Thomas Paine's Common Sense traveled quickly for its time. The first edition was printed in Philadelphia in January of 1776, and by the end of that year, Common Sense had been printed up and down the eastern seaboard, from Boston to Charlestown, South Carolina. To reach as many colonists as possible, it was also published in German in Philadelphia, less than two months after its original publication.
Within a year, Common Sense had also crossed the sea. The first British edition, featured on this website, was published at the end of May, 1776 in London. Soon, publication spread to other parts of the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe. Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and Lemgo, Germany were the quickest to publish the pamphlet, in French and German translations, respectively. Common Sense was printed in Paris for the first time in 1791, as the French Revolution hit its stride, and continued to be published across Europe through the 1790s.
This map visualizes the first fifty years of the spread of Common Sense. The pamphlet was a revolutionary text from its beginnings, and found new meaning in revolutionary contexts throughout the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. While Common Sense is still in print today, its impact and importance were changing by the early nineteenth century. By that point, it had become part of a revolutionary legacy for people in the United States, but still had revolutionary meaning for people in other parts of the world.
This map relies heavily on Richard Gimbel's essential work, Thomas Paine: A Bibliographical Check List of Common Sense, With an Account of its Publication. We also used advertisements in eighteenth and nineteenth century newspapers to approximate more specific dates of publication, because Gimbel's bibliography only provides years.
Gimbel's work can be accessed through the Hathi Trust.
To use the map: Move the slider at the bottom forward through time. Click on each dot for information about the publisher and the edition. Zoom in or out to see how Common Sense moved around the world.
Some cities, particularly Philadelphia and London, saw many editions of Common Sense between 1776 and 1821. Zoom in on each city to see each individual dot more clearly and to explore the various printings of Common Sense.
Each dot on the map represents one or more editions of Common Sense published by a particular printer. Each point is color coded:
The color inside the border of the dot represents the year, from 1776 to 1821.
Please note: we only have exact location data for some printers. Unless otherwise noted, exact publication locations are approximate.