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

Cyrus Field Atlantic Cable Collage
by Bill Burns

At first glance, this collage of Cyrus Field, Atlantic Cable, and Great Eastern documents and images appears to have been assembled from original material.

The collage includes a prospectus for the Atlantic Telegraph Company; a Matthew Brady photograph of Cyrus Field; a handwritten note about the first message through the cable, signed and sealed by Cyrus W. Field; a newspaper clipping showing the Great Eastern in 1860; and a notice of an 1866 “Banquet to Mr Field” from Harper's Weekly.

But a closer inspection shows that all the documents are reproductions. The prospectus and newspaper clippings are printed on one side only and age-spotted to look old; the photograph of Cyrus Field is a real photograph, but artificially aged with cracks in the emulsion; the note from Cyrus Field is printed rather than handwritten, and its wax seal has no distinguishable impression. Further, I know of no original Cyrus Field document with a wax seal.

Label on back of Robert Fulton Collage sold at Live Auctioneers, January 2010. Click on image for larger view.

The collage appear to be assembled using photo corners and even a pin, perhaps to give a home-made look, but in fact everything is glued down to the red background, which is modern cardboard and shows no signs of age.

As well as the nature of the documents themselves, the evidence that this is a reproduction is supported by my having seen four other copies of this collage, all virtually identical, with exactly the same five documents in the same condition, right down to the Cyrus Field note being torn in exactly the same way. The copies differ only in minor variations in the placement of the documents.

I have also seen one similar collage of Samuel Morse material, and two featuring submarine and steamboat inventor Robert Fulton; both are the same size and style as this cable collage.

I believe that these collages were created no earlier than the late 1950s, when the hundredth anniversary of the first Atlantic cable was celebrated, and quite possibly much later than that.

A Robert Fulton collage sold at auction in January 2012 had a printed description on the back which includes this text:

"Before returning to America in 1806, Fulton gave to a friend the drawings and descriptions of his whole system of submarine attack, portions of which are here reproduced."

I'd be interested to hear from site visitors who own a copy of any of these collages, particularly if anything is known of their maker or origin.

Last revised: 27 November, 2012

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The Atlantic Cable website is non-commercial, and its mission is to make available on line as much information as possible.

You can help - if you have cable material, old or new, please contact me. Cable samples, instruments, documents, brochures, souvenir books, photographs, family stories, all are valuable to researchers and historians.

If you have any cable-related items that you could photograph, copy, scan, loan, or sell, please email me: billb@ftldesign.com

—Bill Burns, publisher and webmaster: Atlantic-Cable.com