Friday, March 24, 2006

Benjamin Franklin a popular subject for character dolls

Although I had not originally intended to collect figures from American History, I found the number and variety of these dolls is so extensive I could not resist. One of the most popular figures from this period for doll artists is Benjamin Franklin. Not only was he an amazing individual from an intellectual perspective but he has a distinctive look that can be instantly recognized even in less detailed renditions.

"He was one of the most extraordinary human beings the world has ever known. Born into the family of a Boston candle maker, Benjamin Franklin became the most famous American of his time. He helped found a new nation and defined the American character. Writer, inventor, diplomat, businessman, musician, scientist, humorist, civic leader, international celebrity . . . genius." - Benjamin Franklin, PBS.

I was not sure when this doll that I found on Ebay was produced, until I saw another one like it offered on Ebay with the note that the doll was produced during America's bicentennial in 1976. There was no mention of the manufacturer so I'm afraid I still don't know who produced it. I bought it because I appreciate the detail of his features and the accuracy of his costume. Compared to this portrait painted by Charles Wilson Peale in 1785, shortly after Franklin's return from completing peace negotiations in England, I think it is a very good likeness for a relatively inexpensive effort.

His head, hands, and feet are made of a heavy composition. His clothing is made of thick felt.

Carlson dolls also produced Benjamin Franklin complete with his trademark bifocals. Franklin was interested in many health-related issues and developed surprisingly modern explanations for afflictions of his day including the common cold:

"In the 18th century, most people believed that wet clothing and dampness in the air caused the common cold. However, Franklin observed that sailors, who were constantly wearing wet clothing, remained healthy. After considering the matter on and off for several years, he eventually concluded: "People often catch cold from one another when shut up together in small close rooms, coaches, &c. and when sitting near and conversing so as to breathe in each other's transpiration." Before the knowledge of viruses and germs, Franklin had determined that the common cold was passed between people through the air. " -

He even made ground breaking observations about the effects of lead poisoning:

Franklin learned first-hand from the printing business that working with warm lead type caused his hands to become exceptionally stiff and sore. He discovered that some typesetters who warmed their type sometimes lost the complete use of their hands. Franklin decided to work with cold type from that point on. Years later, he visited a hospital in France that treated patients suffering from what was then called the "dry gripes" or "dry belly ache." In analyzing the list of patients, Franklin deduced that all of them were in professions where they were exposed to large quantities of lead. He corresponded with others interested in this health issue, exchanging observations and insights about the illness. Franklin concluded: "I have long been of the opinion that that distemper [dry gripes] proceeds always from a metallic cause only, observing that it affects among tradesmen those that use lead, however different their trades, as glazers, type-founders, plumbers, potters, white lead-makers and painters." Franklin's observations were among the earliest to link health problems with exposure to lead." -
To celebrate the life if this gifted founding father, Accoutrements has even honored him with an action figure. This is one of a series of "real" superheroes featured in Accountrements product line.