by Gregory Raven

Here is my summary of the 1997 AWA Key and Telegraph Seminar which was held at the September Antique Wireless Association Conference in Rochester New York.

I was somewhat suprised to learn that the AWA Key and Telegraph Session is not a very old AWA tradition. I had a discussion with Murray Willer, and he explained how the session originated. About 7 or 8 years ago a small group of collectors met for the first seminar. There was no audience. The collectors simply sat in a room and had a roundtable discussion. Everyone participated, adding comments to what I assume was an ongoing discussion of various telegraph keys and other instruments. Eventually this private roundtable discussion evolved into what we have today, which is more of a formal presentation with 2 to 4 speakers using 35 mm slides as the primary medium. The session is open to any interested person attending the conference.

I have attended each conference since 1994. I have notes on each speaker and their topic from 1994 and later. Anyone who has notes on the speaker's and subjects prior to 1994, please let me know. I would like to document this before it becomes lost to fading memories. (Note Murray Willer has done some preliminary work on this- surf to his summary from the Telegraph Lore AWA Page.)


Pete Malvasi presented Murray Willer and Roger Reinke plaques commemorating their service to the key collecting and telegraph preservation hobby. Murray has been the primary force in the creation and continuance of the AWA Key and Telegraph seminar, as well as being an expert in the field of telegraph key collecting. Roger has contributed greatly to the landline collector with his "Key and Telegraph" column in the AWA "Old Timer's Bulletin". Roger is also known for his expertise and help in identifying very early landline telegraph instruments.


by Gregory Raven

My presentation focused on telegraph instruments used in landine Morse telegraphy. My primary goal was to educate the audience on the purpose and function of the components of the Morse telegraph system- not to merely show slide after slide of instruments. In order to keep the collectors from falling asleep, a second part did in fact show many slides of collectable instruments. Here's a brief summary of the presentation:

1a. Detailed description of the primary telegraph instruments. How they worked, and their distinguishing features. Instruments included the key, register, relay, sounder, gravity cell, box relay.
1b. Description of specialized instruments used in telegraph repeaters and multiplex circuits. Slides of a pole-changing relay, polar relay, polar sounder, repeating sounder, Weiny-Phillips relay, and a Jester Cooper repeater were shown.
2. The "hog wild" section consisted of numerous instruments particularly interesting for the collector value, not necessarily because they were functionally unique. This section began with a "hog trough" resonator.

3 slides showed actual telegraph offices. The most interesting image was a 1936 temporary telegraph office to cover a speach by President Roosevelt. The photo was taken by telegrapher Arthur Grumbine who had a direct wire to the New York Times newspaper. Bugs, relays, and Bunnell secret sounders could be seen in this fascinating image.

I learned a lot from doing this presentation. Good slides are not hard to make if you have a 35 mm camera with macro lens. A couple of practice rolls was all it took before I was able to create acceptable slides. Make sure you do several dry runs of the presentation to make sure the presentation will fit in the alloted time. Don't wait until the last minute to begin working on your slides, especially if you have never done this type of presentation before. I started 4 months prior to the conference, and I was still making changes 2 hours before showtime. If I do this type of thing again, I think it will take a fraction of the time to prepare.


by Pete Malvasi

Pete began his presentation by pointing out the fact that Bunnell and Mesco items are considered to be very common, turning up at nearly every hamfest. This is true, however, there are many Bunnell and Mesco items that are very rare. Pete showed slides of several unusual Bunnell practice sets, some of which I have never seen. The "Blinko Buzzoplex" looks as unusual as it sounds. A Mesco learner's set is 100% mechanical, and it makes a clicking noise exactly like a sounder while avoiding the inconvenience of one of the early electrochemical cells. This mechanical set, as well as all mechanical practice sets, are very rare.

Bunnell is perhaps best known for its landline equipment, but Pete had several slides showing Bunnell keys designed for early wireless and radio work.

"Rare" can be defined by devices that are known to exist in only a handful of collections. The Bunnell wireless sideswiper and Gold Bug are 2 such items in Pete's presentation. But what do you call devices which were advertised in a manufacturer's catalog, but are only rumored to exist ? Pete had slides showing 2 such devices- a watchcase sounder/key and a "Voltaplex" key. Perhaps such instruments should be called "impossibly rare".

Pete concluded with a photo of a strap key. Pete made the point that strap keys are often derided by collectors, however, they were serious keys used in both very early landline and wireless applications.


by Tom French

Tom began his examination of Ted McElroy's creations by walking us through the evolution of the early T-bar bug. This design of this key changed frequently giving the collector a challenge in finding them all. An interesting variation was the Navy version of the T-bar bug with a Vibroplex original style damper.

Tom continued with the post T-bar bugs. Tom explained that the P-500 is probably the most commonly encountered McElroy bug. The most sought after is the S-600 teardrop base bug, which is not particularly rare. The CP-500 was a very attractive design, and McElroy claimed that thousands were made. Mysteriously, the CP-500 is very rare and is found is in the hands of few collectors today. Perhaps they are still hidden in some forgotten warehouse.

An interesting facet of McElroy collecting is due to the fact that the keys were shipped in wooden containers. Thus these containers are highly collectable. Extremely rare is the sheet metal carrying case that was designed for the McElroy bugs.

Even McElroy code practice oscillators are collectable. Tom showed several of the many variations made by good old Ted.

During WWII Ted tired of making keys and instead made stuff for the military. Tom has collected several examples of the code reading and transmitting gear sold to the US military by McElroy. Tom collects everything and anything McElroy related. One of his very interesting finds is the remnants of what appears to be a McElroy ham radio transmitter prototype. Tom plans to put this on the air someday. Perhaps he should create a special QSL card for those who work the only Mac transmitter in existence ?


by Tom Perera

In a previous Key and Telegraph Seminar, veteran telegraph collector Tom Perera had described his attempt to salvage a section of an abandoned submarine telegraph cable somewhere in the Caribbean. This year he returned to report on a second and very successful expedition. Using improved underwater technology (carbide hacksaw blade), Tom was able to remove and preserve a section of the former United States to Cuba telegraph cable, which is probably over 100 years old.

Tom provided sections of the cable to anyone free of charge. Of course you had to use the special hacksaw blade to cut a chunk off. Tom will be going on a third expedition to salvage pieces from different cables in order to study variations in design. Let us all wish him fair winds and following seas and that he will not be intercepted by a Cuban gunboat.

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