News Release - The Huntington Acquires Letters of Nobel Laureate Guglielmo Marconi, Pioneer of Long-Distance Wireless Telegraphy and Radio

Apr. 6, 2021

Library Collectors’ Council also purchases manuscripts by the British author Amelia Opie (1769–1853), the private journal of U.S. Navy officer Henry Cadwalader (1817-44) about a secret trade mission to the Indian Ocean and East Indies, the world’s first published English-Japanese and Japanese-English dictionary (1830), and the first printed sea chart and navigational guide for Scotland (1583).

SAN MARINO, Calif.—The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens announced today that it has acquired an archive of papers and correspondence to, from, and about inventor and Nobel Laureate Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937)—a towering figure in the history of long-distance wireless telegraphy and radio transmission. Among more than 200 pages of correspondence are 31 letters from Marconi to his Chief Engineer Richard Vyvyan, written between 1902 and 1909, regarding the construction and successful implementation of a transatlantic telegraph system. The collection also includes Vyvyan’s extensive manuscript overview of wireless technology: “Notes on Long Distance Wireless Telegraphy and the Design and Construction and Working of High Power Wireless Stations,” written between 1900 and 1904. The collection was purchased at The Huntington’s 24th annual Library Collectors’ Council meeting, which was held virtually last month.

The Council also purchased a manuscript trove of some 95 letters, poems, and documents from British writer Amelia Opie (1769–1853) and her family and friends. Opie was a public intellectual, uncommon for a woman at the time. She published her first novel, The Dangers of Coquetry (1790), at age 20 and went on to publish six more novels as well as volumes of tales and poems. A friend of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, she is often understood in relation to the radical Romantics, but that association accounts for only part of her long and productive life. Opie ceased to write novels when she converted to Quakerism in 1825 but continued to write and lecture as an active abolitionist.

In addition, the Council purchased a manuscript journal documenting a secret trade mission to the courts of Oman, Thailand, and Vietnam in 1835–36. The journal was penned by the 18-year-old Henry Cadwalader, scion of a venerable Philadelphia family, a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and a newly minted midshipman of the United States Navy.

Cadwalader served onboard the schooner Enterprise and the sloop of war Peacock, which constituted the newly established East India Squadron. The squadron carried Edmund Quincy Roberts, a “special agent” charged with a mission to promote American trade interests in Zanzibar, Oman, India, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Sumatra, Java, Thailand (Siam), Vietnam (Cochin China), and Japan. The regular entries of Cadwalader’s journal offer a remarkable and previously unknown record of this expedition.

The Council also acquired the world’s first published English-Japanese and Japanese-English dictionary, which appeared in 1830, and the first printed sea chart and navigational guide for Scotland, published in 1583.

The Library Collectors’ Council is a group of 46 households that assist in the development of the collections by supporting the purchase of important works that the Library would not otherwise be able to afford.

“The run-up each year to the Library Collectors’ Council meeting is an invigorating season as our curators search for rare and historically significant items to complement and extend The Huntington’s collections and support the institution’s research mission,” said Sandra Ludig Brooke, Avery Director of the Library at The Huntington. “We are beholden to the Council for their generosity, which is all the more heartening during this challenging year.”

Highlights of the newly purchased materials include:

Transatlantic Telegraph, Guglielmo Marconi, and His Engineer
“Marconi transformed the speed and effectiveness of telecommunication through wireless telegraphy,” said Daniel Lewis, Dibner Senior Curator of the History of Science and Technology.

Underground transatlantic cables had existed since 1858, but they were tremendously expensive, unreliable, and often maddeningly slow and filled with static. Marconi was relentless in his attempts to improve on his radio work, as reflected in this archive. “Working very hard to try and find out what are the somewhat occult causes which make signals good one night and unobtainable the next,” he wrote to Richard Vyvyan, his chief engineer, in 1907. “I believe I have found if not very clearly the cause of the effects noticed.”

Vyvyan was largely responsible for the construction and operation of the transmitting station at Poldhu in Cornwall, from where the first-ever transatlantic signal was sent to Newfoundland on Dec. 12, 1901. He was also in charge of the Cape Breton station the following year, when the first signal was sent in the opposite direction and a regular transatlantic telegraph service was established.

The Huntington’s telegraphic holdings have grown in the past decade and are now one of the nation’s most significant. This corpus began in 2002 with the donation of several boxes of material to and from Marconi and was enhanced by the 2012 purchase of the Civil War records of the U.S. Telegraphic Office, headed by Thomas T. Eckert, comprising 16,000 telegrams written between 1862 and 1866 that provide some of the most important and detailed views of the war’s daily transactions and communications.

Late in 2020, the Library purchased more Eckert materials, which also included documents related to Thomas Edison’s invention of the quadruplex telegraph, a device that allowed four telegrams to be sent and received simultaneously—the equivalent of going from dial-up to broadband.

A Literary and Family Archive: Poems, Prose, and Letters of Amelia Opie (1769–1853)
“Opie was brilliant and charming, and exceptionally adept at straddling social circles and ideological divides,” said Karla Nielsen, curator of literary collections. "She maintained family ties and forged political alliances as an avid correspondent, as the materials in this collection attest."

In a playful letter dated Jan. 28, 1813, Opie sent her cousin, Thomas Alderson, a collection of songs, with a note: “I will give you the glees . . . they are both pretty & you and I can sing them.” Her marriage to the painter John Opie (1761–1807) lasted nine years, but through him, she met several artists and actors, including the renowned Sarah Siddons, who became a friend. Considered to have a fine voice for singing and elocution, Opie dabbled in acting and, later in life, delivered speeches at antislavery conventions. Her lifelong commitment to activism began in her childhood in Norwich, England, among Rationalist Dissenters. She joined the Society of Friends in 1825, vowing to give up writing novels and plays. Opie dedicated the last decades of her life to abolitionist work and asylum and prison reform.

The Huntington already possessed a collection of Opie’s correspondence, primarily with her relatives in the Briggs family, from the 1820s and 1830s. With the addition of the new archive, The Huntington has become the preeminent institution for the study of Opie and her works.

“The Huntington is uniquely positioned to put Opie in conversation with other important voices of the era, like Elizabeth Robinson Montagu, Frances Cobb Power, Richard Carlile, and Thomas Clarkson, all of whom have dedicated Huntington collections,” said Vanessa Wilkie, William A. Moffett Curator of Medieval Manuscripts and British History. “In addition, our collections about Quakerism on both sides of the Atlantic offer a lens to explore Opie’s religious and political participation.”

Henry Cadwalader’s Journal of the U.S. Schooner Enterprise (1835–36)
“Cadwalader was a well-read young man, a keen observer, and a gifted narrator,” said Olga Tsapina, Norris Foundation Curator of American History at The Huntington. “On this, his first cruise, he described everything around him with much enthusiasm and great detail.”

Cadwalader began his service onboard the Enterprise, which had been assigned to accompany the Peacock, the East India Squadron’s flagship. The young man started his journal on Aug. 1, 1835, when the two ships sailed from Rio de Janeiro bound for Zanzibar, then part of the Sultanate of Oman and the center of trade in the western Indian Ocean. The two ships were supposed to sail together but got separated. The Enterprise lagged behind, arriving in Zanzibar a week later than the flagship. During the extended stay, Cadwalader filled several pages with detailed descriptions of the port and its inhabitants, penning one of the earliest American accounts of the island.

A month later, the Enterprise arrived in Mumbai, India, beating the sloop Peacock by 10 days to become the first American warship to visit the city. The Peacock was late because it had struck a reef. As the sloop was being repaired, Cadwalader happily filled his diary with accounts of the port teeming with vessels, cityscapes, people of different castes and religions, and the famous cave temples on Elephanta Island.

In November, Cadwalader was transferred to the Peacock, and a month later, he sailed for Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Thailand. We last see Cadwalader on April 7, 1836, among the officers, resplendent in their dress uniforms, onboard the ceremonial boat that took the American delegation to Bangkok. Unfortunately, Cadwalader’s diary ends there: It appears that he ran out of paper.

Cadwalader died on April 7, 1844, at the age of 27, in Philadelphia. His ship, the Enterprise, had been decommissioned just two days earlier.

“This extraordinary find not only fills numerous gaps in the history of the American naval presence in the East, but also presents a fine example of the American maritime narrative in the Age of Sail. It is a remarkably candid narrative that reads almost like a live blog. Although it lacks the literary finesse that comes with an edited and published text, it is comparable if not equal to Richard Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast, which was published in 1840 to great acclaim,” said Tsapina.

The World’s First Published English-Japanese and Japanese-English Dictionary
Produced in 1830 by the English missionary Walter Henry Medhurst (1796–1857) and his team of printers and translators based in Batavia, Dutch East Indies, this succinct, but highly influential, dictionary became one of the earliest introductory texts for English-speaking Westerners eager to learn the Japanese language.

“So influential was this dictionary that it was later adapted and reissued by Japan in the 1850s for English-learners in that country,” said Li Wei Yang, curator of Pacific Rim collections.

Before Commodore Matthew Perry’s historic incursion into Japan in 1853, the Medhurst dictionary was part of the library that Perry had requested in preparation for the diplomatic journey. Along with the dictionary, The Huntington acquired a letterbook containing drafts and retained copies of letters by George Folsom (1802–1860), the United States chargé d’affaires in the Netherlands from Sept. 1850 to Oct. 1853, which includes a description of the dictionary’s significance to Perry’s Japan mission.

It is noteworthy that the book’s text was printed using lithography. Invented in Germany in 1796 by the dramatist Alois Senefelder as a rapid means to reproduce his plays, lithography was quickly adapted for the printing of images but was seldom used in Europe to print an entire text. Medhurst and his team of printers, operating under the London Missionary Society of Batavia (present day Jakarta), experimented with both woodblock printing and lithography when publishing Asian texts. He mentions in the dictionary’s introduction that “. . . the work has been executed at a Lithographic press . . . in a warmer climate, where Lithography often fails.”

Scholars estimate that, due to production difficulties, Medhurst produced only about 200 complete copies of the dictionary in 1830. Only 35 copies have survived and are preserved in libraries across Europe, Japan, and the United States.

“This is a monumental book in the eyes of scholars of early U.S.-Japan relations, and it is rare on the market today,” said Yang. “It stands at the intersection of printing, religion, and the transmission of language and knowledge during the formative century for the Pacific Rim’s eventual emergence as a global trading center,” said Yang.

The First Printed Sea Chart and Navigational Guide for Scotland
In 1540, King James V of Scotland embarked from Leith on a mission to assert his authority over the remote parts of his kingdom. With Alexander Lindsay, as pilot, the king’s fleet rounded the north of Scotland, remote territory, visiting Orkney, and then Skye, Lewis, Ross, Kintail, and Dumbarton. Lindsay’s rutter, a text of sailing directions compiled to navigate Scotland’s perilous coastline, was an indispensable guide, providing nearly 200 pieces of information and 150 place names.

More than 40 years later, Nicolas de Nicolay, cosmographer to the King of France, published Lindsay’s manuscript in a French translation, along with an illustrated guide for the modern mariner, and—most significant—the first printed sea chart for Scotland, a map that would not be equaled for accuracy until the 18th century. This rare and important work—La Navigation du Roy d’Escosse ( The Navigation of the Scottish King)—fits with The Huntington’s stellar British history, cartography, and history of science holdings, illuminating navigational practice, as well as Anglo-French diplomacy. In 1546, Nicolay had obtained Lindsay’s rutter from the English Lord Admiral John Dudley, copying it and having a translation from the Scottish language made, and improving upon the accompanying map. Its 1583 Paris publication coincides with the Throckmorton Plot to place Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne.

“As a final work from Nicolay, the publication embodies ideas critical for his era: the local in the context of an increasingly global world connected by improvements in seafaring and navigation, the state as territory, and power through cartography,” noted Claudia Funke, Avery Chief Curator and Associate Director of Library Collections.

The Huntington’s founder, Henry E. Huntington, developed a distinguished collection of valuable sea charts and atlases, in both print and manuscript.

“The Huntington Library is also home to one of the most important British maritime collections in the world, second only to that of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich,” said Vanessa Wilkie, William A. Moffett Curator of Medieval Manuscripts and British History.

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Thea M. Page, 626-405-2260, [email protected]
Lisa Blackburn, 626-405-2140, [email protected]

About The Huntington
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, a collections-based research and educational institution, aspires to be a welcoming place of engagement and reflection for a diverse community. The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, Calif., 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Visitor information: or 626-405-2100. (Check for updates during this period for new visitation protocols due to COVID-19.)

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