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Posted By: Chuck Lee on: 06/17/2002 09:54:06 CDT
Subject: Reproducing Telegraph Sets

Message Detail:

Thanks for being so kind as to direct me to Prof. Perera's website. It wouldn't surprise me if he chuckled at the audacity of someone so ignorant as I quizzing him about telegraph sets and such, but he was extremely kind and generous with his time and information, just as y'all have been with me. He directed me to several places on his website that I should have seen already but skillfully managed to overlook, and gave me some additional information not on his website that will be most helpful in what I'm working toward. Though I've not yet tried to transfer his information into formed, cut, or cast pieces to build the telegraph set he advised me to pursue, his instructions seem plain enough that even a son of Kentucky and a resident of Louisiana could follow them.

Walt Mathers had suggested that not everyone will want to afford a whole new telegraph set, which is quite understandable. Folks are going to go ahead and buy "what's out there" - no matter how inaccurate, in many cases, I'm sure. Most folks are like me in that regard, I suspect: "Right or wrong, I'm going to do something." And it's a shame that there's no source readily available that offers and affordable telegraph set.

That's why making a reproduction telegraph set has the urgency to me that it does. The sooner that accurately made telegraph sets go to market, the fewer the number of folks who will have "the wrong thing" or "ALMOST the right thing". How much better it will be for everyone if they can get the right goods to start with. That's another reason I like the idea of Uniform Guidelines, too. I say that as the owner of about $600 worth of uniform parts that I now know better than to wear, but didn't know when I started out.

I don't expect to make money on this beyond my actual expenses (including the fees that will be due to PayPal, or Billpoint, or ebay, or any combination of those). That's not why I'm undertaking this. Knowing how tight with a nickel Civil War reenactors are, I don't know how anyone makes anything approximating "a living" from that market.

And, back to Walt's comment to me about not everyone wanting to afford what will be a "second" telegraph set, I can understand that quite well. Once you've spent the money, it's tough to spend it twice for no apparent reason beyond being more authentic - and authenticity is not an all-consuming need or desire among many in reenacting. So Walt suggested that I make not only reproduction telegraph sets, but also make reproduction camelback keys so that the key itself can be retrofit to an existing telegraph set.

I have no idea at present what the brass will cost, but it seems kind of obvious that if folks could upgrade the "look" of their telegraph set for pocket change, then most folks will want to so that they can spare themselves the necessity of repeating time and again, "No, folks, this isn't an authentic piece - not even an authentic reproduction. It's some modern thing that I got to make do with, so don't go thinking that what we're doing here is authentic - I mean, with the telegraph - I mean, the telegraph itself." When you have to explain away what you're doing, I believe it erodes the credibility of everything else you do. Just my opinion.

I'd guess that it confuses people, too, when you have to offer such caveats. We get enough folks through our camp who ask,
"Is that food real? Are you really gonna eat it?"
"Do you really sleep here at night?"
"Is that fire real (to which the mother of the teenager responded, 'No, that's a gas log fire - a real fire'd be too dangerous out here.')?"

And one of my favorites, seeing one of the young ladies in our civilian contingent walking her duck, "Is that duck real?"

Of course, being almost 49 now, I was amused, if a little insulted, when a young teenage fellow asked me if I had really fought in the Civil Time to break out the Grecian Formula.

The fact that so many folks are confused by what it is that we do when we reenact is, to me, a further incentive to get as much "right" as I can so that I don't have any explanations to make or apologies to give. Making camelback keys for retrofit doesn't seem a bad idea - a compromise that will make an upgrade toward authenticity much more affordable.

Perhaps it ISN'T cost-effective to make them. I'm willing to believe that. But I'm also willing to "donate" the time and effort, and not worry about running books on P & L for these things. First, let's see if I can do a credible and creditable job with the telegraph sets. Everything else is conversation until that happens.

One thing I do intend to do, though, is to place the year 2002 on the underside of the key so that no one will fear, or can claim, that I'm trying to pass them off as originals. According to Prof. Perera, that's been a problem in the past.

At any rate, I want to thank y'all for directing me to Prof. Perera, who has been of immense help already. I hope to pester him further when he returns from Germany in late July. Thanks!

Chuck Lee

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