History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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 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:
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 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":
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