Intricate Prints Memorialize Ben Franklin’s Pay-It-Forward Philosophy

Showing appreciation to the people you work with is more than good business; it helps you build deeper relationships. That’s why our parent company, Column Five, takes special care to design unique gifts to thank partners, vendors, and employees. Here, Column Five cofounder Josh Ritchie gives us a behind-the-scenes look at their most recent gift: A beautiful poster featuring some of Ben Franklin’s most powerful words. 

Every few months or so, we look for a way to gift our partners with something that reflects our culture. For the past few years, we’ve focused primarily on our core value: Be Good to Each Other. Last December, we designed a card deck to invoke positive coworker interactions through kindness, which was inspired by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies card set. The year before, we developed a three-print series focused on complex relationship dynamics. This time around, we needed to come up with something else that felt truly special, which is how we came across the inspiration for our 2015 holiday gift.

In revisiting the theme of being good to one another, branching out beyond the workplace only made sense, so we started to explore the concept of paying it forwardIn our research, we found a beautiful, powerfully written letter from Benjamin Franklin to a friend who’d requested to borrow money:

I send you herewith a bill for ten louis d’ors. I do not pretend to give you such a sum. I only lend it to you.

When you shall return to your country, you can not fail of getting into some business, that will in time enable you to pay all your debts. In that case, when you meet with another honest man in similar distress, you must pay me by lending this sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the debt by a like operation, when he shall be able and shall meet with such another opportunity, I hope it may thus go through many hands before it meets with a knave that will stop its progress.

This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money. I am not rich enough to afford much in good works, and so am obliged to be cunning and make the most of little.”

—Benjamin Franklin

This letter is among the first historical accounts of the pay-it-forward philosophy. We are perpetually inspired by Franklin’s contributions to society. From countless scientific discoveries, to strategic commercial and political relations, to his pivotal role in the founding of our country, Franklin’s hard work, discipline, and values can be summed up in one idea: “How can I help?” This sentiment is powerful, and something we should all reflect on daily. So, we decided to create a visual reminder in the form of a poster.

Franklin both a prolific printer and publisher. We knew that honoring his words meant honoring his printing prowess as well. The print would have to be well-designed and beautifully produced. So, we settled on a clean, modern typography design and illustration style to showcase the beauty of the words without overpowering them.

We created two versions of the poster, using different techniques: letterpress and foil stamping. Leaving subtle foil imperfections and variations in ink and impression, these elegant and sophisticated stamping techniques ensure no two pieces are entirely identical.

Foil version

Magnesium plates stamped copper foil on German-made Gmund color matte; 100 g/m², 200 g/m², 300 g/m²; acid-free; pH-neutral paper in a selection dark shades to stand out brilliantly against each other. (Colors range from: Black (#10), Dark Navy/Indigo (#89), Blue (#59), Dark green (#60), Dark Brown (#87). Limited edition of 350, 70 prints for each color.)


Letterpress version


For the letterpress series, we selected metallic copper and blue ink on Reich Savoy, 118# Cover, 100%-cotton paper. Recyclable and biodegradable, the Earth-friendly Savoy paper is free of acids, chlorine, or tree-related elements. (Limited edition of 350 prints total.)


While the pieces are meant to be their own works of art, we hope they act as an inspirational visual reminder for anyone who sees them. If you’d like one for yourself, hit up our Goods store.

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