Tiffany's Transatlantic Cable Souvenir

Description
The completion of the first transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858 was a cause for much celebration on both sides of the Atlantic. Tiffany & Company of New York purchased the cable remaining on board the USS Niagara after the successful completion of the cable and sold 4-inch sections as souvenirs. Each section of cable was banded at the ends with brass ferrules and had a brass plaque that read “ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH CABLE/GUARANTEED BY/TIFFANY & CO./ BROADWAY • NEW YORK • 1858.” The cable souvenirs originally sold for 50 cents and came with a reproduced letter of authenticity from Cyrus W. Field, the pioneer of the transatlantic cable system. The jubilation turned to jeers when the cable failed a few weeks later, and Tiffany never sold its supply of cable. In 1974 Lanello Reserves began reselling the transatlantic cable, and donated this object to the Smithsonian.
Object Name
submarine cable
cable sample
date made
1858
maker
Glass, Elliot, & Co.
Tiffany & Co.
Physical Description
iron (sheathing material)
brass (ferrules material)
copper (conductor material)
gutta-percha (insulator material)
Measurements
overall: 4 in x 1/2 in; 10.16 cm x 1.27 cm
place made
United States: New York
United Kingdom: England, London, Greenwich
ID Number
EM*334736.01
accession number
312154
catalog number
334736
subject
Communications
American Stories exhibit
See more items in
Work and Industry: Electricity
American Stories exhibit
Exhibition
American Stories
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
from Silver Creations, Ltd. and Lanello Reserves Inc.
Additional Media

Visitor Comments

12/28/2012 8:36:27 PM
Bill Burns
Tiffany sold tens of thousands of pieces of the cable in 1858; Lanello found 2000 unsold pieces in the 1970s and sold them for $100 each. The certificate that came with these cables was a reproduction of the 1858 original; the box was entirelly Lanello's creation, as the originals in 1858 were not sold with any packaging. The materials of the cable are iron, not steel, and gutta percha, not rubber. The Place Made should be Greenwich, England for the cable and New York for the brass label. Full story of the Tiffany cable and Lanello is on my website: http://atlantic-cable.com/Article/Lanello/index.htm
7/18/2013 9:22:10 AM
Hal Wallace
Thanks for the comments, Bill. The materials fields are being corrected and we're adding both Tiffany as a maker and Greenwich for place made. The initial entry was intended to reflect the object's actual use as souvenir rather than its intended use as communications cable. Sorry for the confusion. The certificate shown is a reproduction although we do have originals in the collection. An overview of the history of submarine telegraph cables is on the Smithsonian Libraries site: http://www.sil.si.edu/Exhibitions/Underwater-web/.
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8/4/2013 10:35:08 PM
Bill Burns
Thanks for the updates, Hal. The on-line exhibition at the Smithsonial website, link in your post above, was based on the 2001/2002 museum exhibition curated by Bernard Finn, perhaps the first museum curator to pay full attention to this important field. I was privileged to be guided on a personal tour of the live exhibition by Mr Finn at the time. He had collected much original material when the telegraph stations were closing in the 1960s which would otherwise have been lost.