Benjamin Franklin's smallpox book sees outbreak of enthusiasm in New York

Swann Auction Galleries has concluded its auction of Early Printed, Medical & Scientific Books last week (October 17), with one of the highlights being a fascinating piece of Americana: Benjamin Franklin's joint work on Smallpox vaccination.

The full title of the book is: Franklin on Smallpox Inoculation (Franklin, Benjamin; and Heberden, William) Some Account of the Success of Inoculation for the Small-Pox in England and America Together with Plain Instructions, By which any Person may be enabled to perform the Operation, and conduct the Patient through the Distemper.

Twelve pages in length, it is two parts in one volume, measuring 266x210 mm, bound in 19th-century 1/2 black morocco, with the spine ends chipped, joints and cover edges worn; minor marginal spotting and soiling.

There is a 19th-century inscription and embossed stamp of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on the title and their bookplate on front pastedown.

Benjamin Franklin Smallpox inoculation book
Benjamin Franklin's Smallpox inoculation book

This was the first edition. Franklin's statistical account of smallpox inoculation in Boston during the epidemic of 1753-54, showing the beneficial effects of the practice, was written for William Heberden, who contributed the 'Plain Instructions' mentioned on the title.

Early in his life Franklin had actively opposed inoculation but he became one of its strongest advocates after the tragic death of his son from smallpox in 1736.

Estimated at $6,000-9,000, the work caught the imagination of the bidders in New York, being a piece of literature which held a hidden significance for one of America's Founding Fathers. The work sold for an impressive $13,000.


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