August 15, 2016: More on Max Levey, Maker of the AtoZ Electric Novelty Company "Improved Vibroplex" Clone Bug
I have found a few more earlier 1905 references to Max Levey in Muskogee, Indian Territory. First from the January 7th, 1905 Muskogee Daily Phoenix indicating Levey's arrival in the city from Joplin, MO to take up the position of Manager of the Postal Telegraph office. (left image) Second, from the January 27th edition of the Muskogee Daily Phoenix, a more lengthy article that describes the rapid expansion of telegraph services in the city under Levey's direction. (middle image) Click on the middle image to see the full front page from January 27th, 1905. Third, an article from February 4th, 1905 Muskogee Daily Phoenix describing the new Postal Telegraph Office (right image).
So it turns out Max Levey was in Muskogee just over 6 months before being run out of town (or escaping town) due to his embezzelment of Postal Telegraph funds to pay for his gambling!
An even earlier reference from March 20, 1902 edition of the Topeka State Journal indicates Levey was in town to visit his parents and that he was a telegraph operator for "the Rock Island (railroad) at Santa Rosa (New Mexico)."
Finally, one more article showed up from the June 4th, 1921 edition of "Exhibitors Hearald", Chicago Trade Events page describing Levey's reissue of Charlie Chaplin 2-reel movies.
It has been an intersting journey uncovering who Max Levey was, and what he was doing before, during and after he produced the ATOZ Electric Novelty Company 'Improved Vibroplex' clones.
Max Levey - An interesting figure in Telegraph History, no-longer lost in obscurity! I hope you have enjoyed this journey too. Your feedback is very welcome! I'll be moving this page to a more traditional blog using Wordpress software soon. Stay tuned! 73 for now. Paul N6EV
August 12, 2016: More on Max Levey, Maker of the AtoZ Electric Novelty Company "Improved Vibroplex" Clone Bug
After more research, I can now say with very high certainty that the Max Levey that was the manager of the Postal Telegraph Company in Muskogee, Indian Territory (furture Oklahoma) in 1905 mentioned at the end of my last post is the same Max Levey involved in the Chicago film distribution business. The cartoon above adornes the front page of the April 18th, 1905 edition of the Muskogee Daily Phoenix along with a small article. Click on the cartoon to see the entire article. The article provides a very good history of Max Levey's career, and mentiones he was a Telegraph Operator for William Randolph Hearst in Chicago, and also the youngest manager employed by the Postal Telegraph Company. In addition, the place and date of birth mentioned in the article match the information contained in the 1919 "The Moving Picture World" article linked below. I also think the pictured face in the cartoon is a very good match for the images of Max 14 years later shown below.
What puzzled me is how someone gainfully employed as a telegrapher in mid 1905 could end up later the same year entering the movie house business in Toledo, OH. The answer came in the June 14, 1905 edition of the Muskogee Times Democrat newspaper. The article on the right above, states that Max Levey lost his job with the Postal Telegraph Company due to shortages in his accounts. The article goes on to say that Mr. Levey, who frequented the local pool room and 'played the ponies quite heavy', had left town for Topeka, KS. It's not too far fetched to believe that Mr. Levey sought his fortune elsewhere having been thrown out of his telegraph position. And that somehow landed him in Toledo, OH, opening the first movie house there with exclusive Ohio rights to the film "The Resurection" (see 'The Moving Picture World' article below).
August 6, 2016: Max Levey, Maker of the AtoZ Electric Novelty Company "Improved Vibroplex" Clone Bug
If you've visited this webpage in the past, you've probably figured out that I'm an amateur historian and love to dig up as much background information as I can on my telegraph instruments. A recent example of this is the discovery of the Rolf Brown obituary below. That got me thinking about some of the other characters who were producing Vibroplex bug clones in the early part of the 20th century. That kicked off some research on Max Levey, owner of the AtoZ Electric Novelty Company which produced the "Improved Vibroplex" bug up until being ordered to stop by injunction in 1914.
As it turns out, Max Levey was a long time major player in the world of early film distribution. He started in the business in 1905 by purchasing the Ohio rights of a silent film. Later he started distributing silent films to various play houses in the Chicago area. He remained active in the industry for decades at numerous companies, eventually becoming a king-pin in the burgeoning home film industry. He was president of the Excel Projector Corporation which produced 16mm movie projectors for home use. A sly business man, he figured out that his projector customers wanted quality professionally produced films to watch at home. That lead to movie products such as "News of the World" reels which presented late breaking news events from all over the world. This lasted until the television negatively impacted the home film industry after World War 2. Click on Max Levey's image above to see an article in the March 29th 1919 edition of "The Moving Picture World", Chicago news section.
I also found the funny telegraph related snippet to the right in the June 4th, 1920 edition of the "Exhibitors Herald". The image shows Max set up at his movie distribution office with his own direct telegraph link to his shipping office building.
Still, I'm left wondering where Max Levey got his telegraph experience. There is a Max Levey who was the Postal Telegraph Company office manager in Muskogee, Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in 1905. But I can find no direct link between this Max Levey and the Max Levey who was the Chicago film distributor. Then there's the oddity that the AtoZ Electric Novelty Co never produced anything other than semiautomatic bugs: The "Improved Vibroplex" based off the Original model; a rare double lever, and a bug called an 'Oscilloplex'. Definitely not "A to Z". Research continues....
July 17, 2016: Rolf H. Brown obituary, maker of the XOGRAPH semi-automatic key
In the process of doing research on the XOGRAPH, I came across Rolf Brown's obituary from 1924 on a genealogy website:
37 iii. Rolph Hurley Brown, born April 30, 1893; died July 04, 1924 in Toronto, Ontario. He married Drothy Curry.
Notes for Rolph Hurley Brown:
(Brown, Rolph H. Obituary): "Popular Young Telegrapher Rolph H. Brown, is Dead." "After a short illness, Rolph H. Brown passed away at the Weston Hospital last night. The late Mr. Brown, who was in his 31st year, was born at Richmond Hill, the youngest son of O. J. Brown. He lived in Toronto for the past 24 years, and up to the time of his death was in the service of the Canadian Pacific Telegraph Company, and formerly with the Great Northwestern. He was a telegrapher for almost 18 years. For several years Mr. Brown had been a member of the C. P. R. staff of operators in the Globe office. He was a member of St. Anne's Anglican Church, and as a boy rang the chimes there. Mr. Brown was known far and wide as a genius in the construction of electrical instruments. Devices from his modest workshop, at his home. 93 Caroline Ave. went to all parts of Canada. Besides his widow, he is survived by two young daughters, his father and two brothers, Charles and Frank."
July 15, 2016: UPDATE: Very Early XOGRAPH Bug by Rolf Brown from around 1918
Early XOGRAPH Bug - 1918(ish) (BEFORE and AFTER First Stage Restoration)
This is an update to my earlier post about this bug. I found this one on Ebay back in February 2016 in an obscure catagory with the name 'Vibroplex' mis-spelled. So it went un-noticed for a long time. Luckily, the seller had a 'make-offer' option that allowed me to pick it up for just $35! I suspected it might be an XOGRAPH made by Rolf Brown in Toronto, Canada (based on the square contact posts). Fellow collector Claudio, IZ0KRC, suggested it closer resembled the features of an F.A. Wilcox bug also made in Canada. Close inspection once it was received revealed no stamped serial number or makers mark. I later concluded it was either a homebrew or prototype clone made sometime before 1918. The 1918 date based on the full door hinge and old style 'tear drop' dampner seen on similar vintage Vibroplex bugs. As you can see from the 'before' image, not only was it completely over-coated with gold paint that had begun to oxidize, it was also very much out of configuration with the dah contact post attached to the dit contact post, and a solid bolt where the dah spring should be. It turned out the dah spring and screw were attached to the base where the dah contact post should be. Luckily, all the parts were present! After removing the gold paint, I found all of the parts and base are nickel plated (after image). All the parts appear to be original except the locking nuts on the dit contact and lever spring adjustment screw based on the knurling, and a spring below the lever on the frame pivot. In addition, I added new weights and the spring above the lever to help keep the lever positioned correctly in the vertical plane. I've since replaced a missing set-screw on the hinge that holds the vertical position of the lever on the pivot and removed both non-original springs. This bug has seen A LOT of use in its day, as evident by the well worn dit finger piece where the thumb is placed. I've decided to keep the key as-is for now with a possible second stage restoration at a later date. The key works and feels very good, making excellent quality code.
Update: Recently an XOGRAPH from a slightly later date (1920s) appeared on EBay with some excellent photos. Based on those photos, I'm now convinced this bug is indeed a rare and extremely early example of an XOGRAPH made by Rolf Brown in his Toronto Canada basement workshop. The square posts are the first clue, followed by the unique rust-red colored finger pieces (without dah knob). The clintcher is the knurling on the contact screws that directly matchs all other XOGRAPHs on the web. This may be the earliest XOGRAPH example out there. It certainly is the earliest I could find. None of the other XOGRAPH eamples have this early style dampner. All of the other XOGRAPH examples online from the 1920s have the Vibroplex Champion sytle single post dampner wheel. Early 1920s XOGRAPHs have a serial number stamped on the lower front of the frame. I've also heard there is a corresponding serial number on the lever to match them up after nickel plating. The final series of XOGRAPHs had name tags applied to the top of the base with a serial number similar to early Vibroplex bugs. This XOGRAPH appears to pre-date all of those traits. As seen above in his obituary, Rolf Brown died young at age 31 in 1924, ending production of the XOGRAPH.
Click here to be sent to a directory of high resolution views of this bug, before and after initial restoration.
Click here to be sent to a directory with reference photos of all other XOGRAPH bugs I could find on the net.
May 20, 2016: 1914 A-to-Z Electric Novelty Company "Improved Vibroplex" Semi-Automatic Bug (Gray Base)
1914 A-to-Z "Improved Vibroplex" Bug (First Stage Restoration - BEFORE on TOP | AFTER on the BOTTOM)
Here's another clone 'misfit key' that fell into my lap. I spotted this un-labeled bug on EBay and immediately recognized it as a scarce A-to-Z (aka ATOZ or AtoZ) Electric Novelty Company "Improved Vibroplex' clone. Like the XOGRAPH bug, it was completely covered in paint (silver this time). Such a sad sight! I picked it up for just $21.00! After my experience with the gold covered XOGRAPH bug, I figured this could be a gem underneath. The ATOZ company produced a small number of these bugs for a short time in blatant violation of the Mecograph / Vibroplex patent before being shut down by injunction in 1914. The original name tag (missing on this bug) even boasted "Improved Vibroplex"! It's not unusual to find these bugs with missing or replacement "Albright" tags for this reason.
I set out to remove the silver paint using the same techniques used on the gold painted XOGRAPH bug. To my surprise, beneath the thick silver paint was a thick layer of nicotine. And beneath that thick layer of nicotine was a coating of...... gold paint! Arrrgh! I continued to remove the gold paint only to find more nicotine below. Once the top layers of over-paint and nicotine were removed, the original ATOZ gray base paint with gold pin striping were revealed. The parts above are all nickel plated. As you can see the base is pretty rough. I elected to completely remove the paint down to bare metal on the sides to help clean up the look. I've left the original gray paint / pin striping on top and a thin layer of gray on the bottom for now. Like an unrestored early Harley Davidson motorcycle of the same vintage, I think the original paint and pin striping, albeit battered and faded, gives the key a lot of charm and character. I may restore the base later, or overcoat with a clear coat to preserve the original 'survivor' look. Decisions, Decisions!
One final thing to note about this ATOZ bug: Like the XOGRAPH bug, it has a wonderfully worn-in divot on the dit finger piece from many-many decades of use. It feels fantastic and provides a very tactile connection with the bug's prior user(s)! But like a bucking bronco, this key woke up with a bad attitude. It took several attempts to get the adjustments correct to hold a decent QSO on the air. The ATOZ bug still throws in some extra / scratchy dits and dahs occasionally, but at a tolerable level. Many thanks to my good on-air friend Rick 'The Polar Bear' N7HRK/M for helping me break in yet another bug after initial restoration.
For those wondering how to spot an ATOZ bug in the wild, here are my observations on the unique ATOZ features to look for:
- More rounded corners than a standard Vibroplex.
- Early style binding posts similar to first generation Vibroplex.
- Straight knurling on the screw heads parallel with the length of the screw.
- A small pin in front of the frame on the base to stop the circuit closer lever.
- Circuit Closure knob that points straight up vs Vibroplex's side pointing knob.
- A large number "1" engraved on the bottom of the base. On this key, the '1' was obscured by the brass conductor strap.
- Early 'Door Hinge' style lever like pre-1919 Vibroplex.>
- Lack of a separate lever-side dah contact. The contact is embedded in the lever itself. (Vibroplex attach a separate contact with the dah spring screw on the lever.
- Rounded ends on the frame ears (Vibroplex are squared off).
- Dampner placed close to the edge of the base. Vibroplex are inset approximately 1/4 inch.
- Observed base colors: Green, Red, Gray and Black, all with gold pinstripe accents.
- An obvious original ATOZ nameplate, often with the words "Improved Vibroplex".
- A replacement James Albright name plate. Read the interesting history about Albright.
- Name plate holes in the base line up directly in between the two contact posts.
- In addition, I found the number "14" stamped on the inside lever surface rear of the dah knob. I don't know the significance of this number. It could represent the year 1914, the last year ATOZ produced this bug before Vibroplex / Mecograph shut them down for patent infringement. CLICK HERE to Read the article "The Mecograph Injunction" in the May 1914 issue of "The Radio Telegrapher" magazine.
Click here to be sent to a directory of more high resolution views of this bug, before and after initial restoration.
November 21, 2015: "The River of Doubt" Bug - A Key with a facinating story to tell! A treacherous 1926 expedition down 'The River of Doubt’ in the Amazon jungle following Teddy Roosevelt’s steps...
Vibroplex Original (1920) - "The River of Doubt" Bug
This bug's story is so detailed and facinating, I would do it injustice to attempt to convey it here on the homepage. I'm still compiling the significant and well documented history of this bug, the owner and the adventure he undertook. CLICK HERE to be taken to a directory containing the historical images, newspaper articles and documents related to this key that have been collected so far. I am in the process of writing a detailed article for future publication. Here is a sneek preview of my DRAFT work in progress: DRAFT ARTICLE. -- Sample document: New York Times article from July 18, 1926 announcing The River of Doubt Expedition.
Bottom of the 1920 Vibroplex Original inscribed by the owner, Eugene Bussey, Amateur Callsign: 2CIL
June 6, 2015: Homebrew Double-Lever Bug (1905 - 1915)
Homebrew Double-Lever Bug - Early Vibroplex Double-Lever Style (1905-1915)
Here's an interesting find. When I first saw this bug on E-Bay it appeared to be a very early Vibroplex Double-Lever from about 1905 or 1906 converted to single lever. Still, with no name plate, and some things being 'off' normal I was hesitant. The buy-it-now price was very reasonable if not low so I snatched it up. When it arrived and I was able to inspect it more closely, it became obvious that it is not a Vibroplex, but more likely a high quality homebrew or prototype bug of unknown period. Note some features of this bug which hint on it's vintage:
So this bug is indeed a mystery. There are no markings or serial numbers anywhere on it. It appears to be homebrew, but the parts are relatively high quality nickel plated brass. Note all of the screw are early standard style. I suspect it may have been made around the time the Vibroplex with the above features were being made, so somewhere between 1905 and 1915. If you have any info, hints or opinions as to the origin or age of this bug, please email me. Despite being homebrew, and very old, this bug has a remarkable feel and sends great code!
- Full hinge style pivot like a pre-1919 Vibroplex, vs post 1919 dog-ear hinge
- Square frame, like an early Norcross Vibroplex (pre-cloverleaf), without lower ears for mounting screws
- Mounting holes on the terminal side of the frame exactly like an early Vibroplex Double-Lever, but converted to single lever
- Shorting bar and dash contact location between the frame and terminals just like an early Double-Lever
- Lever spring mount on the side of the frame like an early Vibroplex Double Lever
- Early style dampner just like a pre-1909 Vibroplex
- Square dot spring like a 1905 Norcross Vibroplex
To view more detailed pictures of this interesting bug, click here. I'll get this key and the other recent telegraph instrument acquisitions into the N6EV Key Collection page soon.
January 24, 2015: 1865 Tillotson 'Arched' Camelback Telegraph Key
1865 Tillotson 'Arched' Camelback Telegraph Key
I recently acquired a rather rare Tillotson "Arched" Camelback made in 1865 (seen above). I've only been able to locate 4 other examples of this key online and one of them is in the Smithsonian (click here). Most of the examples online are incomplete, including the Smithsonian key. This key I picked up is complete with all parts and no damage. It truely looks like a barn find that hasn't been touched in over a century. I plan on leaving it just as it is, with no cleaning or restoration. I had the pleasure of making the first QSO (perhaps in a century???) on this key with Merlin, KD0V on 1/18/2015 right after I recieved it. And just completed a very nice ragchew with Jim, W5ZIT with this key on 1/24/2015 (Thanks Jim!)
To view more detailed pictures of this rare farm fresh 1865 Tillotson 'Arched' Camelback telegraph key, click here. I'll get this key and the other recent telegraph instrument acquisitions into the N6EV Key Collection page soon.
Late 1860s Partrick & Carter Camelback (G. M. Phelps style) Telegraph Key
Late 1860s Partrick & Carter Camelback (Phelps style)
Here is another beautiful recent addition to my collection. It's a nickel plated Partrick & Carter Camelback from the late 1860s. This is a copy of the famous Phelps camelback used extensively in the Civil War. The Phelps Camelback was copied by other manufactures during the 'Reconstruction' period after the war. I have not been able to positively identify the manufacture date, but am reasonably sure it falls between the late 1860s and early 1870s. And I have not been able to find another Partrick & Carter Camelback like this online, let alone another Phelps style Camelback that is nickel plated. This "Question Mark" style camelback, with its exaggerated hump denotes an early version. Later Camelbacks of the 1870s had a less pronounced hump. You will note a missing height adjuster screw/nut and a broken trunion screw on one side. Other than that, this key is complete with orignal hair clip spring. I'm searching for someone to reproduce the three broken/missing nickel plated parts. If you know of someone with the right skills, please contact me. I've used this key on special occasions such as Straight Key Night.
To view more detailed pictures of this nickel plated late 1860s Partrick & Carter Camelback telegraph key, click here.
I recently enjoyed a new CW event on the air. The "CW Fun Event" established by Dick, K2RFP. You can find information about this recurring event on the event website CWFUN.ORG. The basic premis is, each registered participant receives a unique set of over 200 ramdom 5 letter 'words'. Using manual telegraphy (straight key, bug, cootie/sideswiper), you exchange these 'words' with other participants. You also get points for copying down the words of participants who you are not in contact with. In addition, you get points for those who have copied your 'words'. As a result, emphasis is placed on accuracy in both sending and receiving. It's much better than the standard 5NN type contest exchange. Above all, it's meant as a fun, casual event, so some pleasantries are also exchanged in addition to the offical exchange. You can work a station more than once on a band if you've each worked at least one other registered participant since the last contact. Those are the basics. The one draw back is to fully participate, you need to register on the website before the event starts. If you don't make it in time, you can still participate by collecting 'words' and submitting them. You just won't be able to fully take advantage of getting sending points. The official CQ for this event is 'CQ FE' for Fun Event. So if you hear someone calling 'CQ FE', now you know what it is. If you are interested, be sure to register NOW for the next event. Don't wait until it starts. Registration is good for multiple events... you use the same set of random 'words'. So, that's it in a nut shell. CW Fun Event. Another great on-air CW activity. I highly recommend it!
My Key Collection! (WORK IN PROGRESS)
Here is my latest addition to the collection. A home made KOB dating from the 1890s. Consists of an early Bunnell steel lever key with terminals mounted on top of the frame with screws, and an equally early Bunnell sounder with spring post. I cleaned the mechanisms, polished the wood and realigned everything for proper operation since receiving this KOB. It was received in very dusty, unused condition with original wire connected. You can see the homebrew driver I use under the Kenwood to convert the received audio to drive the sounder. If you're interested in this simple circuit, you can go HERE, or HERE to see the schematic. 4/19/09, just completed the first two QSOs on this setup with Randy, KC9KHG and Rick, K0KEX both members of the SKCC club. One wonders how long it's been since this setup was last used. Judging from it's received condition, I'd say well over a half century.
My QSL Card
Just a few of my straight keys
1878 Bunnell Camelback KOB set that I use on the air (unrestored condition)