Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What Hath the Internet Wrought?

I received a fabulous package in the mail on Saturday - this AWESOME book of unused telegrams!  Isn't it amazing?

I have to admit - I don't know much about these harbingers of news.  Being born in the last third of the 20th century, I'm sort of stuck between the present and the past.  I grew up with a rotary phone but by the time I graduated high school in 1986 we made the switch to cordless.  When I was born no one had a color TV but by the time I moved out no one even thought about B&W anymore.  In my youth we saw the switch from LPs to tapes to CDs.  I remember the advent of microwaves and VCRs as a young adult.

As for communication goes, though, there was still no cheap way to share news.  Long distance was around, of course; I grew up in the "Reach Out and Touch Someone" era of Bell.  This is how my family communicated, but since my dad was so much older (he'd be NINETY if he were alive today), he still had an aversion to long distance like so many others of his generation.  "It's a complete waste of money!", he'd tell me, when I'd call home during college.

Still, telegrams seemed to be a cheaper alternative - at least they were 75 years ago.  In the front cover of this book it says that the first 15 words cost 35 cents.  ZOIKES!  That's a lot of money, when you think about it, especially during the Depression!

But there's something so romantic about telegrams, isn't there?  All of my experience with them is through pop culture - who doesn't remember Lisl using Rolf's telegram delivery as an excuse to spend time with him in The Sound of Music?  How about the telegram Mr. Gower gets to inform him of his son's death from influenza in It's a Wonderful Life?  If you're a fan of The Royal Tenenbaums,  you'll remember that Richie Tenenbaum sends a ship-to-shore telegram to Eli Cash proclaiming his love for his adopted sister Margot.  I love the use of that radiogram so much that when I found one at the Paper Flea Market I had to snag one for myself.  :D

Alas, I think that telegrams will soon be a forgotten part of our history.  In fifty years, will there be a person alive who will remember sending or receiving one?  Samuel Morse's amazing invention is already going the way of the dinosaur - which is why these telegrams, sent to my great-grandmother and great-grandfather for various major events (two for their wedding, one for my great-grandmother's graduation, where she sang) are so dear to me - these are nearly 100 years old. (Incidentally - the one to my "Gramps" on his wedding day is pretty bawdy!  It reads:
"Just a few last comforting words old boy - may your pulse be good and your feet light, show some signs of life and keep your mind on your wife. Sympathy from Helen. April 3, 1919"  What a HOOT!

I haven't done any artwork yet with my new aquisitions, but I plan to!  And because you can get these unused books for fairly cheap on Ebay I plan on buying a few more, just so I don't feel bad about using them. 


  1. Lucky you, Mel! These are so hard to come by! Have a great time with them.

  2. Absolutely love these! Have fun with 'em!

  3. Great fun - and what a treasure to have family telegrams too (hope you've got some acid free storage because that paper was never meant to last ;o) Have you read "The Victorian Internet," a history of the telegraph, which compares the changes in Victorian society due to the seemingly instantaneous communication with the wild days of early internet communication? :D

  4. Thank you ladies! :D Carolyn, they're in acid-free storage - NOW. They were in an envelope in an attic (and both my GGPs smoked, too) for about 55 years, then in '77 my Grammie took all the records and ephemera and kept them in her closet, where at least it wasn't damp, for 32 years. I've had them safe and sound for the last two.
    I MUST read that book! Sounds like it's right up my alley! :D

  5. Loved your story -- when one was charged per word -- EVERY word was so important! Good news, bad news, and love messages from the heart -- all treasured today. Wonderful that you are writing about your new acquisitions, and that you may use them to create new and romantic artwork! I can't help but wonder what future generations will have saved.
    Hope you will check the site of the Ephemera Society of America (www.ephemerasociety.org) and meet others who share your positive feelings about ephemera!!

  6. Thanks so much for finding me here, Lex! I am actually a member of the Ephemera Society already! :D