Sign up for a free Courant newsletter for a chance to win $100 P.C. Richard gift card

Up For Auction: 1880 Phone Directory With Sam Clemens Listing

Online auction selling 1880 Hartford phone directory, listing Mark Twain

An online auction that began this week and ends Nov. 14 features a historical curiosity: An 1880 Hartford telephone directory listing the few hundred households with telephones, including that of "Clemens, Samuel L., author, 95 Farmington," aka Mark Twain.

Spencer Moore is the owner of the artifact. Moore inherited the directory from his grandfather, Carlan Goslee, who died in 1970

"I know he owned it as early as 1906," said Moore, 57, who lives in the Hartford area and works at Home Goods Distribution in Bloomfield.

The 12-page directory features residential names, business names and addresses. There are no phone numbers. "Back then, you just picked up the phone and turned the crank and told the operator who you wanted to talk to, and the operator connected you," Moore said.

The cover reads "Telephone Directory of the Connecticut Telephone Company, Hartford Division, Office: Hartford Trust Company's Building, Room 37, 274 Main St., September, 1880."

The "Legends and Americana" auction at Goldin Auctions (goldinauctions.com) features more than 1,500 items. The Hartford phone book, lot #1320, has an opening bid of $25,000. Ken Goldin of Goldin Auctions would not comment on whether there is a reserve price.

Goldin Auctions, based in West Berlin, N.J., lists Moore's artifact as the second-oldest telephone directory in existence, which is not accurate.

The Archives and Special Collections at University of Connecticut Libraries owns one of two existing original copies of the oldest phone directory in existence, according to UConn archivist Laura Smith. The single-sheet director was produced in February 1878 by the District Telephone Company of New Haven, the world's first commercial telephone exchange, which had been established the month before.

A 20-page New Haven directory published in November 1878, with a stitched binding and a light-blue wrapper, sold at Christie's auction house in 2008 for $170,500. Christie's listed it as "the first telephone book."

UConn libraries also owns an original copy of a Hartford directory dated June 1, 1879, which also lists Clemens but not his profession. Carolyn M. Picciano, a library specialist with the Connecticut State Library, said that archive owns a copy of the 1879 directory also.

Smith said it is difficult to tell a directory's ranking in world history. "They don't number themselves. There is no volume one or volume two, in a way that we would know that this is the first issue or the second issue," Smith said.

Smith added that by 1882, enough Connecticut residents owned phones that state, rather than city, directories were produced. That was the year that New Haven District Telephone Company changed its name to Southern New England Telephone.

Moore said he tried to donate the directory to the Mark Twain House & Museum more than 10 years ago, but the museum was not interested.

He said he decided to sell it because he has two children, but only one phone directory. "I can split money more evenly than I can split a 12-page phone book," Moore said. "If I hang on to it and keep it in a safe deposit box, what am I gaining from it?"

To bid on the item, visit goldinauctions.com.

Goslee, Moore's grandfather who owned the phone directory, played an interesting role in the history of Connecticut. He was a reporter for the Hartford Courant and then the Hartford Times from the mid-teens to 1964. Early in his Courant career, Goslee investigated an unusually large number of deaths at The Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids in Windsor, which led to the discovery of the "Arsenic and Old Lace" series of killings. Goslee also was the grand juror who signed the warrants charging Amy Archer-Gilligan with murder.

Copyright © 2017, CT Now
22°