A Season of Marconi Celebration



As the radio community is well aware by now, the news of the rise and fall of the Marconi Archive Auction cast its long shadow across the great "pond" and beyond. People who had never even met or found reason to connect suddenly had a common cause, now become a reason to celebrate. Not all the connections have been global; in fact, A.R.C. has made one right here in our own backyard.

Our coverage of the proposed auction and subsequent events prompted Ray Minichiello of the Guglielmo Marconi Foundation, U.S.A., Inc., in Bedford, New Hampshire, to correspond with us. The existence of this foundation and its U.S. Marconi National Museum, now under construction, was new to us. Now we know that this organization is a real source of information on Marconi events, such as the centenary celebration coming up this summer in Chelmsford, England.

According to Ray, the ironic coincidence of the centenary celebration and the proposed auction in the same year made the auction even more painful to the Marconi family, as well as to historians and collectors. In a letter to Sir Geoffrey Pattie, MP and GEC-Marconi Chairman, Marconi's daughter, Princess Elettra Marconi, wrote, "I do hope that some reconsideration can be done to preserve these priceless items and that your board of directors will understand the hurt it will cause to the many employees and ex-employees of his famous company, as well as to members of my family, if the artifacts are sold."

From an article in The Times (March 26, 1997), we have learned that this recent threat of dispersal seems to have done much good for the archives. First, it opened up other options to GEC-Marconi options that the company had sought without much luck before deciding on the auction. Second, the initial value of the collection (£1 million) has been revised to £3 million. Third, GEC-Marconi will still fund the initiative for teachers to improve their skills in electronics the original plan for the auction proceeds. And most important, the Science Museum will take responsibility for the long-term conservation of the 250 pieces of equipment and 750 letters and documents.

As a preview to the summer centenary celebration, Ray Minichiello intended to travel to Bologna, Italy, for the weekend of April 25, the birthday of Marconi. Unfortunately, illness deterred him from making the trip. However, Ray reports that each year this celebration includes a Catholic mass in the mausoleum at the Villa Grifone, the Marconi family estate. A program attended by dignitaries of industry and government follows.

Last year at this event, Ray was honored to repeat the feat of Marconi's first transmission of the letter "S" on the replica of his famous first spark transmitter. The original of this transmitter, of course, had long ago been dismantled, with no thought of its future significance a reminder of the importance of the recent salvation of the Marconi archives by the Science Museum.

Sponsored by the Chelmsford Borough Council, the Marconi centenary celebration has three dimensions. First and most important, it will begin as a memorial to Marconi on July 20, the anniversary of his death in 1937. Second, although GEC-Marconi is not involved in the details of this event, the Chelmsford location will be celebrated as the site of the company's first factory founded 100 years ago.

Third, the beginning of regular entertainment broadcasts 75 years ago will be celebrated. These broadcasts emanated from a hut in Writtle, a village on the outskirts of Chelmsford. The original hut has been preserved at the Sandford Mill Museum in Chelmsford, together with a lot of radio and television transmission equipment, some of it still working and very old. Perhaps this old broadcast gear is echoing the songs of the famous soprano Dame Nellie Melba, who was paid £1,000 in 1920 to broadcast a program of musical entertainment from this hut.

During the week of July 20 there will be street markets (not antique radios we're sorry to report), restaurant and pub events, special radio broadcasts, and more, as is usually included in a "jubilee." Obviously, there will be much to enjoy for those of you who might include Chelmsford in a summer tour to the U. K. For more information, you may contact Ray Minichiello, at the address below. Tel: (603) 472-9746; Fax: 603-472-3622.

(Dorothy Schecter, c/o A.R.C., Box 2, Carlisle, MA 01741;The Guglielmo Marconi Foundation, U.S.A., Inc., 18 North Amherst Rd., Bedford, NH 03110; Jonathan Hill, Spice House, 13 Belmont Rd., Exeter, Devon EX1 2HF, U. K.; Enrico Tedeschi, Portslade, Brighton BN41, 2FD, U. K.

Group of Marconi equipment

The microphone in this group of Marconi equipment slated for sale in the cancelled auction is labeled "Nellie Melba, 1920." The famous soprano used it in her first radio concert from Marconi's hut near Chelmsford, England. At left is a 1907 Marconi Shipboard Magnetic Detector used on the HMS Vernon. Also pictured are a Fleming valve and a multiple-tuner. © Christie's South Kensington.

Ambrose Fleming experimental valves

The cancelled Marconi archive sale included these Ambrose Fleming experimental valves estimated at £5,000-8,000 each. © Christie's South Kensington.

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