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Thomas Paine’s Day Job While Writing Common Sense: Editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine
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[THOMAS PAINE]. Bound Volume. Pennsylvania Magazine; or American Monthly Museum. Volume 1. January-December 1775. Philadelphia, Pa., R. Aitken, 1775. 5 x 8¼ in.

Inventory #23101       Price: $45,000

Twelve issues and one supplement, a complete run of the first year. 625, [5] pp., including title signature and the supplement, plus fifteen plates. without a leaf numbered 285-286, but the text uninterrupted and evidently complete (apparently a mis-pagination at the time of printing).

Historical Background

The Pennsylvania Magazine was the only magazine issued in the American colonies for most of the crucial years of 1775 and 1776 (the only other one being The Royal American Magazine, which ceased publication in March 1775). It was conceived and founded by Robert Aitken, best known for his work as a printer for the Continental Congress. Aitken hired Thomas Paine to edit the magazine, at the paltry sum of £50 a year, just a few months after the radical writer’s arrival in America (in December 1774). Paine would edit the publication from February of 1775 to May of 1776. He was also a major contributor, writing Revolutionary essays, political analyses, poems and descriptions of new inventions. Paine wrote under the initials “A.B.” and various other pseudonyms, and sometimes with no byline.

Paine scholar William M. Van der Weyde observes that, under Paine’s editorship, the magazine “was sprightly and interesting, and had, moreover, real literary merit…. [I]n his early literary work…we may clearly trace the keen mind and forceful pen which were soon to give the world some of its most distinguished writing.” Author John Tebbel notes that “Paine (and Aitken) did not permit The Pennsylvania Magazine to be simply a propaganda organ. It contained a wide variety of other pieces, and enough original material to make it outstanding among magazines of the century.”


A run of the first twelve issues and the 1775 supplement of The Pennsylvania Magazine, the only magazine issued in the American colonies for most of the crucial year of 1775. This is among the most important American Revolutionary-era publications for two reasons. First, it was edited by the famous radical, Thomas Paine, from February 1775 until May 1776 (all but the first and the last two numbers) as his regular occupation while he wrote Common Sense. Second, it contains some of the most significant maps produced in America during the Revolution, including battle plans that became prototypes for often-reproduced illustrations. Only a handful of similar maps were produced in America during the Revolution. Ristow describes three of the maps and plans (numbers 8, 9, and 10, below) as “the earliest revolutionary war maps printed in America.” The present collection contains the first twelve of the total nineteen issues of The Pennsylvania Magazine, a complete run for the year 1775.

Contains the important “A Correct View of the Late Battle at Charleston, June 17th, 1775,” depicting the Battle of Bunker Hill. Though only a partial plate here, this view, virtually never found with the magazine and of extraordinary rarity, is arguably the most important American-produced visual image of the Revolutionary conflict aside from Paul Revere’s famous Boston Massacre plate. The Bunker Hill image is based on a drawing by Bernard Romans, an engineer and mapmaker best known for his book on Florida. Romans supposedly observed the conflict firsthand, but there is no evidence he was actually there. The plate, crudely but effectively engraved by Robert Aitken, shows the American and British lines joined in conflict in the upper right part of the plate, while in the right foreground Americans load a cannon near a blockhouse. Boston Harbor is in the right foreground, while the city, in the upper right, is bombarded by British naval vessels. Since the plate accompanied the September issue of the magazine, it must have been made by early September 1775. Romans also issued the view on a larger scale, with a slightly different title but almost identical in design.[1] Whether it preceded or followed the Aitken version, and even where it was produced, is unclear. In the end priority cannot be determined, but the larger version is so rare (we can only locate The New York Public Library copy) that it is a moot point.

The Pennsylvania Magazine was conceived and founded by the Revolutionary printer, Robert Aitken, best known for his work as a printer for the Continental Congress. Aitken launched the periodical himself, but soon found it too much work and hired Paine as editor at £50 a year. Paine had only arrived in America a few months before, in December 1774. He quickly became the major contributor as well as editor, sometimes writing under the initials “A.B.,” and sometimes with no by-line. “These initials he affixed to descriptions of mechanical devices, anecdotes, Addisonian essays, argumentative papers, and poems in some variety...the most imaginative and literary of the pieces have never been reprinted” wrote historian Frank Luther Mott. “Published on the eve of the American Revolution, and edited by one of the leading Revolutionary publicists, is, The Pennsylvania Magazine, of course, of paramount political December the magazine published ‘Reflections on the Duty of Princes,’ in which sovereigns are sharply warned against the exercise of arbitrary power. This is signed ‘A.’ and is followed by an oratorical passage ‘On Liberty’ signed ‘Philo-Libertas.’ Both are in the accents of Paine.”  

Mott also particularly mentions Paine’s famous “Liberty Tree” article in July 1775, Phillis Wheatley’s verses to Washington of April 1776, and Paine’s article on the abuse of texts in the supplementary number for 1775. Paine also contributed much that was not political, and there are many articles on current events in that fast-moving period which may or may not come from his pen; however, writing for this magazine was Paine’s primary work during this period, and all told, a substantial part of each issue sprang from his pen until his break with Aitken in May 1776. The magazine chronicles, month by month, Paine’s sentiments before writing Common Sense, which was published in mid-January 1776.

Many of the important maps and illustrations in The Pennsylvania Magazine, were engraved by the publisher, Robert Aitken. The plates in the present volume are as follows:

1) “A New Electrical Machine” in the January 1775 issue. A detailed illustration of a European-invented device for studying electricity.

2) “Doctor Goldsmith” in the January 1775 issue. A portrait of Oliver Goldsmith.

Content includes “The Magazine in America” [attributed to Paine]; “The Liberty Tree” [poem attributed to Paine]; Monthly Intelligence: “General Gage has received positive orders not to proceed to extremities; but to act upon the defensive, till the sense of the new Parliament relative to the Bostonians be finally known…Orders have been given for seizing every Ship, of whatever nation, that is employed in carrying arms or ammunition to the Americans…”; Article re: a new electrical machine, accompanied by engraving; News from various American cities, including: “the military and naval expenditures at the town of Boston, since the blocking up the harbour, amounts to fifty thousand pounds sterling every three months”; Discusses provincial congresses held and scheduled; Prints, in full, the October 26, 1774 petition to the King; Lists newly elected officers of the American Philosophical Society, including Benjamin Franklin as president; Notes the death of Deborah Franklin, wife of Benjamin Franklin; List of the squadron in America under Admiral Graves.

3) “A New Threshing Instrument” in the February, 1775 issue.

Content includes “Useful and Entertaining Hints” Signed “Alanticus” and “New Anecdotes of Alexander the Great” signed Esop. [both attributed to Paine]; an article on “Substitutes for Tea”; multi-page lists of members of the new Parliament; King’s speech regarding American rebellion, and Parliament’s response:

“A most daring spirit of resistance and disobedience to the law, still unhappily prevails in the province of Massachusetts-Bay, and has in divers parts of it, broke forth in fresh violences of a very criminal nature. These proceedings have been countenanced and encouraged in other of my colonies, and unwarrantable attempts have been made to obstruct the commerce of this kingdom, by unlawful combinations…you may depend upon my firm and stedfast resolution to withstand, every attempt to weaken or impair the supreme authority of this legislature over all the dominions of my crown.”

4) “General Wolfe. A new Song Engraved for The Pennsylvania Magazine” in the March 1775 issue. A folding plate of sheet music, with lyrics, on the death of General Wolfe in the French and Indian War.

Content includes “Reflections on the Life and Death of Lord Clive” and “On the Death of General Wolfe”; Poem with music [both attributed to Paine] Note: Not signed at end of text, on p. 144 “the piece entitled Reflections on the Life and Death of Lord Clive, on page 107, by our correspondent ALANTICUS, had no signature to it, and was printed off before we received his directions to add it thereto.”

5) “A New Invented Machine for Spinning of Wool or Cotton” in the April 1775 issue. A quite detailed illustration, drawn and engraved by C. Tully, the inventor of the machine.

Content includes“Cupid and Hymen” [attributed to Paine] Signed Esop.

6) “Front View of a Frame House resembling Brick” in the April 1775 issue. A fine early American architectural illustration.

7) “[Description of a new invented Machine, for deepning [sic] and cleansing Docks, &c.],” in the May 1775 issue. This folding plate itself has no caption, but is thus described in the text. An early Philadelphia invention of a dredger.

Content includes“Reflections on Titles,” signed Vox Populi.

8) “A New Plan of Boston Harbour from an Actual Survey” in the June 1775 issue. A fine detailed folding map of Boston harbor, showing Boston, Dorchester, Charlestown, Roxbury, and other towns, fortifications, and the several islands that dotted the harbor. Wheat & Brun 239. Phillips Maps, p. 166. Jolly, Maps Of America In Periodicals Before 1800, 266.

Content includes“The Dream Interpreted” and “Reflections on Unhappy Marriages” [both attributed to Paine] Note: “The Dream Interpreted is present but unsigned; Reflections on Unhappy Marriages.

9) “A New and Correct Plan of the Town of Boston and Provincial Camp” in the July 1775 issue. A fine and important folding plan showing the British battery on Boston Common and the fortification of Boston Neck. Many streets are named and wharves identified. Nebenzahl 2. Wheat & Brun 238. Phillips Maps, p. 149. Jolly, Maps Of America In Periodicals Before 1800, 267. Ristow, p. 41.

July 1775:

Content includes “Thoughts on Defensive War” [often attributed to Paine.] Signed A Lover of Peace.

10) “Exact Plan of General Gage’s Lines on Boston Neck in America” in the August 1775 issue. This folding map is another important American-engraved battle plan. The accompanying text states that by using the map “it will be easy to form a perfect idea of the manner in which the General hath blockaded the entrances into [Boston].” Guardhouses, fortifications, batteries, and more, are shown. Nebenzahl 5. Wheat & Brun 237. Ristow, p. 41. Phillips Maps, p. 149. Jolly, Maps Of America In Periodicals Before 1800, 268.

Content includes “An Occasional Letter on the Female Sex,” a plea for women’s equality. [attributed to Paine]. Unsigned.

11) “A Correct View of the Late Battle at Charlestown June 17th 1775” in the September 1775 issue. Partial plate only. A great folding view of the Battle of Bunker Hill showing action on land and at sea, with long lines of Americans and British facing off against each other, and Charlestown and part of Boston in flames. See above for discussion. Ristow, p. 41. Deak, Picturing America, 143.

Van der Weyde notes that “in the September number [1775] a picture of the battle of Bunker Hill appears, displaying for the first time, I believe, the stripes of the American flag.”

12) “A Map of the Present Seat of War on the Borders of Canada” in the October 1775 issue. Folding. The map shows the area from the St. Lawrence River and Montreal in the north, down the length of Lake Champlain, to Crown Point in the south. Wheat & Brun 89. Phillips Maps, p. 193. Jolly, Maps Of America In Periodicals Before 1800, 269.

13) “Plan of the Town & Fortifications of Montreal or Ville Marie in Canada” in the November 1775 issue. A very detailed map of Montreal, showing buildings, streets, squares, gardens, etc. This folding plan has a fine inset “View of the Town &c. of Montreal.” Wheat & Brun 91. Phillips Maps, P.451. Jolly, Maps Of America In Periodicals Before 1800, 270.

14) “[Description of a New Machine for enabling Persons to escape from the Windows of Houses on Fire]” in the December 1775 issue. The plate has no caption, but the description is taken from the text. An ingenious device, involving a large basket and pulley system, designed to help people escape from tall, burning buildings.

December 1775:

Content includes “Reflections on the Duty of Princes,” sharply warning sovereigns against the exercise of arbitrary power. This is signed “A.” and is followed by an oratorical passage, “On Liberty,” signed “Philo-Libertas.” [Both tentatively attributed to Paine.] Signed Libertalis.

15) “A Plan of Quebec, Metropolis of Canada in North America” in the December 1775 issue. This detailed map is keyed to a table identifying seventeen important buildings, citadels, and batteries in the town. Wheat & Brun 90. Phillips Maps, P. 735. Jolly, Maps Of America In Periodicals Before 1800, 271.

Supplement 1775:

Content includes Thomas Paine article on the abuse of texts.

Sabin 60346 – “A periodical of great rarity.”


Bookplate and duplicate release stamp of the Library Company of Philadelphia.  There is an interesting copperplate inscription on one of the front free endpapers – “Ready money for clean Linen Rags By the Printer hereof.”  This is likely to have been a handwritten plea from the publisher, Aitken, or one of his employees.  During the 1770s, under the Intolerable Acts, there was a shortage of paper in the American colonies and printers often advertised for used linen for paper-making. Amongst these were Hugh Gaine of NY, advertising for the same in 1774, and Isaac Collins, publisher of the New Jersey Gazette, who in April of 1778 was forced to decline further subscriptions “for want of paper.”  (Nelson, William. Some New Jersey Printers and Printing in the Eighteenth Century).

“F. Bailey” was likely Francis Bailey (c. 1735-1815), a Pennsylvania printer and journalist who published the Lancaster Almanac in 1771 and in 1784 F. Bailey’s Pocket Almanac. His most notable achievements were “printing the unremarkable Das Pennsylvanische Zeitungs-Blat (4 Feb.-24 June 1778)” and the United States Magazine with Hugh Henry Brackenridge in 1779.  He was “an unabashed supporter of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, Bailey believed in expanding the suffrage, in a legislatively oriented government, in a strong self-sufficient state government, and an in economy in which entrepreneurial activity was open to all citizens. Supported by his political friends, in 1781 he became the official printer of both the Continental Congress and the state of Pennsylvania.” 


Contemporary calf, blind stamped “F. Bailey’s.” on front over.  Browning and staining to text and plates, some plates worn at folds.  Worn, hinges cracking.

*This item is also being offered in part II of The Alexander Hamilton Collection


Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1741-1850, (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1930) pp. 87-91.

Lyon Norman Richardson, A History of Early American Magazines, 1741-1789, (New York : Taylor and Francis, 1931) pp. 174-196.

John Tebbel, The American Magazine: A Compact History, (New York, 1969).

[1] Deak quotes a New York newspaper advertisement of September 25, stating that the work would be available in ten days. Since we know Romans was publishing a book, with engraved illustrations, in New York at this time (A CONCISE NATURAL HISTORY OF EAST AND WEST FLORIDA, with 3 engraved maps and 6 engraved plates) it would be logical to think that the print was done in New York and postdated the Aitken print. But Fowble, in describing the London reprint of the engraving in the Winterthur collection, speculates that Romans and Aitken collaborated on the two versions, and that Nicholas Brown of Philadelphia produced them. He cites a September 30, 1775 Philadelphia newspaper ad offering both for sale as evidence.

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