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 Canes

When the cable fleet arrived in New York after the initial success of laying the 1858 Atlantic cable, Charles Tiffany capitalized on the public interest in the project by buying from Cyrus Field a large amount of the leftover cable, some of it even retrieved from the ocean floor. He sold sections of the cable wrapped with an inscribed brass band together with a facsimile letter of authenticity signed by Field, and there was also a large variety of other souvenirs made from pieces of the cable. These included canes with handles made from mounted cable sections.

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, only two cable canes are presently known, and both are shown on this page.

1: Tiffany & Company to John Reid (and later, Judge Comley)

This silver-mounted cane made by Tiffany & Company has an L-shaped handle 3⅛" long and 2⅞" high. Silver ferrules at the end, the shoulder, and above the shaft, form the mounts for two pieces of the 1858 Atlantic cable. The shaft is ebony, with a 3½" brass ferrule at its tip, and the overall length of the cane is 32".

The silver band around the shaft is inscribed: “Tiffany and Co. to John Reid, Christmas 1859.” There is another inscription on the underside, which reads: “To Judge Comley 1911,” evidently a subsequent owner. In 1991 the cane was sold at auction as part of the collection of Judge William Comley of Stamford, Connecticut. The last record of the cane is its sale at a 2001 auction, following which its location is unknown.

2: W. Pearce to M.G. Yniestra

This Atlantic cable cane was discovered in March 2017 in Florida, where it may well have spent much of its life. The handle is very similar to that of the Tiffany cane above, although I believe the mounts are silver plate rather than solid silver. Only a short stub of the cane’s shaft remains; measurement of the wood’s density and inspection of its color and grain suggest that, as with the Tiffany cane, the shaft was made of ebony.

The provenance of this cane can be definitively established, as the band around the shaft is engraved in a precise script “M.G. Yniestra from W. Pearce.”

Walter Pearce was born in Rhode Island circa 1805 and moved to Norfolk, Virginia, in the early 1830s, where he married the widow of goldsmith Joseph Clarico. By 1850 he was in Mobile, Alabama, where he is listed as a jeweler and silversmith from 1850 until 1867. He died circa 1872. Pearce was evidently a well-regarded craftsman, as silverware marked “W. Pearce” has been offered for sale on the open market and can be found in museum collections.

The 1859 Mobile City Directory lists Walter Pearce & Co. as a dealer in watches, jewelry, silver and plated-ware, with two associates: Brunaugh F. Yniestra, and his younger brother Moses G. Yniestra, the recipient of the cane. Brunaugh was born in 1834/35, and Moses Yniestra on 11 February 1837, both in Pensacola, Florida. The middle name of Moses Yniestra is given as Gale in some references (including his marriage license and his wife's obituary) and Gonzalez in one other. As there is another Moses Yniestra listed as a Jeweller in Mobile on the 1860 census, but aged 44, it is possible that there is some confusion between the two.

When the enthusiasm for Atlantic cable souvenirs was at its peak, in August and September 1858, the two brothers would have been 23/24 and 21 years old respectively. It is very likely that the cane was presented to Moses Yniestra around that time, as interest in cable souvenirs rapidly diminished with the failure of the cable by the end of September 1858.

Immediately after the completion of the 1858 Atlantic cable, sections of it were readily available from Tiffany & Company in New York, both as finished souvenirs and in lengths of raw cable. It is possible that Walter Pearce purchased a piece of cable and mounted it himself, but as the Yniestra cane handle is so similar to the Tiffany one above, it is perhaps more likely that Pearce purchased the cane from New York as a finished item.

Like Mr Heiskell of Louisville, mentioned in the newspaper story at the top of this page, perhaps Pearce bought the cane while in New York on business; alternatively, like the dealer in Baltimore who placed the October advertisement above, he may have taken delivery of one or more canes for resale or as gifts. No doubt he engraved the inscription himself.

In 1861 the Yniestra brothers both enlisted in the Mobile Cadets regiment of the State of Alabama and fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War. After the war, Brunaugh returned to Mobile and resumed his association with Walter Pearce under the business name of Walter Pearce & Co. By 1867 Pearce was no long involved with the business, as local directories from that year until 1875 list Brunaugh as “B.F. Yniestra, Successor to Walter Pearce & Co.” Silverware with the mark, “B.F. Yniestra,” has also been recorded. Brunaugh died on 12 July 1879 and is buried in Pensacola.

Following his discharge in 1865 as a 1st Lieutenant, Moses Yniestra moved back to his birthplace of Pensacola, just sixty miles from Mobile, and took up farming with his wife Annie Elizabeth, who he had married in May 1860. Census records show that he had many relatives in the area, and there is a section of Pensacola still called Yniestra today. On the 1870 census the Yniestras had five children listed, and by the 1880 census they had three more. All eight children were daughters.

Sadly, on 14 February 1884, at the age of 47, Moses Yniestra was struck and killed by a switching engine on the main street of Pensacola while he was walking along the tracks in the early morning light around the break of day. A lawsuit by his widow for damages against the Louisville & Nashville Railway Company was dismissed, and the ruling has become part of case law reference:

“When a person voluntarily walks on and along the track of a railroad laid in a public thoroughfare, which he knew was used as a switch yard on which locomotives were passing to and fro night and day, where the walking on either side of said track was as good as on the track, and in doing so is run over by a passing train and killed, he has, by the failure to exercise ordinary care and prudence, directly contributed to his own misfortune, and his representative cannot recover from the company using said track damages therefor.”

This rather unfair doctrine was finally overturned in 1974 by the Florida Supreme Court.

As with many Southern states, Florida offered pensions to resident widows of Confederate soldiers, and details of many of these are available on line. In 1909, Annie Elizabeth Yniestra applied for a pension on the basis of the service of her husband Moses, and Lousia Yniestra for that of her husband Brunaugh. The documentation supporting these applications provided some of the information for this section.

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Last revised: 3 June, 2017

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