W1TP Telegraph and Scientific Instrument Museums:
Copyright (c) 2007
Tom Perera - W1TP

The Annual AWA Conference in Rochester, NY is the largest and best gathering of antique radio enthusiasts in America. It is a 3-day event filled with talks, demonstrations, contests, auctions, and a large flea market. It is attended by collectors from all over America and from many foreign countries.

The 2007 conference turned out to be the most interesting year ever for telegraph collectors due to the unprecedented number of high quality land-line instruments that showed up on display for sale in the flea market.

The conference started out with my 7 PM seminar on Phil Weingarten and his Fabulous Fakes. Phil was well known to many AWA members because he had an extraordinary collection of fine old wireless equipment. At some point he decided to make replica telegraph keys, early radio tubes, and even entire radios. He did not always tell people that these creations were fakes. The seminar was devoted to chronicling his history and peoples' experiences in dealing with him.

I started out by showing some of Jim Kreuzer's photos of Phil and his collection and then I moved on into a discussion of Phil's fake telegraph keys. I showed his fake Massey spark key. I also had placed one of these Massey keys on display at the front of the room for people to see after the seminar.

Then I showed the "One-of-a-Kind" presentation stand with a fake Marconi CM-425 spark key mounted on top. I told the story of the Spark Key collector who had bought this piece from Phil with the understanding that it was an original one-of-a-kind item; only to find many years later that another key collector also had an identical Phil Weingarten "One-of-a-Kind" presentation key. Amazingly, during the seminar audience participation, I found out that three other collectors had bought this presentation key from Phil so it is clear that there are now 5 known "One-of-a-Kind" presentation pieces.

I found this to be a very interesting philosophical insight into the world of key collecting and key collectors. It seems to indicate that collectors keep their collections rather private and other collectors do not even know what keys they have in their collections. I was surprised to learn this because I have spent most of my time making my collection available to everyone on the internet and I assumed that other collectors would like to show their keys to fellow collectors. Now that I think of it, however, I have only seen a very few collections in person.

I continued by showing a photo of a fake SE-59 key that Phil had made. He had made this key by cutting the small key out of a WW-1 buzzer set and remounting it and engraving a label for it. The collector was so excited to have bought this never-before-seen key that he did not notice that it was the familiar key from the WW-1 buzzer set. Note also the misspelling of the word SignEl.

I concluded the telegraph key part of the seminar by showing a fake Marconi bug that Phil had tried to sell to bug collector Gil Schlehman - K9WDY. Phil had simply engraved the words "Marconi International Marine Communication Co." on the side of what Gil thinks is an early version of a Japanese Swallow bug.

I went on to show and describe Phil's fake deForest Audion tubes and his fake Marconi Coherers. Then I introduced Derk Rouwhorst who had bought this fake Fleming Marconi Oscillaton Valve from Phil in 1996 for $ 750. Phil had claimed it was an original and even showed Derk a letter of authenticity from tube collector Gerald Tyne. Derk was so angry about finding out that his tube was a fake that he came all the way from Holland to attend the seminar and show the fake tube. He did not want that worthless fake in his collection any longer.

I told him that it was probably not "worthless" and that he should put it in the AWA Auction. Two days later, Derk put his fake Fleming Valve in the auction where it stimulated very frantic bidding by three colletors and where it was finally sold for... believe it or not... $ 1950.00. Derk was not quite as unhappy after that sale as shown in this photo of him !

It is amazing to me that Phil's fakes have become so valuable after his death in 1997. I wonder what kind of prices his telegraph keys would bring at auction.

Reasonably good weather brought out a large crowd of collectors and before dawn several important weight-driven registers and early keys had changed hands. It is unusual to see even one weight-driven register being offered for sale so this was an amazing pre-dawn treat for the collectors who saw this taking place. I believe that at least one of these registers sold for over $ 10,000. Several other collectors rushed over and offered more than that price but the sales had already been completed. Unfortunately, it was too dark to photograph the registers.

As the sun brightened the sky, more rare instruments began appearing from vehicles. I saw two more weight-driven registers come out of hiding. One of these registers had a Western Electric tag that said: MUSEUM. This indicated that it had originally been in the Western Electric Museum Collection that had been disassembled many years ago.

Another magnificent Charles T and J.N. CHESTER weight driven register was brought to the flea market by a clock collector. The entire register was in pieces but it was a particularly unusual design that I had not seen before. Here is another view of the Chester register. The owner was trying to determine what kind of base it should have been mounted on and what pieces were missing. He intends to eventually sell it for about $10,000.

A lovely very early Key & Sounder set showed up. I did not recognize the set but found that the tops of the upright posts on the sounder were tapered in a form that I had never seen before. Here is another view of the set. Although it was not marked, the general design makes me think it may have been made by Watts. A major part of the fun of attending a meet like this is in being able to see very unusual sets like this and trying to identify them.

At least two beautiful Phelps Civil War Era Camelback keys changed owners as did a British spark key. One of the Phelps keys was a particularly hard to find William Phelps camelback key. Several other important keys were being offered including not one but TWO Melehan Valiant fully-automatic bugs, two spark sideswipers, and an amazing variety of other very unsual keys. Nothing was inexpensive but at least the flea market provided oportunities to see and buy some incredible keys.

Usually, all of the frantic buying and selling takes place early in the morning but this year, people kept bringing amazing instruments out of their boxes throughout the day.

Of course, I put out my display of Engima machines alongside the telegraph keys at my tables. It was the only place in the world where people could see and buy all 3 major models of the Enigma. The WW-II German ARMY enigma is on the left. The extremely rare WW-II German AIR FORCE Enigma is in the center. The rare German Navy 4-rotor Enigma is on the right and farther to the Right is the 10-rotor Russian Enigma codenamed FIALKA. You can just make out the US Army M-209 cipher machine on the far left. The coded messages from this American machine were never successfully deciphered by an enemy.

This year the Key & Telegraph Seminar included a very historic moment in key collecting. After a brief introduction and acknowledgement of the seminar's founder, Murray Willer - VE3FRX (SK), Prof. Dr. Franz Pichler gave an illustrated lecture on the Beginnings of the Electric Telegraph in Austria. His photographs and descriptions of those early telegraph instruments were amazing.

Dr. Russ Kleinman - WA5Y then presented an illustrated talk on Relay Keys that were used to key powerful spark transmitters. He presented and described many interesting illustrations of these heavy-duty relay/key combinations and stand-alone relays.

Next on the agenda was Gil Schlehman - K9WDY who showed and demonstrated a very rare Bradyplex Bug. Gil has been collecting bugs for many years and his goal has always been to own one example of every bug ever manufactured. He had collected an amazing total of 299 different bugs when he came to the seminar this year. This year, I was proud to be able to formally present Gil with his 300th. Bug ! It is a tiny miniature dual-lever bug with folding feet labeled: HOBART AUTOBUG.

A very funny thing happened After the seminar ! 10 serious key collectors went out to dinner at a fine local Italian Restaurant. We ordered drinks and appetizers and salads before the main course. Felicia Kreuzer was eating her salad when her fork struck some kind of solid object buried deep in her salad. She pulled away the lettuce and found a very Large and Ornate KEY lying on her plate. All of the Key collectors started laughing so loudly that the waitress rushed over to see what was the matter. Felicia pointed to the KEY in her salad. The waitress said: "Oh dear... that key fell out of the lock in the cabinet over where I was mixing your salad". The key collectors tried to explain why it was causing us to laugh so much. We told the waitress that we were laughing because we were all KEY COLLECTORS... She did not understand so we tried to explain about telegraph keys and Morse Code but she still did not understand. She kept repeating: "I don't care if you are ...KEY COLLECTORS ! You Can't Have that KEY !!!" That kept us laughing well into the evening...

As the conference continued, flea market activity slowed and people spent more time in the lectures. The auction was well attended and it was interesting to see the prices that various pieces of equipment brought.

Well, that's the story of the 2007 AWA Conference.
You might want to consider joining the AWA and enjoying the quarterly AWA Journal with its Telegraph Column by John Casale - W2NI. Visit their website at:

I hope to see you at the 2008 conference... 73 Tom - W1TP