Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Caveat emptor -- Thomas Paine's opera glasses

Very shortly after the passing of the late Bonnie Lange -- longtime friend, editor and publisher of the TRUTHSEEKER journal and Thomas Paine enthusiast -- rumors of the existence of Thomas Paine's opera-glasses began to make the rounds. We've been contacted by a number of colleagues who were variously amused or interested to know of the possibility of their existence. And then they appeared on eBay. The auction ends today ... within about two hours ... and not surprisingly there are no takers for the minimum $5000.00 US opening bid. Here's the link to the sale:


The owner has not contacted the author of this blog even though we surely represent the best qualifications in the country to evaluate this item -- combining professional history credentials, a good record of published Paine scholarship as well as professional appraisal training and over 40 years of experience (fine and antique jewelry/gems and antiquarian books) that includes antique opera glasses and similar objects.

There are several reasons to suspect that Paine never owned these glasses. First, the style of glass depicted in the photo was not manufactured until WELL after 1825 ... really, these adjustable lenses weren't in production until much later c. 1890 to 1910. Remembering that Paine died in 1809, this makes his ownership problematic. The "documentation" of provenance provided for the sale is equally problematic.

The present owner is said to have inherited them from Bonnie and certainly can't be blamed for wishing that these were Paine's or to make a fast few thousand by turning them over. But as time goes on, one suspects that the owner MUST be increasingly aware that neither their ownership record NOR their mechanical style fits the minimum requirement for authentication.

Perhaps there is more to this story and while we always welcome correction from credible and veracious sources, until that time comes we emphatically recommend a "no bid" on this item.

[and no ... there is no record that Paine ever attended an opera in his life!]


  1. In my humble opinion it is a testament to his good taste that he didn't attend the opera.
    Doesn't seem that stuffy to me.

  2. Understand the sentiment, but have come to appreciate a good deal of opera in recent years:

    Lucia Popp - W. A. Mozart
    "Il Re Pastore" Act ll Aminta "L'amero, saro costante"



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