Andrew Oleksiuk – Telegraph Service Ephemera

Introduction

Artists are involved in the creation and sending of messages. Art objects are signifiers whose messages often have aesthetic value. The form or content of many artworks are inherently about communication. In the Electronic Visualization MFA program, we create and study art objects that use electronic techniques and often electronic network communications methods. Therefore, I chose to visualize a collection of ephemera around the history of an early network communications technology, the telegraph.

Sudanese Military telegraph stamps were issued in several colors

Sudanese Military telegraph stamp

Background

The invention of the telegraph is often attributed to Samuel F. Morse. In the United States, Morse and Alfred Vail developed and implemented practical telegraph systems in the 1830s and 1840s. By the early 1870s, a worldwide telegraphic network was in place and used commercially to send private messages. These station-to-station communications were often relayed directly to the intended recipient in the last miles by private messenger. Payment for telegraph services often (though not always) utilized an adhesive stamp as a receipt.

Exegesis (or why you should collect telegraph stuff)

In the U.S. telegraphic services began and remained always private commercial entities. By contrast, the U.S. postal system began as a network of private local posts and eventually became a government service. In other countries however, telegraph services were monopolized by government agencies, and to this day in many countries, the post, telegraph, and internet services are run by ministries of communication of their respective governments. Therefore it is mainly from the U.S. perspective that internet history is unconnected from worldwide telegraph and postal services development. For most of the world, these services are very connected. They are parallel in the case of postal services and are the very direct antecedent of the internet in the case of the telegraph.

Close to Home

Postal Telegraph-Cable Company stamp

Postal Telegraph-Cable Company stamp

Telegraph lines were often installed and used by railroad networks which developed at the same time as telegraph networks. Thus it is not surprising the railroads themselves entered the telegraph business. Certain Postal Telegraph-Cable Company stamps are inscribed I.C., which stands for Illinois Central (Railroad). Illinois Central tracks and telegraph lines ran south from Chicago (or north from Cairo, Illinois, depending on your perspective). Nevertheless the railroad tracks themselves remain in use today, east of Michigan Ave.

U.S. revenue telegraph tax stamp

U.S. revenue telegraph tax stamp

Certain U.S government revenue (tax) stamps were inscribed “telegraph”. It was used to pay tax on telegraph services during the U.S. Civil War. It is not payment for a service. Instead it indicates payment of a tax on a service.

Following is a selection of other United States telegraph company stamps and paper ephemera, and an international selection:

Tropical Radio

Tropical Radio

California State

California State

Colusa, Lake and Mendocino

Colusa, Lake and Mendocino

Western Union telegraph stamps

Western Union telegraph stamps

Western Union (complimentary telegram card, die proof)

Western Union (complimentary telegram card, die proof)

1937 cablegram

1937 cablegram

1950 telegram (McCarthy to Truman)

1950 telegram (McCarthy to Truman)

Orange Free State

Orange Free State

Guatemala

Guatemala

Japan

Japan

Sudanese Military

Sudanese Military

Iceland

Iceland

French telegraph card (w/preprinted stamp)

French telegraph card (w/preprinted stamp)

Nepalese telegram

Nepalese telegram (w/postmark)

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Chile

Chile

Great Britain

Great Britain

Tibet

Tibet

2007 telegram (Paris to Toronto)

2007 telegram (Paris to Toronto)

This 2007 Paris to Toronto telegram is probably generated by an internet-based service that operates as a novelty reference to the bygone era. In the U.S. Western Union officially sent its last telegram in January 2006.

N.B.: In cases where the stamps are not inscribed “telegraph” I trusted the sourced references (image websites) but made sure the authors referred to them as telegraph or telegraph revenue stamps and ephemera.

Bibliography:

Scott 1991 Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps. Scott Publishing. Sidney, Ohio. 1990.

Miller, Rick. The Road Less Traveled: Telegraph Stamps. Linns Stamp News. http://www.linns.com/howto/refresher/theroad_20031013/refreshercourse.asp Date of last access: September 5, 2008.

Electrical Telegraph. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_telegraph Date of last access: September 5, 2008.

A Brief Historical Sketch of the Illinois Central Railroad. Illinois Central Historical Society. http://www.icrrhistorical.org/icrr.history.html Date of last access: September 5, 2008.

Other websites, as referenced by the image URLs.

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6 responses to “Andrew Oleksiuk – Telegraph Service Ephemera

  1. there’s a book called “the victorian internet” that deals with some of the similarities in chatting, dating, identity, communication, etc. that appeared amongst telegraph operators then and internet users now. i haven’t read it myself, by i have it on good authority that it’s an interesting read.

  2. Thanks for the tip. I am pleased to discover that this book is available at the UIC Daley library.

  3. Andrew, as with your most recent post using images from the Harold Washington Library, this is a beautifully organized presentation filled with compelling images. Both posts obviously represent a lot of energy, thought and research.

    My main criticism would be that there is a lot of emphasis on managing all of the visual information as it is tied to the research and less room for me, the viewer, to enter and play with the content and find my own connections or comparisons. I can compare and contrast the images, but I feel like I’m going against the direction of what you want me to get from the collection.

    I get the feeling that being faithful to the research and presenting it coherently has blocked out some more creative or abstract or possibly even absurd relationships that could happen with this content.

    You have a great eye and these materials are extra intriguing to look at, but I would be curious – if only as a challenge to yourself – to see if you could handle materials like this more playfully in the future and try on some other ways of organizing and presenting this stuff that are less driven by the historical research. As raw material it is fascinating. I’d be curious if there is a way it could be categorized much differently, perhaps more irreverently, or reclassified in ways that are more foreign to its common treatment. Knowing that you are seriously involved in Philately (which I’m pretty ignorant of as a field of collecting since giving up on it very fast at a young age), I’d be interested to learn where stamp collectors posit the creativity in this field and how new insights might be generated through unconventional or unorthodox organizing strategies.

    Also – thank you for commenting on so many of the other posts on the blog.

  4. Yeah, but did you know that Telegrams are a metaphor for the body’s nervous system?!

  5. Marc, thank you for your thoughtful and intriguing comments – I’ll definitely keep them in mind. The Schoolhouse Rock video is very Marshall McLuhan. There is a DVD extant called McLuhan’s Wake which is partially narrated by performance artist Laurie Anderson, and an update to McLuhan’s earlier work. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in media theory.

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