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 or call us at 215-546-3181, x 136, for more choices.