Yale Collection of Benjamin Franklin Manuscripts
Scope and Contents
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
- Mason, William Smith, 1866- (Collector)
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
Immediate Source of Acquisition
49.86 Linear Feet ((82 boxes) + 5 broadside)
A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
William Smith Mason (1866-1961)
The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (Editorial Project)
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.
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).
- Mason, William Smith, 1866- (Collector)
- 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
121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
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.