Topic: Transatlantic Cable Souvenir

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Sometimes the most unassuming object can have a fascinating tale to tell. One such artefact in the Tauranga Heritage Collection is the Transatlantic Cable Souvenir by Tiffany, New York.  

The laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable revolutionised communications between Britain and North America and has been identified by historians as one of the most significant events of the 19th Century.

Thanks to the efforts of American businessman and entrepreneur Cyrus West Field, who was the driving force behind the project, the cable reduced the time it took to deliver messages from 10 days by ship to a few minutes by telegraph.

Field, inspired by Samuel Morse, made the first attempt at laying the cable in 1857-58. Despite consulting widely and employing the expertise of companies on both sides of the ocean the cable broke on the first attempt at laying it and operations were abandoned for a year. In July of 1858 the project resumed and this time Field’s team were successful.

The first telegraph was sent on the 16th of August 1858 and read “Glory to God in the highest; on earth, peace and good will toward men” and was followed by a brief message from Queen Victoria to American President James Buchanan expressing her hopes for closer ties with his country. However, the reliable service was short lived and within a month it failed completely. It would take until 1866 to get a lasting connection.

In August 1858, before the fate of the service was known, Field sold the surplus cable to merchants clamouring to meet the public’s demand for souvenirs of the momentous occasion. Tiffany & Co. of New York was to make and sell cable samples with sterling silver end caps and a brass label reading ‘Atlantic Telegraph Cable Guaranteed by Tiffany & Co. Broadway. New York. 1858’. Each one was sold with a letter of authenticity and cost 50 cents. Unfortunately, for Tiffany, the demand for the souvenirs lasted only a few weeks and they, like other retailers, were left with crates of the cable. Over 900 of which are now part of the New York Historical Society’s Collection.

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