History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
Memorabilia & Ephemera
|1858 Atlantic Cable Album
the period of the 1820s through the 1860s many people kept albums of autographs,
drawings, and personal notes, which are sometimes referred to today as “friendship albums.” The albums had an illustrated title page followed by blank pages of white and colored
paper, with full-page stock 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 in detail on this page is just one of many souvenirs made to commemorate 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 embossed with an elaborate border design and has a center medallion gold-stamped with “Atlantic Cable Album” and surrounded by a cable twist 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 embossed and gold stamped. To accommodate the cable sample, the front board is over twice as thick as the rear 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.
A label pasted inside the front cover reads:
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, so perhaps 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.
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 types of album published by Ely are known, so it seems likely that he ordered stock albums from Riker made 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 above, include Riker’s title page while others do not.
Eight variations of the Atlantic Cable album are shown at the bottom of this page for reference.The album illustrated in this section is 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 pages have all edges 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 laying of the 1858 cable in their text. Most of the others are poetry of a Victorian or religious 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 an acquisition note on the American Antiquarian Society website.
To Miss Julia Smith
|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,
N. Granville Aug 26th / 60
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.”
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.
North Granville May 8th 1864
Amy F. Robbins.
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
|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
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
|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
Kindly - Amelia.
Examples of eight different Atlantic Cable album covers
As with Riker’s other albums, the Atlantic Cable albums all appear to have been hand made, perhaps with the individual craftsperson choosing the color of the leather, the embossing patterns, and the style of the center medallion surrounding the cable.
Here are the design variations:
Three colors of leather are used for the binding: black, brown, and red. (The two brown covers shown below are actually the same color, the shade change arising from the scanning process.)
Examples 1 through 4 use two different colors of leather, black and brown, and all have the same border embossing, but number 4 also has an embossed circular design surrounding the center medallion. The majority of albums seen have this border embossing.
Examples 5 through 7 use three colors of leather, black, brown, and red, and have almost the same border embossing as the first four, but with a sunburst design at top and bottom center.
Example 8 uses black leather and has a third style of embossing, with a vine-like floral border. This album also has the same embossed circular design surrounding the center medallion as example 4.
All eight have “Atlantic Cable Album” stamped in gold around the center medallion, but examples 1, 2 and 7 have a third color applied to the background of the medallion. Two of these have a green medallion and one is red.
With all these variations, no two of the eight albums have exactly the same design.
The back cover of all the albums repeats the embossing of the front, but instead of the cable section, the center medallion has a gold-stamped portrait of a woman surrounded by a decorative border.
Album very kindly donated by
Bill Holly Collection
Detail of a two-color medallion,
Comparison of center medallion variations
Comparison of outer border embossing patterns
Last revised: 27 June, 2022