Bonhams Auction -- From Morse to Marconi
COMPILED FROM INFORMATION from BONHAMS, PETER SINDELL, AND JIM KREUZER
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
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, 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; 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
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.
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
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, 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
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
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: 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
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; firstname.lastname@example.org. For books,
manuscripts, and ephemera: David Park, 011 44 20 7468 8351;
email@example.com. Bonhams, Montpelier St., Knightsbridge,
London SW7 1HH, www.bonhams.com.