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What Keys Replaces: Penny Franklin, 1971

Keys To Community replaces Penny Franklin, a 6-foot acrylic bust of Franklin that once sat in the courtyard at 329 Arch Street. Created in 1971 by Philadelphia artist Reginald E. Beauchamp, the work was covered with some 80,000 one-cent pieces donated by local schoolchildren. It also had a push-button mechanism that would activate a two-minute talk on fire prevention.

Penny Franklin (photo) was unveiled June 10, 1971, to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the creation of Philadelphia's Paid Fire Department. At the ceremony, the director of the U.S. Mint, Mary Brooks, praised the children and America's "most popular" coin. "I'm a thrifty soul myself but I do wish more people would spend their pennies, keeping them in circulation instead of squirreling them away in shoe boxes and pickle jars," Brooks said. "It would save the Mint a lot of time and money making more and more pennies every year." But she said she would make an exception for the sculpture, because the penny drive was intended to raise awareness of fire prevention. "Usually, the way I put it is, 'A penny spent is a penny at work,' " she said. "But today, let's make that, 'A penny in a sculpture is a joy forever.' "

Over time, the sculpture came to be known as "Penny Ben" or "Penny Benny." Its talking device was eventually deactivated after late-night complaints from neighbors, but it remained one of Old City's more prominent works of public art. Still, it suffered its share of indignities; in 1982, vandals used a chisel to hack off 174 pennies, which Beauchamp replaced. Ultimately, the sun's heat and the sneakers of climbing children took a fatal toll on the acrylic sculpture. The sculpture was removed in 1996 after it "began to slouch precariously toward the Arch Street sidewalk it overlooks," according to the Associated Press (Aug. 28, 1996).

Born in London, Reginald E. Beauchamp (1910-2000) came to the United States at the age of two. He served for many years in special events and public relations for the Philadelphia newspaper The Evening Bulletin, but also achieved note as a sculptor. Besides Penny Franklin, his works include a bust of Connie Mack that is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Whispering Bells of Freedom at Seventh and Arch Streets, the Living Flame Memorial in Franklin Square, the Hero Mosaic in City Hall, and a Vietnam War memorial at Edison High School. He was also a longtime member of the Philadelphia Sketch Club. But of all of his Philadelphia works, Beauchamp held Penny Franklin closest to his heart. "I've done a lot of things for this city, but that was my favorite," he said ("Alas, the bust has seen better days," Philadelphia Inquirer, 17 January 1998).

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