Analog + Stationery Walking Tour of Historic Philadelphia

Early in August I had a short trip to Philadelphia. Being the pen addict that I am, I looked into pen shops to visit while in town by checking out the Stationery Shops Map on All Things Stationery as well as just plain old Googling.

Surprisingly, there is a dearth of pen shops for the fifth most populous city in the United States, at least, in the downtown area that I was visiting. I packed my Philly EDC and hopped on the plane with no expectations of coming home with anything pen or stationery related.

With only an afternoon to spare for sightseeing, my family decided to hit the must-see tourist attractions in Philadelphia: Liberty Bell (THE famous symbol of freedom) and Independence National Historical Park (birth place of American democracy).

Unexpectedly, there were some analog or stationery nuggets at most of the places that we visited that afternoon. Thus, I thought it would be helpful to put together an Analog + Stationery Tour of Historic Philadelphia. If you've only a few hours to explore in Philly and you're an analog or stationery aficionado, then come along!

Stop 1: Independence Visitor Center + Independence National Historical Park


Independence National Historical Park is large and is the site of many historically significant buildings. One could easily spend a whole day here. Rather than aimlessly wandering, hit up the Independence Visitor Center to orient yourself, check out the exhibits and also get your tickets for Independence Hall.

Where there is a visitor Center, there is a gift shop. The gift shop here is huge by most standards with a wide assortment of souvenirs to satisfy most tastes. What captured my eye were:

Feather Pen Set

Much of the key moments in American history relating to confederation was set in the 1700-1800's (at least, the Philadelphia related parts that I toured. I stress that I am NOT a historian). Stirring letters were written and a certain Constitution was signed. In those days there were no ballpoints, gel pens or even fountain pens. Dip pens were used. Feather pens to be exact. So this pen addict scored a most fitting souvenir with this Feather Pen Set. I haven't taken it for a test drive yet but looking forward to it.

Leather bound limited edition book: The Wit & Wisdom of Benjamin Franklin by James Humes

Ben Franklin is Philly's most famous resident. He was a Renaissance man dabbling in journalism, publishing, printmaking, politics, freemasonry, science, invention, civil activism and more. From time to time I've used one of his quotes for lettering purpose so getting this beautiful edition was a real treat.

Paperblanks Black Moroccan Flexi Mini Journal
There was a wide assortment of journals including these quality ones from Paperblanks...Funnily enough, the journals are designed in Canada.

A Canadian connection!  Hartley & Marks is a Canadian publisher that also produces these Paperblanks notebooks.

This little number belongs to my little guy. It has a faux-leather cover, ivory lined pages, memento pocket in the back and a rad orange bookmark. I got one for myself which I haven't cracked open yet. I'll post a review once I've had a chance to try it out myself.

Benjamin Franklin Float Pen

My son actually found this pen and I had not even taken a good look at it when he added the pen to the check-out. I would have poo-pooed it for not being a "writing instrument".

When I took a good look at it, I realized that it was a pretty nice float pen. It features Ben Franklin flying a kite with a thundercloud overhead. Apart from being a pen nerd, I'm also a science geek so I appreciated the cleverness of the depiction of one of Franklin's famous experiments.

Action shot of the kite drifting down after a lightening strike!

Action shot of the kite drifting down after a lightening strike!

It's a ballpoint pen and the tip is extended by a twist mechanism at the end of the barrel. It's made in Denmark looks well-constructed. The plastic feels pretty sturdy.

After these purchases, my pen & stationery addict's heart is put at ease and the rest of the tour continues.

From the Visitor Centre, we head toward the storied Independence Hall. But first, everyone needs to make a stop at the Liberty Bell Center to see the Liberty Bell. I mean, THE Liberty Bell. Yeah, the one with the big crack. Nothing exciting here from a stationery point of view. However, I can offer up one tip. After all the line-ups, winding through the exhibits and just before the main attraction is a station with National Park Service (NPS) stamps. This station was unmanned when I was there and so I was able to stamp my Midori Traveler's Notebook to memorialize the date of my visit. Normally the NPS Rangers will only allow stamping of NPS Passports.

On to Independence Hall.

Stop 2: Independence Hall


I hope you still have those tickets you picked up from the Visitor Center. As I mentioned, tickets are free but entry to Independence Hall is time stamped.

Independence Hall

We got a little history lesson from the NPS ranger and then toured the ground floor of the Hall. One side houses the courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which sat in the 1700's. On the other side of the Hall is the Assembly Room which hosted both the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

The Assembly Room is now restored to its 18th century appearance. The stationery nugget here is getting the opportunity to see the types of books, scrolls and feather pens that the elder statemen would have used during those great heated debates and on the signing of those historic documents.

From Independence Hall you can stroll down Chestnut Street. There are several historic buildings along the way including the Second Bank of the US.

Past 4th Street and halfway to 3rd Streets is a stone footpath in an alleyway. The footpath leads to the Franklin Court sites.

Long footpath to Franklin Court

Stop 3: Franklin Court


In the Franklin Court is the Benjamin Franklin Museum, the Franklin Court Courtyard which has foundations of Franklin's home, the Fragments of Franklin Court exhibit and the Franklin Court Printing Office. The latter is the analog + stationery nugget in the Court.

Franklin Court Printing Office

The printed word played a vital role in the American Revolution. Ben Franklin ran a printing office which no longer exists, but at the Franklin Court Printing Office you can see what equipment was used back in the day.

Exterior of the Printing Office

The exhibit includes a typesetting area, a couple of reproduction 18th century printing presses, and a bindery.

When I walked into the entrance and saw the typesetting area, I was giddy.

Typesetting area

When I laid my eyes on the printing presses, my heart was swooning.

When the park ranger starting demonstrating how the printing presses worked, I was ecstatic. Here are few shots showing the operation of the press.

After the prints are made, they are left to dry hanging from the rafters.


In those days, they printed mostly on cotton or linen. Some prints made from those very presses in the Printing Office were available for sale at a very affordable 25 cents up to a few dollars per print. This makes a terrific souvenir for an analog and stationery addict.

Letterpress souvenirs

Binding equipment

Binding area

Binding area

Stop 4: B. Free Franklin Post Office & Museum


In the next building over from the Printing Office is the B. Free Post Office. It's an actual working post office operated by USPS with a Colonial-theme and a postal museum on the second floor.

Camp group on the street side entrance of the B. Free Post Office.  The archway is the Market Street entrance to Franklin Court.

It's the only post office in the US that does not fly the American flag as did not yet exist at the time that Ben Franklin was Postmaster General. Yes, can you believe that? Apart from being a Founding Father of the United States and all the other stuff the he did, he was even the first United States Postmaster General.

Snail mail fans will be stoked to know that this post office cancels stamps with a "B. Free Franklin" postmark. This would be a great place to send postcards...including one to yourself so that you can get a unique souvenir waiting for you when you get home.

That's the end of this analog + stationery tour. I didn't have a chance to explore more nor look for stationery shops. There might not be pen shops, but surely there must be stationery shops. If you know of any pen or stationery shops or know of any other interesting analog and stationery related historical sites, let me know in the comments!