Tuesday, July 30, 2013

RIP Bonnie Lange

As mentioned in the previous post on "Thomas Paine's opera glasses," Bonnie Lange has shed her mortal coil and departed earthly life. She was the last publisher/editor of The TruthSeeker journal ... by some estimations the longest continuously published freethought publication in US history. The TS was a great paper in its heyday prior to the 1920s and the original publishers -- D.M. Bennett and the Macdonald brothers -- did more for Thomas Paine's memory and record than anyone in their period. Bennett acquired the seed-library of his project from Gilbert Vale, the subject of this writer's dissertation and guiding personality in the erection of the Thomas Paine monument in New Rochelle, NY. Rod Bradford, btw, has written a worthwhile biography of Bennett to which the author of this blog contributed many hours of editing to the rough draft. Here are the data on Rod's book:

Bradford, Roderick
D. M. Bennett: The Truth Seeker
  • Hardcover: 412 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (October 11, 2006)
  • ISBN-10: 1591024307
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591024309
All that aside, the legacy of Bonnie Lange is mixed. The TS had already been stained by the militant atheism of one publisher (Charles Lee Smith, 1937-1954) and the pro-Hitler, anti-semitic rantings of another (Bonnie was protegĂ© and "girl-friday" of the latter, James Hervey Johnson, 1954-1988). Bonnie took the TS even further afield from its original mission by the admixture of a succession of conspiracy/illuminist theorists including Zacharia Sitchin, David Ickes and Jon Rapoport.  Bonnie and I remained friends until her death -- a miracle, since, as I often reminded her, there is indeed a fine line between having an open mind and a hole in one's head.

Perhaps the TS will be reborn and return to something reflecting its early integrity and quality -- it was a FINE periodical in its glory-period and counted Mark Twain, Margaret Sanger, Clarance Darrow, Robert G. Ingersoll and many other progressive crusaders among its subscribers or contributors. Mr. Bradford appears to be the best person to carry the periodical forward, but if it sinks into the historical record, then RIP Bonnie and the TS.

Addendum: the TS website at http://www.truthseeker.com/ contains no mention of Bonnie's death nor obituary. How sad.

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!]

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Institute For Thomas Paine Studies established at Iona College


The Thomas Paine Review wishes well to this new educational enterprise at the Ryan Library of Iona College (see link above). The remaining collection from the old Paine House (Museum) will finally receive the care, conservation and archival treatment that it has so long needed and an end made to the sell-off of its holdings.

For background, past commentary and reportage, see:


Many questions remain. The article cites the collection as the only place where one can examine
Paine artifacts AND printed materials together ... however the provenance of the artifacts remains, insofar as we know, publicly undocumented. And again insofar as we can tell no catalog or index of the entire collection has yet been published -- though the library lists 200 searchable items. Missing in all the hyperbole and self-assessments of the college publicist and quotations by "officers" of what's left of the TPNHA is a level-headed comparison with the (Richard Gimbel) Thomas Paine Collection at the library of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. The Gimbel Collection -- far larger (the catalog lists at least 5334 items) and more comprehensive by far -- has been there for years. So what exactly are the grandiloquent claims in the publicity based on? Certainly not on the printed collection -- not even close. So if the artifacts and curio are going to be the big draw, then they'd better be of solid provenance.

The educational mission of the library looks more promising and we wish them well in all events when it comes to making Paine's name and works more widely known.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Thomas Paine lived in Bordentown, New Jersey for 25 years?

A friend to this blog, Rod Bradford, sent in the following link from the New Jersey Hall of Fame into which Paine was recently inducted:


The text on Paine reads:

"Thomas Paine, Bordentown (1737-1809) Born in England, this great thinker immigrated to the colonies in 1774 where he was an author, pamphleteer, revolutionary, leading intellectual in pre-Revolutionary War efforts. Bordentown was his home for more than 25 years."

Certainly Paine kept up a long connection with Bordentown, the Kirkbrides and others in the area, but to say it was his home (he purchased a cottage and 7 acres in 1783) for 25 years tends to mislead since Paine was out of the country within three and a half years, didn't return to America for another 15, did not live in the property when he returned and sold it off in 1808, leaving a total on-sight residence of perhaps 3.5 years out of 25.

An article by Mae Silver of Bordentown seems to be the source of the Bordentown "claim" to Paine. The author met Ms. Silver many years ago, holds her in friendship and esteem and vouches without reserve for her sincere and steadfast interest in both Thomas Paine and Bordentown.

Ellen Brown and Thomas Paine

Straight, sensible talk on economics.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

On the 4th of July: Thomas Paine, the greatest revolutionary of them all.

Thomas Paine by the American artist John Trumball. The match to the Jefferson miniature, both at Monticello.