The Library Company of Philadelphia
The country’s first lending library still displays its vast holdings
Just off the Avenue of the Arts, The Library Company of Philadelphia specializes in every aspect of the history of early America and Philadelphia. Ever-changing free exhibits draw from its half-million rare books, 75,000 graphics and 160,000 manuscripts. It is a main repository of old prints and photographs of Philadelphia and its environs.
The Library Company’s collections complement those of many other Philadelphia institutions, including the Atwater Kent Museum, The Rosenbach Museum & Library, and The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The Library Company is free to the public and visitors are welcome to view the current exhibit, undoubtedly rich in the American experience. Researchers, too, from high school students to established scholars, are welcome to use the wide-ranging collections.
The Library Company still pays homage to Ben Franklin, its founding member. Just as in 1731, individuals can buy a “share” of the library. Founded when Ben was 25, subscription libraries were the first of many innovations. When Philadelphia was the U.S. capital, it was, in effect, the Library of Congress. It is now the only major intact Colonial library.
Open Mon – Fri. Print Center by appointment only
The special exhibits are the thing here, most from archival material. Past specials include one on the Pennsylvania Railroad with spectacular vintage photographs.
The marble sculpture of Franklin in a toga (visible from Locust Street) is often adorned with an odd cap that Ben himself might have liked.