Celebrating the Atlantic Telegraph

[On broadside:] THE ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH. / [on boards:] BACON’S CHART OF THE ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH… London: Bacon & Co., [Summer 1865?]
Letterpress broadside with numerous wood-engraved illustrations including two maps, sheet size 30 ¾”h x 22”w, original hand color. Lined with linen and folding into boards covered in embossed cloth and a printed label on green stock. Bacon & Co. advert, also on green stock, tipped to back of map. Some mends to wear and separations along old folds, boards a bit scuffed, about very good.

A terrific and very rare broadside, explaining and celebrating the technology of the Atlantic telegraph and the 1865 attempt to lay a second transatlantic Cable.

After a number of failed attempts, in early August 1858 Cyrus Field’s Atlantic Telegraph Company succeeded in laying a cable between Ireland’s Valencia Bay and Trinity Bay in Newfoundland. The first official transatlantic telegraph messages were exchanged by President Buchanan and Queen Victoria on the 16th, touching off celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic, though the cable failed within a matter of weeks. It was not until July 1865 that Field was able to launch an attempt to lay a replacement cable, and this too failed on July 31 after the cable parted and was lost. In September 1866 yet another expedition, organized by the newly-formed Anglo-American Telegraph Company, succeeded in laying a new cable and recovering, repairing and installing the one lost the previous year. There were now two transatlantic cables in operation, and their improved design yielded dramatic improvements in speed and capacity relative to the short-lived cable of 1858. Field was hailed as a visionary, with one writer describing him as “the Angel in the Book Revelation with one foot on sea and one foot on land, proclaiming Time is no longer.”[1]

It is hard to overstate the impact of the cables, which reduced to hours and minutes communication that had previously required weeks, and this new wonder prompted a flood of text and imagery in the popular media. Offered here is a fine example of the genre, being scarce broadside published in London while the 1865 Anglo-American Telegraph Company expedition was in progress. The broadside features long text passages summarizing the history of attempts to lay a transatlantic cable, explaining the technology, and describing the Atlantic Telegraph Company’s ongoing expedition. The profusion of graphics includes a map of Europe, Africa and America showing the routes of existing and projected submarine cables; another map, showing a projected telegraph route around the world; a large central view and a cutaway of the Great Eastern, which laid the cable; and diagrams illustrating the differences between the cables of 1858 and 1865. A statistical chart flanking the map at top lists existing submarine telegraphs and their termini, lengths, capacity and years in service.

A second edition of the broadside was published in 1866 following the successful completion of that year’s expedition. The two editions are extremely similar in overall layout, though for the second edition the text was greatly revised to reflect recent developments.

In all a scarce, informative and eminently displayable image celebrating one of the great engineering accomplishments of the 19th century.

Bill Burns, “Atlantic Cable Broadsides and Lithographs.” Not in Harris & DeBlois, An Atlantic Telegraph: The Transcendental Cable (Schoharie, NY: The Ephemera Society, 1994). OCLC is a predictable mess on this subject; for example entry #862874229 records holdings at Boston Public and Library of Congress only, but the LC example is clearly from the 1866 second edition. Suffice it to say that OCLC lists a number of holdings, some of which are no doubt of this 165 first edition.

[1] George Templeton Strong, quoted at www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/cable/peopleevents/p_field.html.


Folds flattened. Minor soiling and some mended separations along folds with minor losses at a few intersections. Originally issued in a pocket folder, no longer present. Very good overall.