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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

Memorabilia & Ephemera

1858 Atlantic Cable Album
In the period of the 1820s through the 1860s many people kept albums of autographs, drawings, and personal notes. The albums had blank pages of white and colored paper, with an illustrated title page and other illustrations interspersed throughout the volume. The covers of these books were often fine hand bindings in embossed, gold, or blind stamped leather and cloth.

According to the American Antiquarian Society, which has an extensive collection of these 19th century albums, it is not known how they were created and marketed - it is quite possible that they were made to order or in small batches as souvenirs or for holiday gift giving. No two albums are identical, although there are many instances of similarities in page blocks, illustrations, or bindings.

The album shown here is a souvenir of the 1858 Atlantic Cable and was owned by Miss Julia Smith of North Granville, New York, a town on the Hudson River north of Albany.

The binding is black morocco leather; the cover is tooled, and gold-stamped “Atlantic Cable Album” with a cable design border. A 1/8" thick slice of the 1858 cable, with the word “Charm” above it, is inset into the cover. The back cover and spine are also tooled and gold stamped. To accommodate the cable sample, the front board is over twice as thick as the rear board.

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Front Cover Spine and Fore-edge Back Cover

Click here for a close-up showing the cable specimen mounted in the album cover, here for a closeup of the title on the spine, and here for a closeup showing the thicker front board.

The album has a stock title page of John C. Riker, 315 Broadway, New-York. Riker was first listed in New York directories in 1827, and produced albums of this general style for many years.

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“Lith. of A. Brett, Phila.”
[Alphonse Brett, Philadelphia]

A label pasted inside the front cover reads:

Entered according to act of Congress in the year 1858, by EUGENE ELY, in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New-York.

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The publisher of the album was Eugene Ely, of Harper’s Building, 335 Pearl Street, New York. I can find no business records for Ely, the only mentions being listings and advertisements in business directories of the period. For example, Trow's New York City Directory for 1865 has an ad for Eugene Ely as a “Dealer in Paper and Paper Makers’ Stock and Materials” at 94 Gold St., New York.

Interestingly, the fortune which Cyrus Field invested in the Atlantic cable had come from his long-standing paper business, and it seems reasonable to assume that Eugene Ely knew Cyrus Field through their common business interests in New York, all the addresses of which were within a few blocks of each other in the Lower East Side of Manhattan near the river. Indeed, in a book on the history and prospects of the City of New-York published in 1851, the two firms even had advertisements on the same page! Further, Ely's list of merchandise includes “Blank Books, full & half bound”, and he may well have been dealing with John C. Riker for these.

Is it then possible that a long-standing acquaintance with Field, together with the availability of Riker's blank albums, may have been what inspired Ely to publish the Atlantic Cable Album in 1858?

The album label also notes: “This Specimen of the Atlantic Cable guaranteed by the Publisher to be genuine,” and “Patent applied for.” Some copies of the album have a similar label printed in silver on black, and without the “Patent applied for” wording. But there is no record of any patent issued to Eugene Ely, and the only published mention of the album is this classified advertisement in the 9 October 1858 issue of the New York Times:

No other albums published by Ely are known, so it seems likely that he bought stock albums from Riker with a special front cover incorporating a recess for the cable, inserted the cable, added his own label on the inside front cover, and sold them at retail. A number of examples of the album have survived, and these all show Riker’s typical variations of leather color and embossing design; some, like the example on this page, include Riker’s title page while others do not.

The album shown here measures 7¾" high by 6¼" wide and contains 114 pages, of which six leaves (including the frontispiece) are tissue-guarded chromolithographs of floral subjects, 20 pages are colored stock, and 82 pages are plain white paper. The page edges are gilt.

Ten of the pages have often lengthy inscriptions to the book’s owner, the first and earliest being dated March 24 1860. Two of the inscriptions, one occupying two pages and the other a full page, mention the cable laying in their text.  Most of the others are poetry of a Victorian sentiment, with one being just a brief and rather cryptic inscription from the owner’s brother. Images and transcribed text of the inscriptions are reproduced below.

Some of the background material here is derived from a
recent acquisition note on the American Antiquarian Society website.

The Inscriptions

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To Miss Julia Smith

An album among the Romans was a white table upon which records were made. Among us an album is a book in which friends insert for each other some memorial of enduring regard and attachment. Where then you request me to dedicate this volume I would do so by simply combining the “Old Roman” and the modern definitions. These pages are now pure and white. Let only impressions of pure unsullied sincere truth be made thereupon. You open now these pages for such inscriptions. Let not the Flatterer there soil a single page. May no daydreamer or friend of sunshine only find a place. If these pages should be turned when the sun of prosperity may be overcast with clouds of adversity then may you at least find sunshine here. But yours is called an “Atlantic Telegraph Album”. That was a noble deed that united two continents in electromagnetic bonds. Those were noble sentiments first transmitted over that sea-covered path. But there is another telegraph which unites not two continents but two worlds Earth and Heaven. Let your heart there be this Album. More pure and white than the Roman table. “Whiter than the snow”. Then may the heavenly telegraph of prayer bring you many messages from your best friend above. J. H. Pratt
North Granville March 24 1860

Julia, you ask a line from me,
Our thought on memory’s page,
I fain would give of joy to thee,
And peace from youth till age.

Yet softer memories steal around
The tear enbalmed spot
Than e’er on earth have yet been found
With joy where grief is not.

And on the future coursing tide,
If dark thy lot should be
Remember, after storm there comes
The glorious sunlight free.

And whether light or whether dark
The tide will soon flow o’er
When we on softer wings may glide
And sorrow comes no more.

              Toujours votre ami,
                                                  E.L. Keufell
N. Granville Aug 26th / 60

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To Julia,
Sister mine - the only one
God has given;
When our earthly course is run,
When our life-work here is done,
May we rest with Christ at home,
Home in Heaven.

Mary Smith - N. Granville, Dec 11th 1860.
To My Sister
“Ere triflers half their wish obtain
The toiling pleasure sickens into pain.”
                      Orson Smith
To Julia
Thine be the love - refined from sense, -
That seeks its object in the skies,
Draws all its warmth and brightness thence,
Its comfort, confidence, and joys;
And be thy best affections given,
To Him, who thee lov’d first, in heav’n.

Thine be the refuge, - ever found
By those who seek in faith and pray’r -
From all the trials that abound
Throughout this wilderness of care
The faithfulness of Him, whose love
Storms cannot quench, or death remove.

And when thy master calls thee, thine,
Thine be a crown of endless joy,
Where heaven’s eternal river shines,
Beneath a bright and cloudless sky,
Those realms, how beautiful and fair;
Dear friend! a blissful meeting there.

                                       Your friend
North Granville May 8th 1864
                     Amy F. Robbins.

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To Julia
You’ve just begun the journey of life
All bright with flowers, all void of strife
And may no thorns, your path assail
Trust where your friends, can never fail.
The path is plain, ’Tis wisdom’s way
Look upward to the fountain, “Light,”
Your pathway will be always bright
’Twill lead you on in truth and love
Till life shall end in bliss above.
                 Sarah H. Seamans
Middletown Nov 12th 60

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There is one leaf reserved for me
From all thy sweet memorials free,
And here these simple lines will tell
The feelings thou might guess so well.
For could I thus within thy mind
One little vacant corner find,
Where no impression yet is seen,
Where no memorial yet hath been
Ah! it should be my sweetest care
To write my name forever there.
                               Lovingly - Hattie

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To Julia
It was a great enterprise to bind two continents together with the lightning’s track, to make a path for it along the ocean’s bed, a “way for the lightning of the thunder” ’neath the deep sea - But ’twas greater far to bind earth and Heaven together, and let every man have a telegraph from his own soul to the heart of Jesus - It is your part, Julia, to make the connection.
When the news came of the success of the one, cities were illuminated, but when it was announced from Calvary that the other was completed, the world was darkened, the Sun shaded his face at the words, “It is finished”
This book contains a specimen of one, God’s manifested love to a lost world is the other. Your may have a specimen of the last in your heart, which is the affectionate wish & prayer of John J.
N. Granville, Oct 16th 1860

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Julia - A simple request you made me, it was easy for one to say “Yes” then, but now that the time has come “in the which” I am to fulfill that promise, I scarce know what to write. Were the muse’s powers mine, I would in merry rhyme or more sober blank verse inscribe upon this page my kindly feelings for you. But those powers to me God has not given. In less pleasing prose, then, I express the wish, that Heaven’s choicest blessings may ever be thine.
                    Kindly - Amelia.

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Another Atlantic Cable Album, with a different embossed pattern and a two-color cover design

Last revised: 15 September, 2017

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