Shareholding

On July 1, 1731, at the instigation of Benjamin Franklin, the founding shareholders drew up “Articles of Agreement” to establish a library.  Fifty subscribers invested forty shillings each and promised to pay ten shillings a year thereafter to buy books and support operations. Thus, “the Mother of all North American Subscription Libraries”—as Franklin proudly referred to it in his Autobiography—was born.

Shareholding in the Library Company was a civic badge of honor in the Philadelphia of the colonial era and the early Republic. Shares have been held by signers of the Declaration and the Constitution, soldiers of the Revolution and every major engagement since, politicians, merchants, doctors, philanthropists, and the great thinkers of the American Enlightenment. Most prominent citizens sooner or later found their ways onto the rolls of shareholders, which were representative and diverse.  The first woman to purchase a share in her own name was Susannah Carmalt in 1769, and 12 other women owned shares before 1800. From 1731 to now, there has been an unbroken tradition of shareholding in the Library Company.  In fact, descendants of the original subscribers own shares to this day. Now a charitable investment, shareholding continues to be the backbone of the institution with annual dues providing essential operating support.

The Library Company has preserved detailed records of the ownership of every numbered share. New shareholders may select one of the featured shares below. Email us at development@librarycompany.org or call us at 215-546-3181, x 136, for more choices.

William Rogers was born in Newport, Rhode Island and was the first student at Rhode Island College, now Brown University. He also received honorary degrees from three other institutions: the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), Yale, and the College of New Jersey (now Princeton). From 1771 to 1824, Rogers was a Baptist clergyman. He served as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia from 1772 to 1775 and during the Revolution, he was appointed a brigade chaplain in the Continental Army. In 1805 he was chaplain to the Military Legion of Philadelphia . He was sent to the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1816 and was a member of the Religious Historical Society of Philadelphia in 1819. Throughout his life he wrote many moral, religious, and political articles. 

Purchase share 652 - issued to William Rogers in 1812

James Paul was a Philadelphia merchant who partnered with his brother-in-law John Watson in the firm of Watson & Paul. The firm’s business papers are on deposit at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. James Paul was raised in his family’s tavern, the renowned Indian King, located on High Street (now Market Street) in Philadelphia. He married Elizabeth Rodman of Burlington, New Jersey, in 1797, and they lived across from the Christ Church burial ground with their twelve children. Although raised Quaker, Paul was read out of the Society because of his involvement in the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion.  He thereafter became a member of the First Presbyterian Church.  

Purchase share 923 – issued to James Paul in 1818

Purchase your historic share online now!

Every new Shareholder receives:

  • The Occasional Miscellany, our semi-annual newsletter
  • The Library Company’s famous in-depth and illustrated Annual Report
  • 20% discount on Library Company publications
  • Invitations to exhibition openings, lectures, and special programs
  • Members-only receptions
  • An invitation to the Annual Meeting and Annual Dinner
  • Opportunity to consult with Membership Department on selection of your unique share
  • Personalized share certificate
  • Copy of At the Instance of Benjamin Franklin: A Brief History of the Library Company

In addition, shareholders receive the satisfaction of knowing they are helping to preserve the nation’s cultural patrimony and make it available to scholars and the general public!

Gift and tribute memberships are a meaningful way to contribute to the Library Company of Philadelphia in honor of a colleague or family member. Celebrate a birthday or another special occasion with this truly unique gift.