[ Advertising "broadside" ] No More Monopoly by the Bell Telephone Company ... Holcomb's Patent Acoustic Speaking Telephone. F. T. Viles, J. R. Holcomb.
[ Advertising "broadside" ] No More Monopoly by the Bell Telephone Company ... Holcomb's Patent Acoustic Speaking Telephone ...
A unique survivor?

[ Advertising "broadside" ] No More Monopoly by the Bell Telephone Company ... Holcomb's Patent Acoustic Speaking Telephone ...

Coldbrook Springs, Massachusetts: F. T. Viles c1880. 8 x 17 1/2 inches. An advertising assemblage related to the Holcomb Speaking Telephone, washed and laid down on archival tissue, in the form of a broadside. The top and bottom portions of the assemblage are lighter in appearance, the center portion shows evidence of foxing before being washed. There is also evidence near the right edge as if the assemblage was in a frame at some point (perhaps for use in the Agent F. T. Viles' office?). Near Fine. [27688]


J.R. Holcomb & Co. of Mallet Creek, Ohio patented an acoustic speaking telephone on July 9th, 1878. We find Holcomb advertisements in the Boston Weekly Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) during the same period when Bell Telephone and several other companies had employed agents to sell on their behalf. Holcomb issued a series of four page brochures for sales use (one such in OCLC #35360545). We've seen them dated 1879, 1880, and 1881 based on "testimonial" content. They have several distinctive and prominent woodcuts. The first is a "concept" woodcut showing a mounted phone in an Office and also a Residence with wires going into and out of a "Manufactury" (sic) and a "City". The second distinct woodcut is a "General and Sectional View" of the telephone receiver/transmitter. A variant of this woodcut shows just the outsides of the telephone sets. The earliest advertisements price the "set of Telephones" at four dollars. Wiring for the phone sets was available for 3 cents per rod, guaranteed to work over a mile's distance.

The advertising piece offered here is an oddity we've not seen, and is organized in three parts. The top 1/3 includes the "concept" woodcut from the original four page brochure. The bottom third includes the "General and Sectional View" woodcut (of the later variety). The middle section contains wording that is common to the Holcomb advertisements, but has been compressed and reworded in places. This piece has no testimonials, and offers the complete set of Telephones for three dollars fifty cents. The lower price of goods, combined with the lack of technical descriptions leads us to believe this is somewhat later than the earliest advertisements for Holcomb, circa 1880.

The marketing material for Holcomb telephones is scarce, and we've seen only a few examples in 20 years. Although the "History of Medina County and Ohio" (p. 786) boasts that the telephone was one of the best and sold 10,000 units, we find this highly unlikely given the paucity of remaining artifacts and literature. Holcomb however was clearly a good businessman, starting small and scaling nicely over years of effort. This was his first venture into the telephone space, having retailed novelties, school supplies, published a successful educational journal, and other ventures.

F. T. Viles was probably Frank T. Viles of the Western Union Telegraph Company. He learned telegraphy in Waltham MA in 1872, then became operator and messenger for Western Union at Concord MA. He bounced around as a telegraph operator in various railroad and telegraph companies in New England until Feb 12, 1880 when he entered the service of Western Union Telegraph Company at New York. Back in New England in 1882, he worked in various places as night manager. He became inspector of the Western Union Telegraph Company's city line and leased wire service in Boston in Sept 1887. Viles was well respected, creating new office layouts and designs that were incorporated into Western Union operations. (Telegraphers of Today, pp 145-146).

With regards this venture, we find no advertisements in period newspapers, nor any mention of it on Google. Likely Viles was caught up in the new wave of exciting technologies, fed up with part time work, and reached out to Holcomb as an agent to compete for business with agents already in place for Bell Telephone and others. In 1880 (shortly after this piece was created?) he headed for New York with a real job for Western Union. Coldbrook Springs could refer to two places in MA - one a railroad depot, the other a village removed in the late 1800s when the Quabin Reservoir went in. Both in the Barre, MA area. The advertising copy on this piece is of interest because it clearly is positioning against Bell Telephone - and the talking points (different than the traditional Holcomb brochures) may add to the understanding of telephony marketing in the Boston area during this time period.

Certainly rare, perhaps the only survivor of Viles' connection to Holcomb's Speaking Telephone, and a fine addition to any telephone, history of communication, advertising or marketing history collection. This period was a wild west for early telephone, and everyone wanted a piece of the pie!!

Price: $750.00