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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:

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 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 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:

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 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:

This advertisement appeared in the New York Times issue 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.

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:

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

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Last revised: 4 December, 2018

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