often preserved his acquisition correspondence and invoices. While some of that information is filed with the originals in this collection, much of it was organized by Mason’s personal librarian, and can be found in GEN MSS 1459, the William Smith Mason Papers. In addition, small groups of research correspondence were routinely filed by the Yale Library at the end of the collection during this period.

The Mason Collection and these early additions to it were housed in a separate Benjamin Franklin room in Sterling Memorial Library from 1936 until 1984. From 1954 on, that room also contained the staff of the newly established Papers of Benjamin Franklin Editorial Project, a vast scholarly publication project undertaken jointly by Yale University and the American Philosophical Society. The decades-long work necessary to produce an approximately 47-volume edition of Franklin’s work also resulted in changes to the original Mason-Franklin Collection. As the editorial project grew, the files were joined by notes, transcripts, photocopies of material held by other institutions, card sets, and other documentation included by library staff in the course of the project.

In 1984, following discussions about collection security and climate control, the entire manuscript portion of the William Mason gift, along with nearly all pre-1763 printed material (cataloged separately), was transferred to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. At about the same time, accessioning practices for Franklin-related manuscripts and printed materials were revised and new acquisitions of Franklin manuscripts ceased to be interfiled with the original Mason gift. The collection remains a unique combination of a collector’s collection and a major research collection devoted to one of the founding fathers and drawn upon by a university-sponsored editorial project.

Processing Information

This finding aid is based on the arrangement of the material prior to its transfer to the Beinecke in 1984. Series titles remain as recorded at the time of transfer, or as assigned by Beinecke staff at that time. The collection was rehoused into acid-free folders in 2017-2019 to ensure its long-term preservation, and file titles and other notes were transcribed from the original folders to create the current list. Some edits were made to the original file titles during this process to improve clarity and accuracy, and some titles were supplied during processing in 2017-2021. Many items that were glued or otherwise affixed to the original folders were separated from the folders by conservation staff. Some items were removed for their preservation from the collector’s housings (mostly slipcases); the housings were retained in the collection.

A small number of bound volumes originally shelved alphabetically after the chronological sequence of files in Series I, Materials By, To, and About Franklin, are now listed chronologically with the rest of the series, while remaining separately housed.

Former call number: Uncat MS Vault Franklin.

Two groups of manuscripts long managed as part of the Franklin Collection have been removed for separate cataloging. These are the John Holker Collection and the Alexandre Maurice Blanc de Lanautte, Comte D’Hauterive Collection. Additionally, a portion of the Stuart W. Jackson Collection of Marquis de Lafayette Manuscripts that was interfiled with the Franklin Collection has been returned to the Jackson Lafayette Collection.

Not present at the time of processing was one letter from Joseph Priestley to James Sullivan, Philadelphia, 1793 August 2 (noted not present in 1992), and a letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Walker, 1769 September 3 (a note remains in the file indicating that it was removed in 1983).

Guide to the Yale Collection of Benjamin Franklin Manuscripts
Diane Ducharme and Ellen Doon
October 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977


121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511

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Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.