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When it comes to Ben Franklin, Penn has a lot more to boast about than just his role as the University’s founder.

Recently, Penn Libraries acquired a rare copy of the presumably final full-length book ever printed by the University’s founding father. Penn’s copy of "Petit Code de la raison humaine," French for "A Short Code of Human Reason" is one of the only four known surviving copies of the over-200-year-old book.

Petit Code, which outlines 102 principles on the nature of moral and political life, was written by Franklin’s close friend Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg from the 1760s until his death in 1779, and was printed by Franklin in 1782 while he was serving as the U.S. ambassador to France.

Barbeu-Dubourg’s book, which was dedicated to Franklin, was actually censored in France because of its support of revolutionary political change and the rights of man — only a few years before the 1789 outbreak of the French Revolution. Franklin however, loved the work so much that he had an earlier draft of the book printed in England in both English and French, although there are no known surviving English copies.

Passy, France — where the final draft of Petit Code was printed — was the location of Franklin’s final printing press, where he took up printing after a 15 year hiatus. In Passy he produced passports, various documents and two full-length books — the first being Pierre-André Gargaz’s "A Project of Universal and Perpetual Peace" and the second being "Petit Code." It was printed custom in a typeface for a small number of friends.

Today, there are around 900 known surviving works printed by Benjamin Franklin, of which Penn holds more than one third. This makes the University’s collection one of the world’s most substantial, especially considering that most of Franklin’s works exist in one or two copies.

Petit Code is currently being held on display in the Library’s Franklin print collection in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts located in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. 

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