Bunnell Legless Pattern Steel Lever Key (Solid Base), ca. 1881
High Resoultion Images: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4, Image 5, Image 6.
This is a rather rare legless solid base Bunnell Steel Lever Key, ca 1881. If you're familiar with the traditional looking J38 style straight key, this is the key that started it all. On Feburary 15, 1881, Jesse H. Bunnell was issued a patent for the steel lever key, one of the few revolutionary changes in straight key design since telegraph was invented. Prior to this design, brass levers with steel trunions dominated straight key designs which were prone to working loose over time. The one piece steel lever solved that big issue. A design so successful, it's still used today. This classic looking straight key is truely one of those evolutionary moments in time. If you'd like to read more about the evolution of the 'Triumph' style key, The Evolution of a Triumph by J. Casale, W2NI is a very informative article. And here is a link to the Jesse Bunnell's patent for the steel lever.
I haven't done a lot to this key since acquiring it. Along with the Feb 16, 1875 patent Bunnel spring post sounder, it needs a thorough cleaning. It's complete except for the missing circuit closer knob. The sounder terminals are not original as they should be the fancy style shown on the similar sounder shown with the skeleton version of the steel lever key in my collection. The key and sounder are paired on a board of unknown vintage. I'm sure this was a common practice for roving telegraphers, as in the case of a sports reporter. I have a few of these paired telegraph sets (as opposed to a Key On Board setup). Although still very dirty, you can see the wood used pre-1900 was beautiful and high quality. Something you don't see in later twentieth century sounders.
If you're hunting for one of these rare gems, here are identifying characteristics of this key:
- Steel lever stamped with patent date of February 15, 1881 (See image 4 above)
- Solid base, which was discontinued in 1898, replaced by the skeleton base. (See image 4 above)
- Terminal posts mounted on top of base with fine machine screws (See image 5 & 6 above)
- Brown button and circuit closer knobs
- The holes for screws to attach the key to a board are farther inboard than the later skeleton design base. Sometimes the angle of photos on EBay makes it difficult to tell if the base is solid or not. Knowing the difference between the screw hole locations on a solid vs skeleton base is sometimes the only way to tell.
If you're hunting for one of these sounders, here are identifying characteristics:
- Patent date of February 16, 1875 on the end (away from terminals) of base.
- Solid brass base
- Terminal posts are fancy curved style, indicating pre-1900(ish).
- Spring is mounted between a post and the lower part of the armature.
- "J.H. Bunnell, New York" on side of armature
This key actually has a very pleasent action and I enjoy using it on the air regularly.
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