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Bonhams Auction -- From Morse to Marconi
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News of an important, even historic, auction is worth spreading the word as widely as possible. We're sure you noted Bonhams' ad for the "Morse to Marconi" event in our April issue, and the following article amplifies that information a bit and may inspire you to book a flight to England in June. (Editor)

On June 3, 2004, Bonhams of Knightsbridge, London, will conduct an auction of instruments, books, and manuscripts, ephemera, and photographs, all from "the 19th century Information Highway -- the telegraph, the telephone, and the wireless." The auction is unusual in that it is specific to a particular period of time -- "Morse to Marconi."

Conducted by a British auction house, this event is another example of how the new global economy involves several countries. First, the auction was the inspiration of Peter Sindell of Montreal, Canada, a telecommunications and television history collector. Peter, along with Jim Kreuzer of Grand Island, New York, a major collector of Marconi items and an antiquarian book seller, is helping with the cataloging of the 200 to 250 items that Bonhams has assembled from both sides of the Atlantic. It's obvious that this is an international affair, and the hope is that it will become an annual event.

1840 Cooke and Wheatstone ABC Telegraph Receiver
1840 Cooke and Wheatstone ABC Telegraph Receiver, complete and all original with early GPO mark and paper label affixed to the rear. It is described in Wheatstone's Patent # 8345 of 1840.

Top left is a playbill printed on the Great Eastern in 1866
Top left is a playbill printed on the Great Eastern in 1866; front is a specimen of the 1850 Dover to Calais cable; upper right is a specimen of the 1865 Atlantic cable; in the background is a map of the 1866 recovery of the 1865 Atlantic cable.

In January of this year, Peter Sindell traveled to London hoping to interest Bonhams in the concept of a telecommunications memorabilia auction. His choice of Bonhams was based on his belief that a company with such an innovative, market-oriented reputation might be just the one to appreciate the concept. He knew that Bonhams' creative approach to auctioneering has made it a strong competitor in the marketplace.

In fact, Bonhams now makes claim to being the fastest growing auction house in the world. Established in 1793, it is the world's largest auctioneer of fine art and antiques still run by auctioneers and still British-owned. It conducts over 700 auctions a year worldwide, from across the UK and Europe, to the U.S. West Coast and Australia.

Like Christie's, which conducted a Concorde Souvenir sale in Paris, Bonhams held a British Airways Concorde Charity Sale on December 1, 2003, which netted in excess of £800,000. Auctioning parts of a historic airplane must have added another category to Bonhams' more than 70 categories of fine art, antiques, and collectibles.

An internal view of the Cooke and Wheatstone ABC Telegraph Receiver
An internal view of the Cooke and Wheatstone ABC Telegraph Receiver. The mechanism consists of a spring driven clockwork, controlled by an electromagnetic escapement. This escapement is actuated by thepulses of current from the sender and allows the dial to rotate one letter for each letter passing the index on the sender apparatus. The dial on the receiver moved in unison with the dial on the transmitter and the disc of paper displayed the correct letter.

Peter Sindell's choice of Bonhams was obviously a good one. Bonhams has taken his idea that the time is right for a "Morse to Marconi" sale, and is mounting what promises to be a historic sale with expected proceeds in the £600,000 range.

Jon Baddeley, Bonhams' Head of Collectors' Sales, has said, "We expect interest in the sale from private collectors, museums and telecommunications companies interested in buying objects, manuscripts, and printed material relating to early telecommunications. Buyers and sellers will be helping Bonhams to create a market in telecoms collectables."

In The Auction

Among the important instruments to be offered are the 1840 Cooke and Wheatstone pioneering telegraph receiver (Bonham's Web site estimates this item to bring from £40,000 to £60,000) as well as a section of the historic first submarine cable in the world, laid from England to France in 1850, with bid estimates of from £2,500 to £3,000.

Another highlight will be the stock certificate account book of Samuel F.B. Morse's Magnetic Telegraph Company from 1845 to 1860, which provides a financial history of the first telecommunications organization in the world. Until 1860, all the entries are in a lovely calligraphic hand in black ink. For 1860 the entries are in blue ink. Typically, each page gives the name of the shareholder at the top of the page, sometimes with a location, followed by details for each stock transaction. The first certificate, number 1, dated November 10, 1845, is for 10 shares, and was issued to Edmund Dwight.

De Forest Wireless Company Single Wing Audion vacuum tube
De Forest Wireless Company Single Wing Audion vacuum tube, 1909. This was the first commercial, 3-element vacuum tube placed on the market, and it enabled wireless signals to be amplified for the first time. This tube is complete with good filaments and original label.

The American Telegraph Company acquired the Magnetic Telegraph Company in 1860; thus the last certificate, number 948, recorded in the manuscript in chronological terms was issued to The American Telegraph Company for 2,868 shares on January 26, 1860. Transactions for two hundred sixty-four different shareholders are represented in the Certificate Accounts. Alfred Vail's own copies of rare pamphlets concerning the Magnetic Telegraph Company will be sold, as well as some of the first telegrams sent after the Atlantic cable had established communication between America and Europe. One of these was sent on behalf of Queen Victoria acknowledging the good wishes sent to her by U.S. President Andrew Johnson. Another is a message transmitted form Valencia in Ireland, the European end of the line, to Heart's Content at the Newfoundland end.

The ephemera to be offered will include a playbill printed onboard the Great Eastern during the cable-laying voyage across the Atlantic in 1866. It is estimated at £300 to £400.

In short, the Morse to Marconi auction will feature many instruments, equipment, manuscripts, and printed materials from an age that might be aptly called, according to Bonhams, "the Victorian Internet." As we all know, the Internet, which so much dominates our current world, is a direct descendant of the telegraph, telephone, and wireless.

Description of The American Electro-Magnetic Telegraph
"Description of The American Electro-Magnetic Telegraph: Now in Operation between the Cities of Washington and Baltimore" by Alfred Vail 1847. 24 pages with 14 engravings. This is the 2nd printing of a most important document that describes and depicts the telegraph line and the apparatus involved in the first successful American Telegraph System, and includes specimens of the telegraph language (Morse Code).

Contact Information

For more information regarding consigning items to this auction or for further details on the sale, please contact, for instruments: Jon Baddeley 011 44 20 7313 3140; For books, manuscripts, and ephemera: David Park, 011 44 20 7468 8351; Bonhams, Montpelier St., Knightsbridge, London SW7 1HH,

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