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

1858 Atlantic Cable Souvenir Advertisements

The first advertisements for cable souvenirs appeared in Britain, in the Illustrated London News issue of August 14th, 1858:

Three days later, a minor variation of the same advertisement appeared in the Times:

And two weeks after that, in the ILN issue of August 28th, Edwards and Jones offered a further option:

By early September interest in the cable had obviously waned in Britain; Edwards and Jones had no further advertisments in the ILN, and the last mention of cable souvenirs in that journal was in the issue of September 4th, from A.H. Williams:

One final advertisement for “Genuine Specimens made into various Articles of utility” appeared in the Liverpool Mercury as late as September 13th. This was from Liverpool printmaker John Isaac, who also offered a portfolio of lithographs published by him to record the 1857 Atlantic cable expedition and updated with a page on the 1858 voyage:

In its issue of September 21st, the Guardian noted: ‘An extraordinary rumour has got abroad to the effect that the “company were selling off” their cable, from the fact of portions of it being exposed for sale in a shop window in the Strand, at 2s. and 3s. a sample.’

The New York entrepreneurs were considerably more enthusiastic than their British counterparts. When the U.S. Steam Frigate Niagara , one of the two principal ships of the Atlantic Cable fleet, arrived in New York on August 18th, 1858, it was the event of the century. Public interest in the long-awaited success of the cable was high, and the merchants of the city lost no time in cashing in.

The Niagara brought with it many miles of leftover cable, some of which had been submerged and recovered during the course of the expedition, and this was quickly snapped up to be made into souvenirs. Chief among the merchants of New York was Tiffany & Company, who according to their advertisements in the New York Times claimed to have bought the entire stock:

Tiffany sold thousands of the cable samples at 50 cents each, and other souvenirs such as watch fobs, charms, and even silver mounted walking sticks. But although Tiffany claimed to have a monopoly on the cable, other companies were advertising their own souvenir items. On August 24th Tiffany published this warning:

The Brooklyn Eagle showed a somewhat jaundiced view of the enthusiasm for cable souvenirs in this article dated August 25th:

Further cynicism followed in the Brooklyn Eagle 's August 30th issue:

On August 31st, Tiffany was evidently having trouble keeping up with the demand:

On September 1st 1858, the day of the great cable celebration in New York, other companies were offering their own cable souvenirs:

Despite the paper's scorn for the boom in cable souvenirs, business was business, and the Brooklyn Eagle had no qualms about publishing this advertisement on September 1st:

Others were cashing in, too; some hawking totally unrelated items, others selling magazine subscriptions or promoting celebrations:

As quickly as the enthusiasm for the cable had sprung up in New York, it vanished just as fast when the cable failed after only a few weeks of intermittent operation, and the remaining unsold pieces of cable were stored and forgotten.

In 1974 a company called Lanello reserves offered 2,000 pieces of cable for sale in a special promotion.

And today, the New-York Historical Society has in its collection 930 pieces of Tiffany cable, still packed in the original crates for wholesale distribution.

After the craze for cable souvenirs in New York had dwindled, it seems that the canny merchants there found other outlets. In its issue of 11 September 1858 the Louisville Daily Courier had this news squib:

Atlantic Cable Cane.—We have been presented with a beautiful “cable cane,” by our indefatigable friend, Mr D.C. Heiskell, merchant tailor, opposite the Galt House, who has just returned from New York, with a new stock of goods in his line. The cable cane is as ingenious in its construction as it is beautiful in finish. It is made of “ebony,” and the entire handle is formed of two sections of the “great Atlantic Telegraph Cable,” and while it gives a fine and novel finish, forms a formidable weapon of defense.
We thank our friend Heiskell for his attention, and in return, we wish him a speedy sale of his “new wares,” which are, like the cable cane, just in season and all the rage.

That same issue of the Daily Courier also had three advertisements for cable sections, charms, and specimens from other local merchants.

A month later this advertisement for Atlantic Cable Canes was published in the Daily Exchange, Baltimore, on 10 October 1858:

Unlike the Tiffany cable sections, of which thousands were sold, very few cable canes are known, but one example may be seen here.

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Last revised: 2 April, 2017

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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.

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