I have been a fan of Benjamin Franklin for most of my life. That?s why I made arrangements with Joel Edler to order two examples of each of the commemorative silver dollars and the Coin and Chronicles set for me on opening day, Jan. 17. I was away on vacation that week. I didn?t want to miss anything.
I cannot say when I first became aware of Benjamin Franklin. I was a child. It probably was at school. However, the idea of a grown man flying a kite in a thunderstorm seemed so whimsical that it appealed to me. Perhaps future generations will find the idea of Steve Jobs building computers in his garage to be a similarly whimsical thing to do. Both activities had serious purpose, and incredibly important results, but at the time, neither seemed to be the adult thing to do.
How could a kid resist? It didn?t matter to me that Franklin might be a part of history. It didn?t matter to me that grownups wanted me to learn about him. It didn?t matter to me that Franklin might be some dusty old figure. He flew kites. I flew kites. He did it for serious scientific purpose. I did it for fun. It didn?t matter. We had a connection. I was hooked. I needed to know more.
I remember buying a paperback biography of Franklin through the Scholastic Book Service at school. I devoured it. The price was somewhere around 30 or 40 cents. (Remember, this was some 40 years ago.) It was money well spent.
Franklin?s sayings from Poor Richard?s Almanac were also alive in my life. ?A penny saved, is a penny earned,? summed up my parents? attitude toward money, which is logical considering their childhood experiences included the Great Depression when money was really tight. It became my attitude toward money as well. I got a paper route when I was 11 to earn more of those pennies, and, quite conveniently, to examine them all for possible inclusion in my coin collection.
Even in numismatics, Franklin was there. I knew he was on the half dollar. I had a few of them, but my collecting activity would have been severely restricted for lack of funds had I focused much time or energy on that denomination. I simply didn?t.
I was delighted to find out that Franklin printed paper money for Pennsylvania and even used leaf designs to help deter counterfeiting. If you look on the Continental dollar and the Fugio cent, you find, ?Mind your business.?
As I got older, I read Franklin?s autobiography. I liked that too, but I took it at face value. Modern scholars tell me I shouldn?t. I simply gathered that hard work was a good thing and is usually rewarded.
Three decades or so passed before I renewed my acquaintance with Franklin. When Walter Isaacson?s Benjamin Franklin, An American Life, was published in 2003, I bought it. I read it. I loved it.
I had never realized how financially successful Franklin had become in his life.
He retired from his own printing business at the age of 42. He devoted himself to science and also to government. I knew about his kite flying, but I had never thought about who or what was paying his bills as he chased after lightning. Now I know.
I knew he was a Founding Father and our representative to France, but never understood the details.
Now that I have gray in my hair, my perspective on life has changed with the years, I appreciate even more how well Franklin did with his life. He had his faults. Who doesn?t? But his accomplishments when combined with the sheer delight he seemed to take in everything isn?t a bad model to follow.
So I have ordered Franklin commemorative silver dollars. They honor an American worthy of honor. They remind me of my own past and life?s lessons learned. They inspire me to want to do something more in my own future than simply retire and sit in a rocking chair.
Then, of course, there is that kite. I haven?t flown one in years, but the commemorative dollar design will serve to remind me that even as an adult, I should be open to a touch of whimsy in what I choose to do.