VOLUME 14 JUNE 1997 NUMBER 6
Marconi Archive Auction--Part 4:BY JIM KREUZER WEB EDITION
The Auction That Never Was
Early one morning I started blasting out strange sounds while on the phone with a friend in the U. K. The uproar woke my wife Felicia who announced, "They're selling the Marconi equipment in Chelmsford!" How she knew, I'll never know. Although we had previously discussed the possibility of the breakup of the world's greatest collection of Marconi apparatus and historical ephemera, I never thought it would happen.
I have been to the Marconi Museum in Chelmsford, England, many times throughout the past eleven years, and the apparatus on display never ceased to amaze me. The curator and staff were always willing to accommodate my periodic visits until about a year and a half ago. When I called to make an appointment to use the reference library, I was told that the museum was closed temporarily due to an inventory of the items in storage and on display.
Last November, I was in the U. K. again. I was surprised to hear that all of the Marconi equipment on loan to other institutions through the years had been recalled and was sitting in crates blocking the aisles in the museum. My wife began to speculate on the possibility of the Marconi Company preparing to sell the collection. I immediately pooh-poohed the idea and put it out of my mind.
Shortly thereafter, I contacted Christie's in London. The response in the faxed, 6-page press release confirmed my worst fears they were planning to sell the archives of the Marconi Museum! My initial reaction was an intense excitement combined with a sinking realization of the difficult competition with the multitude of buyers Christie's would attract.
My mind churned away at an incredible pace in anticipation. Where was I going to get the money for the auction? What equipment had been returned to the museum from other institutions? How would I ship my purchases to the U. S.? Where would I put the apparatus once I returned home?
Once I regained control of my senses, I began to look through the hundreds of photographs I have of GEC-Marconi equipment, imagining each piece sitting on my shelves. Then, as I slowly read over the press release, I reached the conclusion that there was so much historical paper that I would be forced to make a choice between equipment and the many one-of-a-kind manuscripts and messages. This incredible ephemera included Marconi's first patent on wireless telegraphy, his diary from 1901 while in Newfoundland, the first letter from Fleming discussing his discovery of the two-element vacuum tube, messages from the Titanic, and many other unique items.
Well, after the initial shock wore off (and after checking my finances), I came down to earth and realized that one person shouldn't own all these historical items nor should the collection be split up and sent to the four corners of the earth where future generations would not be able to use it for reference. If I had been able to put this archive to such good use in the past, why shouldn't hundreds of other historians, decades down the road, be able to do the same? With these thoughts in mind, I decided to join Enrico Tedeschi's movement to stop the sale of the Marconi collection.
Enrico had started a "Save the Marconi Archives" campaign in his website column "Vintage News," which kept everybody abreast of the situation. Many prominent collectors and historians throughout the world immediately demonstrated strong support by signing, via e-mail, his petition to keep the collection intact and in the U. K. Other support came from such influential sources as Marconi's daughter and Lord Briggs who wrote letters to The Times expressing their sorrow and surprise. I sympathized wholeheartedly with these sentiments.
And then, the first official news release from the British Science Museum came on March 25 saying that the collection would be kept intact and in the U. K. The agreement also stated that some or all of the collection will be loaned to the Chelmsford Borough Council to be placed on display for all to see! I couldn't have been more pleased.
Well, now I could finally put all the De Forest, Wireless Specialty, Nesco, and Clark wireless equipment back on their shelves. I had been preparing to deaccess a large number of rare pieces in order to acquire some of the rarer items in the Marconi sale. Also back in their showcases went the light bulbs, telegraph apparatus and scanning disc TV equipment.
It was about time. My life was finally back to normal, and I could work on more important things like my income taxes and my next book catalog.
Please let this near calamity be a warning to all collectors nobody's collection is inviolate, not even the world's greatest!
The only sad result of the GEC-Marconi decision was having to report to my friends and fellow collectors that they had to cancel their hotel and airline reservations and give up making room on their shelves for Marconi historical gear.
(Jim Kreuzer, New Wireless Pioneers, P.O. Box 398, Elma, NY 14059)
At age 10, Jim Kreuzer purchased his first radio, a Philco 90, for 25 cents. In the 1970s, he concentrated on 1920s battery sets, but by 1980, he was specializing in pre-1920 commercial wireless equipment, especially Marconi apparatus. After a career as a diesel mechanic for Conrail Railroad, he formed New Wireless Pioneers in 1985 and became a seller of rare radio, telegraph, and electrical books. He and his wife Felicia own one of the most extensive wireless collections and electrical/wireless libraries in the country.