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Earliest-known Thomas Edison document to sell at RR Auction


An important document from the earliest days of Thomas Edison’s career is currently up for sale with Boston-based RR Auction.
Dating from 1869, the handwritten document relates to the sale of one of Edison’s first patented inventions, marking the start of his career as both an inventor and a businessman.
The rare and historic hand-written note is now expected to sell for more than $14,000 when it comes up for sale early next month.

Known as ‘The Wizard of Menlo Park’, Thomas Edison is regarded as America’s greatest inventor, and his development of everything from the electric light bulb to the phonograph and the motion picture camera helped shape the 20th century.

Throughout his prolific career, Edison held a grand total of 1,093 US patents in his name. Having spent his youth working as a telegraph operator throughout the Midwest, the majority of his early inventions all related to the field of telegraphy.

The document offered at RR Auction relates to Edison’s second invention: a magnetic device which enabled telegraphs to be printed automatically, without an attendant present at the receiving station.

The potential applications of the printing telegraph were clear to financiers Joel Hills and William Plummer, who paid Edison the sum of $1,300 for the rights to the device. The pair agreed to cover the costs of acquiring the patent, and advanced the money through business promoter Samuel Ropes, who would be responsible for marketing the device to the public.

Dated February 3, 1869, the note is signed Thomas A. Edison and reads in full: "Received of Samuel W. Ropes Jr the sum of Thirty 30 dollars-being full amount received from him."
The patent for the printing telegraph was executed on January 25, 1869, and was later issued by the U.S Patent Office on June 22, 1869.

The note marks an important moment in the career of one of America’s most successful and creative entrepreneurs. Later that year, he used the same principles behind his automatic telegraph device to create the Universal Stock Printer, with which he truly made his name as an inventor.

According to the auction house, "this brief handwritten document not only represents the 21-year-old Edison’s first successful invention that jump started his prolific career, but is also the earliest Edison document we have ever seen enter the marketplace."

The RR Auction Fine Autographs and Artefacts Sale ends on February 8.


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