PRISM BELONGING TO BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. Glass prism, 152 mm overall, cut in three polished facets, 33 mm per side, molded knobs on both ends.

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Lot 12¤
PRISM BELONGING TO BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.
Glass prism, 152 mm overall, cut in three polished facets, 33 mm per side, molded knobs on both ends.

Sold for US$ 60,000 inc. premium
PRISM BELONGING TO BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.
Glass prism, 152 mm overall, cut in three polished facets, 33 mm per side, molded knobs on both ends. Contained in a cedar box with sliding lid, with applied paper label on inside of lid lettered in ink in a nineteenth-century hand: "This prism was given me by my uncle Mr. Joseph Pope, to whom it was given by Dr. Benjamin Franklin - Paschal Pope." A few old chips in glass, not affecting facets; wear to box, paper label toned.
Provenance: Benjamin Franklin; given to Joseph Pope (1748-1826); by descent to Paschal [Paoli] Pope (d.1867), affixed note signed by Paschal Pope.

EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY GLASS PRISM GIVEN BY BENJAMIN FRANKLIN TO JOSEPH POPE, DESIGNER OF THE FAMED ORRERY AT HARVARD. Beginning with Sir Isaac Newton's experiments showing the refraction of white light into color, scientists across Europe and into the Americas had used prisms in optical experiments. Indeed, one of Franklin's early experiments was a replication on Hermann Boerhaave's use of a prism to focus the sun's rays on different colored papers, and his work in optics and specifically in his invention of the bifocal would owe a debt to Newton and his prism. Joseph Pope of Boston was a distant cousin of Franklin, and more importantly, the designer of the orrery now in the Philosophy Chamber at Harvard. Pope constructed the enormous orrery, measuring 6 1/2 feet in height and in diameter, between 1776-1787, decorating it with effigies of three figures: Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, and James Bowdoin, the Governor of Massachusetts and a scientist who collaborated with Franklin on his work with electricity. The Great Fire of 1787 destroyed Pope's home, but the orrery was saved, and the following year, under the direction of Bowdoin, it was bought by Harvard University through a lottery. Indeed, when Pope sailed for Europe in 1789, Bowdoin provided him a letter of introduction to the Marquis de Lafayette as a "Genius in the mechanical department ... he has constructed an elegant Orrery ... [that] far surpasses everything of its kind in America" (Manuel, p 237). The Pope Professorship of Latin Language and Literature at Harvard was founded under the will of Paschal P. Pope, the nephew of Joseph Pope, through whom the prism descends. Literature: A History of the Dorchester Pope Family, 1634-1888 (Boston, 1888); Ware Genealogy: Robert Ware, of Dedham, Massachusetts, 1642-1699, and his lineal descendants (Boston, 1901); Manuel, James Bowdoin and the Patriot Philosophers (Philadelphia, 2003).

Footnotes

  • "Can the pleasure of a few philosophers when they gaze on the seven threads of light separated by the Newtonian prism compare with "the ease and comfort every man living might feel seven times a day, by discharging freely the wind from his bowels?" -Benjamin Franklin, "To the Royal Academy of Brussels," c.1780
Contacts
PRISM BELONGING TO BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. Glass prism, 152 mm overall, cut in three polished facets, 33 mm per side, molded knobs on both ends.
PRISM BELONGING TO BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. Glass prism, 152 mm overall, cut in three polished facets, 33 mm per side, molded knobs on both ends.
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Lot symbols
¤ Without reserve