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A Fine Press Edition of William Penn’s Magna Carta

William Penn. The Excellent Privilege of Liberty and Property: Being a Reprint and Facsimile of the First American Edition of Magna Charta, printed in 1687, under the direction of William Penn by William Bradford. Philadelphia: Philobiblon Club, MDCCCXCVII [1897]. 27 cm. Bound in stiff vellum.

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In 1687, William Penn (1644-1718) published The Excellent Privilege of Liberty and Property: being the birth-right of the Free-Born Subjects of England, which contained, among other documents, the first copy of Magna Carta printed in what was to become the United States. Penn echoed the opinions of seventeenth-century legal scholars like Edward Coke and John Selden, and considered the document to be fundamental to the freedom of Englishmen everywhere

The original was published in Philadelphia by William Bradford, and enjoyed some success before being overshadowed by his earlier work: English Liberties, or the Freeborn Subject’s Inheritance (1682). This edition was issued by the Philobiblon Club (founded 1883). The club remains Philadelphia's premier club for book collectors. The edition was limited to 150 copies on handmade paper, five on vellum, all with printed decorations by noted illustrator Edward Sutton Holloway. This was the organization’s third imprint.

William Penn (1644-1718) was educated at Christ Church, Oxford beginning in 1660. It is thought that his leaning towards religious dissent began during his education. From 1661-1664, he resided on the continent, returning to study at Lincoln’s Inn. After his return, Penn pursued his father’s business interests in England and Ireland, as well as pursuing a political career. Penn received a charter to land in the colonies in 1681, but never left England permanently, largely governing Pennsylvania from a distance. After James II fled to France, Penn’s views as a Quaker and a supporter of religious freedom threw him into a political disgrace from which he never fully recovered.

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