'Extremely rare' Rights of Man edition to be auctioned

A rare copy of Rights of Man by Thomas Paine (portrait inset) is going for sale by auction in Norfolk.

A rare copy of Rights of Man by Thomas Paine (portrait inset) is going for sale by auction in Norfolk. - Credit: Lucy Ducker / public domain

An extremely rare, early edition of ‘Rights of Man’ by Thetford-born Thomas Paine is to go under the hammer this week in Aylsham.

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.

His 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.

A rare J.S. Jordan edition of Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, published in 1791, is going for sale by auction in Norfolk.

A rare J.S. Jordan edition of Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, published in 1791, is going for sale by auction in Norfolk. - Credit: Lucy Ducker

Experts at Keys Auctioneers and Valuers can find no record of such an edition ever coming to auction before.


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Andrew Lyndsay-Bullock, Keys' head of books, said: “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.

“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.”

A portrait of Thomas Paine, from Thetford, who become a founding father of the United States. Image:

A portrait of Thomas Paine, from Thetford, who become a founding father of the United States. Image: PAINTING BY LAURENT DABOS - Credit: PAINTING BY LAURENT DABOS

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The first edition of Paine’s book, by London publisher Joseph Johnson in 1791, was withdrawn before being published for fear of prosecution.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, JS Jordan, stepped in and took up the book, publishing it just three weeks later; it is a first edition of this imprint which will be auctioned by Keys on Thursday (July 17).

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.

Thetford Town Councillor, Mark Taylor, has come under scrutiny after handing out information cards a

The statue of Thomas Paine in front of the Thetford Town hall, the town where he was born.  - Credit: Eastern Daily Press

Paine was 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.

More details of the auction can be found at bid.keysauctions.co.uk

Thetford Grammar School

Thetford Grammar School, where Thomas Paine was once a student. - Credit: Archant


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