An extraordinary association copy of the rare first edition, first issue, of Paine's iconic anti-monarchical pamphlet.
Paine arrived in America on 30 November 1774; in the early part of 1775 he became editor of the monthly Pennsylvania Magazine
(see lot 126)—and increasingly interested in the cause of American independence. At the suggestion of Benjamin Franklin (whom he had met in London and who had supplied him with letters of introduction) and Benjamin Rush, Paine agreed to write an essay in support of the idea. Originally planned as a series of letters to be submitted to newspapers, Paine instead decided on publishing it as a pamphlet. His publisher, Robert Bell, shrewdly timed an advertisement of its publication to appear on 9 January 1776 in the Pennsylvania Evening Post
along with the text of the King's speech condemning the rebellion. The pamphlet was issued on 10 January 1776 as an anonymous two-shilling pamphlet in an edition of 1,000 copies. Common Sense
urged an immediate declaration of independence and led to Paine's clandestine employment as official propagandist of the insurgent colonial government. The impact of the tract on the course of American independence can scarcely be exaggerated. Paine's stirring renunciation of the sovereignty of George III, whom he termed a hardened, sullen-faced Pharaoh, found a remarkable reception among his new countrymen.
The first page of the essay bears a note hastily written by Henry Wisner, a representative from New York to the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1777. He fully supported the Declaration of Independence although he was not present to vote on or sign the document. He served in various military and political capacities during the Revolution, supplied the Continental Army with gunpowder and weapons, and was instrumental in the laying of the two Great Chains across the Hudson River in 1776. The inscription reads: "Sir I have only to ask the favour of you to Read this pamphlet, consult Mr. Scott and such of the Committee of Safety as you think proper particularly orange and ulster [Wisner owned four powder mills in these New York counties] and let me know their and your opinion of the general spirit of it. I would have wrote a letter on the subject but the bearer is waiting. Henry Wisner at Philadelphia to John McKesson at New York." Evident from the content of Wisner's note is that the pamphlet was sent to McKesson months before the vote on the Declaration, perhaps even shortly after its publication. McKesson, a prominent figure in New York politics, duly received the pamphlet and has signed his name on the title-page.
Of utmost rarity: only three other copies of the first edition, first issue, have sold at auction since 1945: one in 1967, another in 1975 with a defective title-page, and the Engelhard copy in 1996.