My Most Recent QSO's

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bunnell Steel Lever Key

The last few months, I've had several requests for a picture of my old 100 Year Telegraph Key. (I first mentioned it in a "club newsletter"). I wrote it, in the newsletter, as a response to an article about the decline of CW operators in today's "no code" environment. Some Hams worry that CW operators will become dinosaurs because of today's digital and SSB modes of operation.

I don't think CW will EVER become obsolete. There are Lot's of advantages for Morse Code Operators. I can use CW anywhere on the frequencies of my license class now. That means I can operate with CW in a very large area of the bands. ---Not so with SSB ops.

The other advantage of Morse Code operators is the "brotherhood" and camaraderie of it's users.
Let me explain.....
Many months ago, I mentioned that I was using a $14.95 "bargain key" on the air while in a QSO with another ham. It was just "rag chewing" (something I live to do) and he asked if my info was good on the "QRZ dot Com" site. I sez yes (figuring he wanted to exchange cards via the Buro) but he then sez "I'll send you a REAL key".......NO charge!

This is the key I use EVERY day I'm on the air now!

It seems this is a key from the collection of a SK Ham, which stipulated that it be given to a "deserving ham" at NO charge, and also with the stipulation that he remain forever anonymous.

He was adamant about this.... and I will always honor this request of secrecy. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about this gift. The only request (from the holder of the key) was a nice letter to the widow of the ham. (I sent it immediately).

This is what I mean by the camaraderie and brotherhood of CW operators. It's not only a RARE key but to me, it's priceless. I will also pass this key along to another Ham in my VERY senior years.

After a little research, I believe this key (serial number on the underside at top) is a Bunnell Steel Lever Key produced in the late 1800's. The original keys were "solid brass" (even the center lever) but they didn't "wear" well because of the softness of the metal. The "improved model" used a steel center lever to increase longevity.

I'm by no means an "expert" on classic keys, and I could be wrong about the manufacturer, but regardless of the authenticity, It will always be a "special key" that I will always cherish.


Scott Hedberg said...

Amazing story and a beautiful key - enjoy!

Jspiker said...

Thanks Scott...
btw/ nice BIO and hope you are enjoying Hampton. I lived in Newport News for about 4 years many years ago.

I'm an official member of the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club. (Signalman)

John N8ZYA

goody said...

Nice key and heartwarming story!


Roger said...

That's a wonderful story. That is a very classic key similar to the one I use daily myself. I have several of those including a couple with the large contacts for spark transmitters.

It's the Bunnell Trumph design that Jesse Bunnell patented in 1875 to work around the deficiencies that you mentioned.

By the configuration of the contact for the shorting lever, it probably pre-dates 1905 or so when there was an extra angled tab added so that the wedge connector for a bug could easily make contact.

While I appreciate the aesthetics of the very expensive "gourmet" specialty keys that are on the market today, I doubt that they are that much better than this classic in actual use.

73 K9LJB


My wife, KB0DUK, (sk), went to a garage sale in 1985 and saw a telegraph sounder in some junk. The lady selling it (about age 70 years)said that her father taught Morse for the New York Railway, before it was called the NYRR. As my wife left with the sounder, the lady said there was an old dirty key somewhere and she could have it free. (Sounder was $5!) The key looked just like your picture and had "NYR" stamped on the bottom.
There were no other ham or Morse items at the sale! KV8KV

Jspiker said...

Yes...I could see the railroad using this key. The "RR" and telegraphy were perfect matches because "right of way" was already established along the path of the "tracks".

The "RR" used to keep informed of shipments and schedules by using CW. If I'm not mistaken, I think the Bunnell company is located in New York.

John N8ZYA

Anonymous said...

Nice Radio Blog John, and a very encouraging story about the Bunnell Steel Lever Key. Thanks for the QSO today and... LONG LIVE CW!