Banking as we’ve known it for centuries is dead, and we don’t really know the consequences of what is taking its place. A historical overview.

For the last several years congressional committees and presidential task forces have been nattering back and forth about what should be done to change the legal order that establishes and specifically empowers and regulates the nation’s banks. They have dealt with their subject as a collection of technical problems they could solve: a bit of oil here, a tightened bolt there, a replacement for a blown gasket—and the old machine will be as good as new. But, in fact, our banking problems are systemic: we need a new machine.Read more »

Pricing The Past

A splendid gathering of American folk art—half a century before its time

In recent years Pine Street has become the center of Philadelphia’s antiques market, and the shopkeepers there would give a great deal to be able to visit a store that must have been the object of considerable ridicule to their turn-ofthe-century forerunners. It stood at 1237 Pine, but we have no record of what the owner called it, or even of his name. Yet, as this photograph attests, he was something of a pioneer. Most of his stock anticipates by a good half century the recent boom in folk art. Read more »

Asylum In Azilum

Refugees from the French Revolution, many of them of noble birth, built a unique community in the backwoods of Pennsylvania—and hoped their queen would join them

On October 7, 1798, the streets of Philadelphia were ominously deserted. A yellow-fever epidemic was at its height. Anyone who could had fled the city, and few would enter it voluntarily. Nevertheless thirty-three-year-old Aristide Aubert Dupetit-Thouars, a captain in the French navy, arrived there on foot from Wilmington and was anxiously seeking The Mansion at Spruce and Third streets.Read more »

Ardor For The Arts


In 1763, when Franklin wrote a friend that “the Arts delight to travel westward,” Philadelphia was last becoming the indisputable art center of America, a distinction it retained through the first decades of the nineteenth century. Benjamin West had already opened a London studio to which aspiring colonials soon came in a long, steady parade for guidance from the great man.

Fair Ladies And Fine Houses


The modishness and the wit of the ladies of Philadelphia were both celebrated and criticited. Young John Quincy Adams, shortly alter his return from Russia, thought that attractive women were almost commonplace in the Quaker city. Thomas Jefferson admired Mrs. Bingham’s keen mind and good sense as much as he appreciated her beauty.

Revolution And Occupation

The scene in Independence Hall as the Continental Congress voted for independence (above) was painted by Robert Edge Pine and Edward Savage some years after that historic occasion. Fourteen months after the Declaration was issued, General Howe moved into Philadelphia. The painting by Xavier Delia Gatta (opposite page) pictures the action about Benjamin Chew’s house on the Germantown Road as Washington gallantly but unsuccessfully tried to loosen the redcoats’ hold on the city.

Men Of Mind And Substance

Except for its distance from the Old World’s courts and capitals, there was little that was provincial about Philadelphia in the second half of the eighteenth century. Although Franklin’s enormous reputation tended to overshadow the attainments of his fellow citizens, the city abounded in men of brilliant minds, some of them as highly regarded in Europe as they were in America. Benjamin Rush was the most prominent American physician of his day and the foremost teacher of medicine.

The Good Citizen

Benjamin Franklin was the most cosmopolitan spirit of his age. The self-made republican, the tallow-chandler’s son, the many-sided tradesman, and the universal genius moved with grace and honor among the powdered heads of Europe, quipping with royalty and corresponding at once easily and profoundly with the greatest intellects of the day. Read more »

The Pulse Of City Life


At the turn of the century, in 1799 and 1800. Birch and his son Thomas issued a series of engraved views of Philadelphia that provide a remarkable record of the most attractive and the most enterprising of eighteenth-century American cities. At the time the Birches pictured it, the junction of Second and High streets (left) marked the heart of Philadelphia. Distances from the city to other places were measured from this intersection.

Penn’s City: American Athens

From wilderness to foremost city of the colonies, and then to cosmopolitan capital of the Republic—this was Philadelphia’s first century

Until he journeyed to Philadelphia in 1774 to attend the meetings of the First Continental Congress, John Adams had never been out of his native New England. He had even been thinking of quietly retiring to his Braintree farm when the explosive atmosphere in and about Boston (watchful redcoats camped on the Common that summer) thrust him from his own beleaguered part of the world into the main stream of large affairs—and into the most cosmopolitan, progressive, and affluent society in colonial America.