Benjamin Franklin
20 January,

  . . . click on a picture to enlarge. 



The document itself, inside the matte, measures

15" x 10"

(approximate size of the watermark on this page)

All text is handwritten and legible.

The Certificate is hand-written in Spenserian script. (The present owner is a calligrapher.) 
It is dated Twentieth, January, 1786, shortly after Franklin returned to Philadelphia from Paris (his last trip). He was nearly 80 years old.  
The recipient of this certificate is Wilhelm Herschel, famous British astronomer. He is most noted for his work with perfecting telescopes and the discovery of the planet Uranus approximately 5 years before receiving this honor. The American (mis)spelling of his name on the document was likely "no big deal" in those days.  It is likely that Herschel received many honours in his lifetime, presented to him with a variety of spellings of Herschell.

 two documents issued to: Wilhelm Herschell and William Herchel.
Wilhelm's son John Herchel, went on to be a reknowned astonomer in his own right.*



  *Why do I mention Wilhelm Herschel's son John? John Herchel's life spanned both Benjamin Franklin (who died only months before John was born) and my Grandmother who was 3 when John died at the age of 79). It makes me feel connected to BF to think that John Herchel, who was (nearly) a contemporary of BF, could have shared a mutual acquaintence with me. (3 degrees of separation)


Framed/Museum mounted with original scroll ribbon and seal.
Full size of framed piece is approx.
19" x 27"

It is the quintessential "Benjamin Franklin autograph" 
Historical  • Beautiful  •  Preserved

In addition to being important for its obvious historical significance, the document is beautifully handwritten in Spencerian script. The document is well preserved and has been mounted in a museum-mount with protective glass for at least the past quarter century.

Signed by
B. Franklin, President

American Philosophical Society
also signed by
James Hutchinson, James Vaughan and five others BF contemporaries


Below is the text of the letter from William Herschell, thanking the American Philosophical Society for bestowing this honory membership upon him:  Note that the Certificate is dated January 20, 1786, this response letter is dated Ferbruary 18th 1787, and was read (received) on May 4th, 1787 . Thanks to the Franklin Papers Organization   ( which is sponsored by the APS and Yale University and digitized by The Packard Humanities Instit

From William Herschel (unpublished)
Slough, near Windsor, February 18, 1787

Give me leave to express my thanks to you as President in particular, and to all the Vice Presidents, Secretaries and Members in general for the honour conferred on me by electing me a Member of the American Philosophical Society held at Philadelphia. As a small token of my gratitude I send hereby a Catalogue of 1000 new Nebulae and Clusters of Stars; and at the same time communicate to the Society that on the 11th of January 1787 I discovered two Satellites revolving round the Georgian Planet; the 1st in about 8-¾ days and the second in about 12½. The times of the revolution and other circumstances concerning the Orbits of these satellites will be determined with greater accuracy hereafter. I detected them in consequence of an improvement [in] my 20 feet reflector whereby I have gained much light. An account of this improvement is mentioned in a note at the end of the catalogue of Nebulae (See, Front-View.)

The acquaintance Sir, I have long had with your literary Character, makes me seize this opportunity with pleasure of expressing my esteem for you, and of begging at the same time that you will render my respects acceptable to all the Members of the Society. I have the honour to be Sir, your most obedient humble Servant

Wm: Herschel
Addressed: Dr. Franklin / President of the / American Phil Society / at / Philadelphia
Endorsed: Wm. Herschell Feb. 18. 87. Read May 4. 1787 The Papers within mentioned are in the hand of Mr. Rittenhouse


And upon reading the letter above on May 4th, 1787, Benjamin Franklin replied two weeks later, on May 18th, 1787.  Below is his response
To Sir William Herschel (unpublished)
Philad May 18. 1787

I received the letter you did me the honour of writing to me the 18th of Feb. past, together with your Catalogue of 1000 new Nebulae and Clusters of Stars, which I immediately communicated to our Philosophical Society, who return their thanks, and congratulate you cordially on your important new Discovery of the two Satellites revolving round the Georgian Planet.

You have wonderfully extended the Power of human Vision, and are daily making us acquainted with Regions of the Universe totally unknown to Mankind in former Ages. Had Fortune plac’d you in this part of America your Progress in these Discoveries might have been still more rapid, as from the more frequent Clearness of our Air, we have near One Third more in the Year of good Observing Days, than there are in England. With great esteem, I have the honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient, humble servant

B. Franklin
Dr. Herschel.
Addressed: Dr Herschel / at Slough near / Windsor


Former owner: • Jerome Garfunkel  • Woodstock, New York

This web site is  not for commercial use; it contains restricted materials

© 2005, Jerry Garfunkel ..... Woodstock, NY .... Tel/Fax +1 845 679 0121 ..... .....