The Telegraph Office

The Cummings "periphery contact" Key

Was it Ever Made?

by Neal McEwen, K5RW

k5rw@telegraph-office.com

Copyright © 1996, Neal McEwen

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[A Cummings style key was found by a collector in Florida in 1999, Ed.]



In the woodcut shown below is a Cummings key. The cut and the following text appeared in "Modern Service of Commercial and Railway Telegraphy", 1886. I have never seen or heard of this key. Have you? Is there any evidence that it was ever made? This is quite a testimonial!

"Have any improvements been made in telegraph keys? -- Keys, distinguished by new and desirable features, deigned for durability and rapid sending, have rapidly multiplied with the past few years, among which may be prominently mentioned the Cumming "periphery contact" key, the Bunnell steel lever solid trunion key, the Phillips key and more recently the "Victor" key."

"The Cumming key is the same as an ordinary key in all respects, except in substituting for the ordinary platinum points, two little discs with rounded platinum wire tires set at right angles to each other, so that the impinging point is a mere dot or needle point of surface. The inventor claiming as a scientific discovery that the smallest surface of contact is the best and only perfect form for electrodes. This opinion seems to be well founded, as the diminished area of metal in contact appears to offer no extra resistance whatever to the passage of the current above that encountered with an ordinary key. The fineness of the contact enables the key to be worked in a very close adjustment without "sticking;" even, it is claimed, to the one one thousandth of an inch play under and intense dynamo of current. Such close adjustment necessarily implies fast transmission, with the least fatigue to the sender, and thus the jar consequent on considerable "play" is entirely avoided. It is endorsed by experts and the inventor has been awarded medals by many international and state expositions. Whatever else may be said of it merits, it certainly recommends itself as an extremely economical form for wear, each disc having a reserve on its periphery, equal to at least one hundred ordinary points." 


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Neal McEwen, k5rw@telegraph-office.com