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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 made from the 1858 Atlantic cable appeared in Britain, in the Illustrated London News issue of August 14th, 1858:

ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH.—A slice of the CABLE, set as a Charm in gold or silver gilt, is now ready, forming an elegant appendage and lasting memento of this wonderful achievement of science, size of a sovereign, including the mounting. Silver gilt, 12s.6d, Gold, 21s., post-free upon receipt of order. Address EDWARDS and JONES, 161, Regent-street, W.

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

And two weeks after that, with messages now having been exchanged over the cable, Edwards and Jones offered a further option in the ILN issue of August 28th:

ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH.—A. slice of the actual Cable which now connects Great Britain and America can be had set in Gold as a chain, the size of a small Locket-an elegant memento of this great achievement of science. Price 21s., or silver-gilt, 12s. 6d., post-free, P.O, orders to EDWARDS and JONES, 161, Regent-street, W.

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

ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH.—A slice set in Gold, 20s.: or Silver Gilt, 10s. 6d.; to wear as a Locket or Charm. Can be forwarded by post.
A. H. WILLIAMS, 46, Cornhill.

Two final advertisements for “Atlantic Telegraph Cable” appeared in the Liverpool Mercury on September 13th. One was from Liverpool printmaker John Isaac, who in 1857 had produced a portfolio of lithographs of the laying of the Irish shore end of the Atlantic cable. He subsequently updated this publication by adding a page on the 1858 expedition, and as well as “Genuine Specimens” of cable, he offered the third edition of the portfolio at two shillings a copy:


GENUINE SPECIMENS, made into various Articles of utility, with descriptive Books to be had of
Also, third edition, imperial 8vo, prlce 2s.
Containing Nine Views, Chart of the Atlantic, Map of Valentia, and full descriptive Letterpress to this date.
To be had at the principal Railway Station, and of all Book and Print Sellers, and at 62, Castle-street, Liverpool.

In that same issue, J. & S. Johnson’s, of Church-Street, Liverpool, advertised cable specimens at one shilling each:

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

Old copper is in demand. The manufacturer of “genuine” cable specimens will soon become a regular branch of business if the demand should continue. Jewellers announce pieces of the cable mounted in all sorts of metal to suit the taste or pocket of purchasers. Some assert that their specimens were actually submerged under a mile of salt water, and of course acquire additional value from the fact. We can understand the existence of a desire to see the cable, but the morbid appetite for possessing a piece of the article as a “charm” is a little inexplicable to believers in popular intelligence; particularly as its structure must be known to everybody, and it is no rarity, since almost everybody has got a specimen. The establishment of railroads was as great a feat as telegraphing, but nobody thought of hanging a piece of railroad iron to his fob chain. However, the world moves. Once ecclesiastical relics were the rage; but now if any body should open a shop for the sale of the teeth of a saint or threads from the shirt-tail of a hermit, it would be called superstition and create a Know Nothing crusade. Such is life.

Nevertheless, on August 26th the paper cautioned its readers against “bogus cable” and took the opportunity to promote one of its advertisers, James H. Hart, as a supplier of souvenirs made from the genuine cable:

BOGUS CABLE FOR SALE—CAUTION TO ENTHUSIASTS.—The excitement which the successful laying of the Atlantic Cable has occasioned has created a new set of impostors, mock sailors, who pretend to belong to the Niagara, and who invade offices, saloons and barrooms with grossly bad imitations of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable, five or six inches in length, which they offer for sale at prices varying from fifty cents to a dollar. Those men can never be mistaken for real sailors by anybody but the greenest landsman, who has never whiffed the sea breeze in his life. Their appearance is bogus, their nautical talk is bogus, and their "cable" is the most bogus of all, There will be plenty of the genuine cable in the market before many days. Let enthusiasts wait; they will be able to purchase it at a cheap rate at respectable establishments. In the meantime let them shun the bogus cable of the streets.

We observe by the Herald that bogus cable specimens are being sold by speculators. James H. Hart, the jeweller, at 146 Fulton street, has got a quantity of the genuine article, which he is ready to present, neatly mounted, for a consideration.

This advertisement from James H. Hart appeared in the paper’s issues of August 27, 28 and 30:

Despite having just published Mr Hart’s advertisements for cable souvenirs, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle had this further cynical note in its August 30th issue:

CABLE CHARMS.–The laying of the Atlantic Telegraph has been a god-send to jewelers, pyro technists and tallow candle makers, who are reaping harvests out of the cable, charms, celebrations and illuminations. The jewelers especially have cause to rejoice; everybody wants a piece of the cable, and it is being done up in every style of ornaments. There were eighty miles of cable left on board the Niagara, all of which has been bought up by the jewelers. Taking the average length made up for charms and keepsakes, this would make over four millions of pieces, or one to every family in the United States. When manufactured into jewelry the cable will realize, according to computation, one hundred and sixty thousand dollars per mile, or twelve millions eight hundred thousand dollars, or nearly six times the amount of the capital stock of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.

By August 31st, Tiffany was evidently having trouble keeping up with the demand, and appointed the Novelty Works as a second supplier of the four-inch pieces. For those who could not wait for mounted pieces, Tiffany offered bulk lengths of the cable, forty feet minimum, at 62½ cents per foot, or $1 per foot for smaller quantities:

TIFFANY & CO. beg to inform the public that, although they have arranged with the Novelty Works–in addition to their former facilities)–to mount the Atlantic Cable, the demand is so great that they are not able to supply the orders for the four-inch specimens as fast as received. They, therefore, apprise the trade and others that while they will continue to receive orders, to be filled in their turn, as heretofore, they will sell the cable, in the state it comes from the Niagara, at 62½ cents per lineal loot, in lengths of not less than forty feet, and in smaller quantities at $1 per foot, which will enable purchasers to have sections mounted to suit themselves.

A one-foot piece of the 1858 cable, secured with a brass ring at each end.
At this length the cable can easily be bent to a somewhat smaller radius, although with a strong tendency to spring back to its original shape. It would have been relatively easy to coil long sections of the cable into circles in the tanks of the Niagara and Agamemnon.

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 Daily 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:

In its issue of 30 September 1858 the Christian Watchman speculated on Tiffany’s profits from cable souvenirs:

MAKING MONEY OUT OF THE TELEGRAPH.—Messrs. Tiffany & Co., the Broadway jewelers, who purchased some eighty miles of the Atlantic Cable, are likely to make a fortune out of this venture. We learn that they have received orders for as many as seventy-five thousand finger lengths in a single day. They are manufacturing it into every shape which ingenuity can devise, for ornament or use. We have seen specimens of the Cable worked into watch-chains and keys, cane-handles, paper weights, handles to butter knives, etc., etc., and one huge piece wrought into a breast-pin for some enthusiastic individual— suggesting the doubt whether the man was attached to the pin, or the pin to the man. Even the interior wire is transformed into ear-rings, and other ornaments, with the addition of gold setting.

This advertisement for a somewhat different kind of souvenir appeared in the New York Times and New York Tribune issues of 9 October 1858, and I can find no earlier or later copies of it:

THE ATLANTIC CABLE CHARM ALBUM just out. It is a beautiful Album with a piece of the cable elegantly set in the cover. Price, retail, $1.25, or sent by mail on receipt of $1.25.
EUGENE ELY, No. 335 Pearl-st., Harper Building.

The Atlantic Cable Charm Album was produced by the well-known blank book maker John C. Riker, and Eugene Ely’s part appears to have been insetting a thin slice of the 1858 cable into the cover and offering the finished albums for sale. In an 1856 business directory listing in the New York Tribune, Ely was in the category “Paper in Rolls and Reams, &c.&qrduot with premises at 75 Fulton-st, so perhaps he was one of John C. Riker’s suppliers.

Many examples of souvenirs from 1858 and other years can be seen on this page.

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, many of them still packed for wholesale distribution in wooden crates each filled with 100 pieces of the 4" cable sections. As noted in Tiffany’s advertisement at the top of this page, the wholesale price was $25 per 100 pieces in 1858.

After the craze for cable souvenirs in New York had dwindled, it seems that the canny merchants there found outlets in other parts of the country. 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:

              CANFIELD, BRO., & Co.,
                          229 BALTIMORE STREET.
Will receive on MONDAY, 13th instant, an invoice of WALKING CANES, made from the Atlantic Telegraph Submarine Cable, neatly mounted on silver. For sale the trade or at retail.

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

A story in the Hampshire Gazette, published on 26 October 1858, reported that a section of cable purchased from Tiffany had been submerged in the Ohio river, "and works admirably":

A piece of the Atlantic telegraph cable, purchased of Messrs. Tiffany & Co., has been submerged in the Ohio river, between Evansville, Ind., and Henderson, Ky., and works admirably.

By this time, with the failure of the cable almost two months in the past, the excitement over pieces of the cable had faded, and there are few advertisements for cable sections or stories of the cable to be found in the press after this.

Some merchants around the country did continue to advertise “Cable Charms” into the first couple of months of 1859, but these were usually just one trinket among many unrelated items in the same ad. Presumably it was cheaper to run the advertisements unchanged for the length of a contract than to remove items no longer of interest.

One store in Jackson, Mississippi, Patton & Barfield, came late to the fray, with its first advertisement for a “Cable Charm Cane or piece” published in November 1858 in The Daily MIssissippian. Although by then the cable had long since failed, this part of the listing was titled “Atlantic Cable Working!” and the advertisement was published unchanged in almost a hundred more issues of the paper until its last appearance in September 1860.

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Last revised: 21 February, 2022

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