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14th Jun 2021
Thomas Paine Rights of Man 1791 J.S.Jordan edition

An extremely rare, very early edition of ‘Rights of Man’ by Norfolk-born Thomas Paine is to go under the hammer this week in the county – and auctioneers expect bidding from collectors and dealers to take the price into the thousands.

The book is the best-known work by the Thetford-born 18th century political activist, philosopher and revolutionary, whose colourful life included becoming an American citizen, gaining honorary French citizenship and sitting in that country’s post-revolutionary National Council, and being an outspoken critic of the first US president, George Washington.

The extremely rare first J.S.Jordan edition of ‘Rights of Man’ will go under the hammer on Thursday 17th June at Keys Auctioneers and Valuers in Aylsham.  Experts at the auction house can find no record of such an edition ever coming to auction before, and are tentatively estimating that it will sell for ‘thousands’.

The actual first edition of Paine’s book, by London publisher Joseph Johnson in 1791 was withdrawn before being published for fear of prosecution.  Another London publisher, J.S.Jordan stepped in and took up the book, publishing it just three weeks later; it is a first edition of this imprint which will go under the hammer in Aylsham on Thursday.

The work caused a scandal amongst the established political classes, suggesting as it did that popular political revolution is permissible when a government does not safeguard the natural rights of its people.  Paine was tried and convicted in his absence (he was in Paris) of seditious libel.  He was sentenced to death, but never returned to England, and died in America in 1809, aged 72.

“Because this book was so politically sensitive, very few of the earliest copies have survived, and it is extremely rare for one to come up for sale,” said Keys head of books Andrew Lyndsay-Bullock.

“Because we can find no record of this edition ever coming up for auction, it is impossible to put an accurate estimate on its value, but the interest already shown from collectors and dealers suggests that the bidding is likely to go into the thousands when it goes under the hammer.”

Thomas Paine was born in Thetford in 1737, and educated at Thetford Grammar School.  Supported by Benjamin Franklin, he emigrated to Philadelphia in 1774, becoming a US citizen.  He is widely regarded as the father of both political radicals and social democrats, and his ideas continue to influence politics today.

The first J.S.Jordan edition of ‘Rights of Man’ by Thomas Paine goes under the hammer on the first day of Keys’ two day Book and Ephemera Sale on Thursday 17th and Friday 18th June.  Full details of every lot in the sale can be found at bid.keysauctions.co.uk.