I found this one on Ebay back in February 2016 in an obscure category 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 Rolph 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 concluded at the time that 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’ dampener 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.
An XOGRAPH from a slightly later date (1920’s) later 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 Rolph H. 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 clincher is the knurling on the contact screws that directly matches 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 examples have this early style damper. All of the other XOGRAPH examples online from the 1920’s have the Vibroplex Champion style single post dampener wheel. Early 1920’s 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 below in his obituary, Rolph 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.
Rolph H. Brown obituary, maker of the XOGRAPH semi-automatic key
In the process of doing research on the XOGRAPH, I came across Rolph 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.”