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 own 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. To learn more about our previous Shareholders, simply click on the links below. Should you be interested in learning more about how to become a Shareholder, please contact the Development Office at or (215) 546-3181, x136.

Portrait of Zachariah Poulson. 1843. Oil on canvas. Sully, Thomas, 1783-1872.

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.