Thursday, March 17, 2011

New home for the Thomas Paine Collection in Iona College Library

The collection of pamphlets, books, ephemera, artifacts, journals and other writings formerly the collection of the now defunct Thomas Paine Museum of New Rochelle, New York finally found an home at the Iona College Library. Amidst the controversy over the sell-off of some of its most valuable and rare holdings, the collection was first moved to the New York State Historical Society while what is known as a 511 Hearing took place in the Superior Court of the State of New York in order to determine the appropriate and safest site for relocation and care of the collection.

Friends of this blog will recall a number posts on the subject under discussion, among them

http://kenburchell.blogspot.com/2009/06/thomas-paine-museum-new-rochelle-update.html

A spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York later repudiated the notion that any kind of "deal" was made, preferred to speak in terms of an "agreement," and emphasized that all of the actions were "voluntary." As it turns out, all seven points of the supposedly voluntary agreement -- reported here on this blog -- have held true, with the result that what is now being called The Thomas Paine Collection was at last quietly moved to Iona College. Other than the new page or two on Iona College's website, there seems to have been little or no fanfare, not even a press release.

A point with regard to the name -- perhaps a bit overstated, it harks back to the bad old days of the body that formerly held the collection, the Thomas Paine National Historical Association (TPNHA) of now controversial if not permanently tarnished reputation. Back during the time when it was a functioning -- if mostly contentious -- organization, the Burton/McCartin "leadership" was forever generating inflated claims for the association and for Thomas Paine, among them the hoary old shibboleth of their cohort ... that it was Thomas Paine who actually "authored the Declaration of Independence." Perhaps there are echos of that same tendency to overstate in the present name for this assemblage of evidently 200 items, "The Thomas Paine Collection." A far more comprehensive and important collection of original Paine material, for example,  is archived at the Library of the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the Colonel Richard Gimbel Collection of Thomas Paine Papers. On the other hand, some of the finest holdings of the TPNHA were disposed of in the controversial sell-off while other items they claimed -- such as Paine's writing-trunk, spectacles and other artifacts -- are, to the best of my knowledge, without provenance. Unless they can be positively documented, Paine's supposed ownership will be just another enormous but unsupportable claim. Certainly it would be wonderful if the trunk and other items prove to be Paine's, but even if the can be thus established, this is nothing like "THE Thomas Paine Collection." Just a suggestion -- perhaps it would be better to add a qualifier and call it "The Thomas Paine Collection at Iona College" or something along those lines.

More will doubtless follow. All Thomas Paine all the time here at the Thomas Paine Review.

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