Benjamin Franklin Silhouette by Peale

This is surely a dilemma for a physiognomist. If I were presented with two silhouettes, a Foster Brothers and Old Benjy here, which would I prefer to hang on my wall? If I were to choose between death and more taxes, of course I would prefer more taxes. So which is death in this case, Foster Bro. or Ben? This item has a mimimum of $900 starting bid. The auction company is quite well-known, not for silhouettes but for having excellent selection of coins and medals in their auctions.

The description is as follows: "Period Silhouette of Benjamin Franklin, Peale's Museum, Choice Very Fine. This hollow-cut profile silhouette bears an embossed museum label ("PEALE'S MUSEUM") with an eagle, identified as belonging to Charles Wilson Peale's museum in Philadelphia. The cream-colored, embossed mat has a cutout black fabric silhouette of Benjamin Franklin--making for a stunning profile. Portrait is enclosed in original, gilt-plaster covered wood frame, measuring 6.75" x 5" overall."

Right off the bat, "Wilson" is miss-speled. "Embossed mat" must be a new term. I do not even know what a "cutout black fabric silhouette" is. What makes the auctioneer think it is even Franklin? It looks more like my neighbor.

This is a "YUCK" item for sure.



From a respected auction company: "Silhouette of a gentleman, first half of 19th century, indistinct signature, possibly Doyle, in painted metal frame H: 5 1/4 in.
PROVENANCE: From the collection of Marie Evans, Alexandria, Virginia"

Without actually seeing it, it is tough to make a judgment but having done this sort of a thing for years, I believe I can make a "call" on this silhouette. Of course, I can be totally wrong too. So, let us just say this is my opinion based on my past experience.

The first thing I noticed was the whiteness of the paper. This is not to say that those silhouettes that are well preserved cannot be white. There are many such genuine examples. Also, since this is a photo, perhaps the whiteness is because of the lighting. From the photo, it is not possible to determine whether it is a hollow-cut or painted, or a combination of both.

So far, I have proven nothing. Now, let us look at the smudges and the spots. I have seen many types of foxing. They tend to fall somewhere in between light and dark brown colors. I do not remember a single instance where I observed "black." The half a dozen circular spots above the head seem to be oil based, at least to me. I cannot say whether these spots originate from the reverse or the obverse of the paper from the photo. They are, however, either drippings on the paper or came in contact when the paper was laid flat. I don't mean to sound like a coroner, but they are not spattered. The smudges to the left and right of the bust appear to be impressions left by fingers.

If this is a genuine ca. 1805 silhouette, I will recite 100 Hail Marys. I hate saying prayers, so I hope I am right. This "thing" is a 1920s print.