History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
|Memorabilia & Ephemera|
|1858 Atlantic Cable Canes|
When the U.S. Steam Frigate Niagara arrived in New York in August 1858 after successfully completing the western section of the Atlantic cable between Ireland and Newfoundland, 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 with an embossed brass label accompanied by a facsimile of a letter of authenticity signed by Field, as well as lengths of cable at wholesale prices. Deliveries of individual sections of the cable began at the end of August, just in time for the great celebration in New York on September 1st.
There were many other cable souvenirs produced in both Britain and America for a short time after the completion of the cable. Items made by Tiffany included “paper-weights, cane, umbrella, and whip handles, bracelets, seals and other watch-charms, festoons, and coils for ornamenting parlors and offices.”
Cable sections, cable charms and watch fobs are not uncommon, but Tiffany’s gentlemen’s accessories with cable handles, the most expensive of the Atlantic cable souvenirs, are almost completely unknown today. Just three 1858 cable canes are recorded, and no umbrellas or whips with cable handles have yet been found.
An archive search of American newspapers of the period finds cable canes mentioned in only three news items and three advertisements, and there are no references at all for umbrellas or whips. This suggests that these more costly items were not widely distributed, and the failure of the 1858 cable after just a few weeks quickly reduced souvenirs to a passing interest.
Here are the six newspaper references for Atlantic cable canes; five in 1858 and one in 1862:
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.
On 14 September 1858 this advertisement for Atlantic Cable Canes was published in the Daily Exchange, Baltimore.
Canfield’s advertisement was repeated a number of times over the next few weeks, its final appearances being on 25 and 26 October. The expected date of arrival of the canes remained as “13th instant,” i.e. the 13th of the current month, in all the ads, indicating that the vendor had contracted with the newspaper for a six-week run of this advertisement. The company separately advertised for sale the more usual souvenirs: “...a great variety of articles manufactured out of the Submarine Telegraph Cable, such as Broaches, Charms, Watch Keys, Letter Stamps, &c. Also, pieces of Cable mounted on brass and silver.”
On 18 September 1858 the Hartford Courant in Connecticut had this story:
On 6 October 1858, Henry J. Osborne of Augusta, Georgia, placed this advertisement in the Edgefield Advertiser (Edgefield, South Carolina) for Cable Charms and Cable Walking Canes:
The advertisement was repeated unchanged in a number of subsequent issues until 13 March 1859, again indicating a long-running agreement with the newspaper.
The last advertisement I can find is from Patton & Barfield, a store in Jackson, Mississippi, whose line of business was “Watches, Jewelry and Clocks.” They came late to the fray with an advertisement first published in The Daily MIssissippian on 18 November 1858. Although by then the cable had long since failed, this was the description of one of the many items offered for sale:
This advertisement was published unchanged in over a hundred further issues of the paper until its last appearance in November 1861. It is not known if the store ever sold, or even had in stock, any cable canes.
Some years later, on 8 July 1862, this advertisement appeared in the Newbern Daily Progress (New Bern, North Carolina):
The editors evidently could not resist having a little fun with the desolate advertiser:
There is no record of this cane today, and the above clippings are the last mention of Atlantic cable canes that I can find in any newspaper.
Unlike the Tiffany cable section souvenirs, of which thousands were sold, it appears that very few Atlantic cable canes were made in 1858, and only three are presently known. The handles of all the surviving canes are very similar in their dimensions and detailing; the minor differences suggest that they were made by hand in small quantities. This composite image shows the three handles side by side.
Each of these canes is described below.
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: Fritz (Friedrich) W. Pleister
Born in 1848 in Neuenkirchen, Germany, Fritz Pleister came to America in 1873 after spending some time with his brother Heinrich (Henry) in London learning watch repair. He worked for Tiffany & Company in New York for many years as their chief watchmaker/repairman, and died in 1911 while still employed by the company. His cable cane has come down in the family.
Fritz arrived in the USA some 15 years after the cable had been laid and Tiffany created their souvenirs, so it seems likely that he obtained his cane from remainder stock while working at the company. The shaft is a knobby wood, unlike the ebony of the other two examples, so it is quite possible that Fritz acquired just the handle from Tiffany then added his own shaft.
The cane does not have any engraving or other markings, but the handle’s silver mounts are almost identical to those of the other two canes. The cane is 34 1/8" long with a 3 1/4" handle and 2 7/8" collar; the knobby wood shaft has a 1" metal capped tip.
This Atlantic cable cane, which is engraved in a precise script on the lower mount “M.G. Yniestra from W. Pearce,” was discovered in March 2017 in Florida, where it may well have spent much of its life. In the mid-nineteenth century it was not common to hallmark American silver, and none of these canes has any marks, but as with the other two canes, I believe the mounts on this one are silver. The design of its handle is very similar to that of the others, with almost identical dimensions at 3⅛" long and 3" high, so it seems likely that the handle of this cane was also made by Tiffany.
When the cane was found only a short stub of its shaft remained. After removal of the cut-off piece from the handle, inspection of the wood’s color and grain and measurement of its density (1.2 g/cc) suggested that the shaft was ebony, as is that of the John Reid cane according to its 2001 auction listing. The Pearce/Yniestra cane has since been restored to an overall length of 32" by a master craftsman, who made and fitted a replacement shaft with a 3" brass ferrule, typical of gentlemen’s canes of the period.
The cane’s 1858 date and engraved dedication enabled its provenance to be established with high certainty, as both names can be found in historical records from Alabama and Florida.
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 was in business as a jeweler and silversmith from 1850 until 1867. He died circa 1872.
Pearce is a listed craftsman of the period whose work is still known today. His name is in directories of Southern silversmiths, and silverware marked “W. Pearce” can be found in museum collections. Pieces by him are also occasionally offered for sale on the open market.
A full-page advertisement in the 1859 Directory of the City of Mobile describes Walter Pearce & Co. as “Dealers in fine watches and jewelry, silver and plated-ware; watches carefully repaired and warranted, new jewelry manufactured and diamonds set to order.” Pearce listed two associates at the top of the advertisement: Brunaugh F. Yniestra, and his younger brother Moses G. Yniestra, the recipient of the cane.
Brunaugh Yniestra was born on 20 March 1835 and Moses G. Yniestra on 11 February 1837, both in Pensacola, Florida. Moses Yniestra’s middle name of is given as Gale in some references (including his marriage license, which he signed as “M. Gale Yniestra” and his wife’s obituary) and Gonzalez in one other (see the Mobile Cadets reference below).
In May 1860 Moses G. Yniestra married Ann Elizabeth Gause (born 15 July 1842; also known as Anna, Annie, and Lizzy). The 1860 census records Moses and Lizzy Yniestra, aged 24 and 18, living in the Fifth Ward of the city of Mobile. The dwelling house sequence number on the census form is 91, and also at that house number are Arthur Yniestra (32) and Laura Yniestra (27), both born in Florida.
The 1860 census for the Second Ward of Mobile also includes a Moses Yniestra, aged 44, occupation Jeweller, and Elizabeth Yniestra, aged 18. I can find no other records relating to this Moses Yniestra, either before or after 1860, and his name does not appear in any Yniestra birth records for 1816, nor in any family tree which include the Yniestra name, so I believe this is an erroneous entry.
It seems very unlikely that there were two Moses Yniestras living in Mobile in 1860, both jewellers with a wife named Elizabeth. One possibility is that the recently married Yniestras moved house during the course of the census and were recorded twice, the second time with an error in the age of Moses. Such errors on the handwritten 19th century census records are not uncommon; for example, the 1880 census shows Moses as age 43, which is correct, but his wife is listed as age 53 instead of 37.
The 1861 Mobile City Directory has these entries:
With M G and A T Yniestra both recorded at 181 Conti St in the 1861 city directory, and Moses G and Arthur listed as being in the same dwelling house on the 1860 census, it seems reasonable to assume that Moses G. Yniestra was Pearce’s associate, and hence the recipient of the cane.
When the enthusiasm for Atlantic cable souvenirs was at its peak in August and September 1858, the two brothers would have been 23 and 21 years old respectively. It is very likely that Walter Pearce presented the cane 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 that of the Tiffany canes above, it is more likely that Pearce purchased the cane from New York as a finished item.
Records show that as of 1861 Pearce had been dealing with at least one New York trade supplier, Platt & Brother. 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 in 1858; alternatively, as with 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 enlisted in the Mobile Cadets of the 3rd Alabama Infantry Regiment, and fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War. A “Pay Roll” for 21 March 1861 bears the signature of M.G. Yniestra, and shows that he was paid $8.43 for the period.
The 24 April 1861 roster of the Mobile Cadets lists “Yniestra, Brunaugh F. 4SGT, 26, Jeweller: Pearce & Co.” and “Yniestra, Moses Gonzalez, 24, Jeweller.”
After the war, Brunaugh Yniestra returned to Mobile and resumed his association with Walter Pearce & Co (Apr-Dec 1866 newspaper advertisements). Silverware with the marks “B.F. Yniestra” and “Sterling / Pat 1865” is occasionally seen today. By 1867 Pearce was no longer involved with the business, as local directories from that year until 1875 list Brunaugh as “B.F. Yniestra, Successor to Walter Pearce & Co.” Brunaugh died on 12 July 1879 at age 44 and is buried in his Pensacola birthplace.
Moses Yniestra was discharged from the Confederate Army in 1865 as a 1st Lieutenant and returned to Alabama. The 1866 Alabama State census lists him as living in Butler County, about 120 miles northeast of Mobile. While this census does not give names of family members, it shows that the household also included one female aged 20-30 and three females under 10, presumably his wife and their first three daughters.
He subsequently moved the family to his birthplace of Pensacola, Florida, about sixty miles east of Mobile. US 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 Moses has the occupation of retail grocer. He and Anna now had five children, and the household also included a nurse, a servant, a grocery clerk, and a porter. On the 1880 census Moses is listed as a farmer, and the Yniestras had added three more children to their family; all eight were daughters. A son named William Brent Yniestra was born in 1881, their ninth and last-known child, although the 1884 newspaper story below reports ten children.
A lawsuit by his widow for damages against the Louisville & Nashville Railway Company was dismissed, and the ruling became part of case law reference in Florida:
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, Anna 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.
There are no known photographs of Moses G. Yniestra, but family historian Cynthia Dean has very kindly provided these images of Brunaugh (Bruno) and Louisa Yniestra, date unknown:
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Linda Beeman, former publisher of the Cane Collectors Chronicle, for information on the Tiffany Atlantic cable cane; Jim Barbour of Shopdog Turnery for his restoration of the shaft for the Pearce/Yniestra cane; and Cynthia Dean for Yniestra family history details.
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Last revised: 20 January, 2023