The Telegraph Office

"An Unusual Artifact from the


by Neal McEwen, K5RW

Copyright © 1997, 2001 Neal McEwen

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Although the item shown below isn't a piece of telegraph or wireless hardware, it is nonetheless part of the legacy of telegraphy and wireless telegraphy and is a different kind of collectable.

The image below is shown a little smaller than it actually is.  Do you know what it is?   Well, don't feel bad if you don't.  Without seeing it and feeling it, you would never know that it is an ink blotter.  You would have to have been born in the first half of the 20th century to recall what ink blotters are and how they were used.

Before the age of ball point pens, we had fountain pens.  After writing, it took a while for the ink to dry. So if you needed the ink to dry quickly or you wanted to prevent an ink run, you carefully laid the blotter over the text or signature.  Blotters were made of thin absorbent cardboard.  They could be used many, many times.

Blotters were a convenient and inexpensive way to advertise.  I remember seeing blotters from banks, department stores, etc.  I guess the Tidewater Wireless Telegraph Co. needed advertising too.

What is the vintage of this blotter?  I would guess anywhere from 1915 to the early 1940s.  I don't find the call letters "WNW" in a call book, so it is hard to otherwise date.  However, in 1933, A. L. Frankenfield, ex 3AK, in a letter to the Franklin Institute's Communications Section mentions "WNW."   He recalls building a high power synchronous rotary spark gap transmitter for his amateur station, stating that it was one of the best transmitters in the area and was known by others as the "The Stone Crusher."  When  spark transmission was banned for amatuer use, Frankenfield sold the transmitter to Tidewater Wireless Telegraph Co.  It was used at "WNW" located at Delaware and Oregon Avenues in Philadelphia 24 hours a day for over a year.  When "WNW" obtained a tube transmitter, Tidewater's owner, Donal Haig gave the spark transmiter back to Frankenfield with high praises.

Notice the use of French on the card.  Does this mean that they had French customers of that French was the international language of wireless operators as it was for diplomats and academics from the same time period?  Probably the latter.  Remember we have used "DE" to mean 'from' for a long time.

Notice the "1944" after "Keystone, Main".  At first I thought this was a date, but I am now reasonably sure it is a telephone number. "Keystone" and "Bell" are no doubt competing phone companies; "Main" and "Fulton" are probably the telephone exchanges.  I don't know what "CDE" is. Any guesses?

It appears that Tidewater had extensive landline facilities over the upper East Coast.  600 Meters translates to 500 kilohertz, a frequency that was reserved for traffic calling and for distress signals until just a few yearrs ago.

Oh, I guess you would like to know where I got this little treasure. I was looking through my library a few nights ago digging for some information when I found that the previous owner of a book had used this as a bookmark!  I hope you find this as interesting and curious as I did.


Frankenfield, A. L. How I Built a Rotary Gap Spark Transmiter.  Letter to Franklin Institute, reprinted Old Timer's Bulletin, Vol. 26. No. 1, Antique Wireless Association, 1985.

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Neal McEwen,