landline - spark - wireless - radio
All items are subject to prior sale, so e-mail me before paying to check that what you are interested in is still available, to confirm shipping cost, or to ask questions. In the winter we may be out west in our trailer and might not have your item with us (although we can place a hold on an item to reserve it for you). Our email address is
We accept US payment by paypal.com (made to any of our email addresses), by money order, or by personal check with your shipping address imprinted on it. Foreign payment may be made by paypal or by international postal money order. If you pay by mail, let me know and I will hold your item for you.
Shipping costs are not cumulative. If you are interested in different items, I will provide shipping cost. Some small items will ship with a bug at no added cost. But others may be best shipped separately; for example, it is cheaper to ship a few knobs (first class mail) separate from a book (media mail) since knobs cannot be included with media mail.
Shipping in the USA is $8.00 for one hand key, unless otherwise stated.
Parts of a hand key. When discussing parts of a key it is helpful to have a common frame of reference. Bob KD2UJ has a website page that provides this information here. Click on his photos for larger views.
The first hand key was a simple strap key; the second was Alfred Vail's "lever correspondent." This has been reproduced by Kent Engineers of England... but some collectors were not fond of the finish on the early keys. This page shows how they addressed the issue.
Keys are grouped below in the following order:
Civil War to 1870s keys
Speed-X (Logan, Johnson, Nye)
Western Electric (including keys made for AT&T and Western Union)
Western Union Telegraph Co. Keys marked W.U. Note that many companies made keys for WU such as Bunnell, Manhattan, etc. All except Western Electric are together under "Western Union."
On many recent additions to this page you can click on the small photo for a larger view.
Keys from the Civil War era into the 1870s are scarce. Those we have in stock will be listed below. Also listed will be our reproduction Civil War keys, which would be satisfactory for Civil War re-enactors or those replicating an 1860s - 1870s telegraph office or railroad depot, at much less cost than an original vintage key.
#497CLG Phelps camelback key. (Click on photo for a larger picture.)
This long-leg key dates from 1855 to 1871, the period when George M. Phelps was making telegraph keys -- and likely the later years, since it has a spring tension adjustment screw. However, the camelback style makes it a nice period piece for Civil War reenactors.
The main lever is stamped with WUTEL Co and G.M. PHELPS MAKER; the frame is stamped with the serial number 5749 and WUT at the top of one pivot stand and lightly in two other places.
This key is comnplete and original except for the circuit closing lever which is a replacement (it was missing when I obtained this key 20 years ago) and the spring. A rare addition to any telegraph display collection, or for the reenactor who wants an authentic period piece, or even for the radio amateur on Straight Key Night!
Main lever stamps.
#611CAA Early step-lever. (Click on photo for a larger picture.)
This leg key likely dates from the mid 1860s to judge by the step-lever design and the lack of a spring tension adjustment. It was one of the less expensive models for the time: The lever and frame are cast iron. The circuit closing lever is marked Partrick and Carter, one of the larger telegraph instrument suppliers.
A great key for civil war re-enactors or for your early railroad display. The original legs have been replaced with modern hardware (which would not be visible when mounted to a desk).
And another view.
#511TEY Partrick and Carter key. (Click on photo for a larger picture.)
An original step-lever leg key from that famous early company, Partrick and Carter. This likely dates to between the start of the company in the mid 1860s to around 1875. Note that one pivot screw is broken off and the rear leg is bent (neither of which affects the operation of the key). The locknut is included, as shown. This key might be used as is in a Civil War reenactment with the broken screw suggesting the rigors of battle. A wonderful brass key with its original brown knobs.
#1002BXX Jerome Redding key. (Click on photo for a larger picture.)
Jerome Redding and Company, Boston, Mass., dates to 1877 - 1882; their instruments are rare. This is part of a Redding KOB set -- the sounder is missing and I offer it for the key. The wood base is stamped with the name (though difficult to read). The key is of the camelback type and may be identified as Redding by the distinctive raised stand on the frame under the gap screw.
The lock nuts are missing from the pivot screws, otherwise all of the parts including the spring and the board wire terminals are present and appear correct. A nice find for your hand key collection.
Top view of key.
Right side of key.
Name on board.
Our replica Civil War era keys (below) are fully operational. They are 19th century key frames on which we have fitted a reproduction main lever made in the 1860s style: Heavy solid brass with no spring tension adjustment screw. We have them in both straight lever and drop lever styles; both types were available in the 1860s so selection is a matter of personal preference. The "leg key" type would closely replicate keys of the era, though one with a later frame having wire terminals above the base might be easier to mount to an operating table; the general public would usually not appreciate the difference.
The keys below have been sold, and are shown as examples. We will build one to your order. Prices vary from $95.00 for a legless key with a straight lever, to $135 for a long-leg key with drop lever. Email us regarding your style preference; we will send a photo of the completed key, with price, for your approval.
#CWB22 Replica early key.
Drop-lever style long-leg key. The key is bolted to the operating desk with the "legs," and wiring connections are made below the desk to the legs. An authentic style Civil War era key. The knobs are NOS black Bakelite.
#CW23 Replica early key.
Straight lever legless key. The wire terminals are on the key frame, which makes mounting it to the desk or a board more convenient (though not quite as authentic to the era). The key frame etc may be cleaned and polished to match the shiny lever, or the lever could be aged to match the rest of the key. The knobs are vintage.
#CWS21 Replica early key. (Click on photo for a larger picture.)
A long-leg key with our reproduction straight lever. The knobs are old brown Bakelite.
The J.H.Bunnell Company made many models of hand keys -- most common, a few rare. In my personal collection I have a couple that seem unique; I have never seen any others. One of them is shown on this page (not for sale).
#911TGA Bunnell Fry key.
Mr. U.J. Fry, of the Chicago Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway, was interested in replacing the relatively expensive and messy gravity cells with dry cell batteries. He showed they were more economical to use in telegraph work (even when thrown away after use) than gravity cells. But they could not be used in closed circuit work. In this regard he designed a hand key which would disconnect the dry cell when the station was in receive mode (circuit closer closed). This is the result: the "Fry key."
Although this key is marked "Western Union," I show it here under the maker, Bunnell, since it is quite special and scarce. It is shown and described in the 1915 Bunnell catalog as list no. 6215, "the Fry open circuit key."
This key has been cleaned and polished but is otherwise in very good original condition, except that the legs have been shortened and the leg wing nuts are missing.
WU mark on base.
View showing legs.
#034BUN Bunnell radio sideswiper.
This is the scarce Bunnell radio sideswiper a/k/a/ double speed key or Cootie key. Unlike landline telegraph keys, it has no circuit closer. It has heavy contacts for early spark radio work. This key is on a Bakelite base which is mounted on a cast iron sub-base. The Bakelite is stamped "patented, J.H. Bunnell& Co. Inc., New York USA."
It is in very good original condition including its three rubber feet. There is a crack in the Bakelite below the right hand wire terminal.
#913GEG ... Miniature Bunnell key for 1905 OTT&H reunion, with box.
Fully operational miniature hand key made by J.H. Bunnell for the 1905 25th reunion of the Old Time Telegraphers and Historical Association. The key is quite scarce; the box itself is rare. Photo at right is of a different key and box and is shown for size (key is identical, box condition differs.) See 913GEG photos below.
The bottom of the key is stamped with the year and reunion, the lever is stamped "J.H. Bunnell Co. N.Y." For historical information on the reunion and this key, see this page.
The key is in excellent original condition, the box has a torn void on the top. Examine the photos below. This is only the second time in twenty years we have been able to offer this historic century-old collectible.
Key and box.
Key bottom legend.
$950.00 (includes U.S. shipping)
#B906BAA ... Brass Bunnell wireless key.
J.H. Bunnell "standard wireless key". An all brass early spark radio key. It has mica insulation, and an auxiliary conductor for leading heavy currents to the lever. The large contacts are fitted in removable holders. Early style steel-pinned lever. The base is about 2 x 3-5/8 inches. Length 5-1/2 inches overall. "J.H. Bunnell & Co., New York, USA" is stamped into the base. A scarce early "sparker" -- this model was used by DeForest on his motorcycle portable radio field set (see last photo), and can also be seen at this 1920 amateur radio station (see lower right corner).
Good condition; the lever is slightly loose* on the steel pivot, the overall brass finish shows age, and the spring is not original.
Name on base. Bottom view.
$175.00 (S&H = $10.00)
* This is why the sigle-piece "steel lever key" was considered a great advance.
#041 ... Bunnell spark key.
The heavy metal strap connecting the lever to the ground line and the replaceable contacts indicates that this is a spark (wireless) key, used for heavy current operation. Early style pinned lever. The bakelite base measures 2 x 3-1/2 inches. This key has huge Postal type terminals. On top of the lever is stamped "J.H. Bunnell & Co., New York USA."
$195.00 (S&H = $10.00)
#386 ... Bunnell spark key.
The heavy metal strap connecting the lever to the ground line and the replaceable contacts indicates that this is a spark (wireless) key, used for heavy current operation. Early style pinned lever. The bakelite base measures 2 x 3-1/2 inches. A cord and plug (which may or may not be original) is attached. On top of the lever is stamped "J.H. Bunnell & Co., New York USA."
$175.00 (S&H = $10.00)
If we have any Bunnell military keys, they will be on the "other U.S. military keys" page.
#993BAY ... Bunnell sideswiper.
This is the scarce Bunnell "double speed key" or sideswiper as collectors call it. Offered in the early 1900s, it works by simple side-to-side movements. The object was to eliminate "telegrapher's paralysis" or "glass arm" caused by use of a regular type key. This is the Style W (with spring adjustment) and has the early style slotted gap adjustment screws and early circuit closer as shown in Bunnell's Catalog 27 (1915). It has the PATENTED and Bunnell stamps on the base. The brass retains its old patina.
Other side view.
The Signal Electric Manufacturing Company (SEMCO) offered two types of had keys. There was the standard type with a circuit closer, on a wooden base. There was also the "standard wireless key."
The standard wireless key was a solid brass key with a one-piece "Navy" knob. It came in three different (replaceable) contact size options. It is very similar to the Bunnell key used by DeForest (see above), but Signal's key has pivot screws, and it doesn't have the strap conductor from the lever to the frame. This heavy key was very popular with radio amateurs. The three models of this key and their contact sizes are: R-62 (3/16"), R-63 (1/4"), and R-64 (3/8").
Our SEMCO keys are listed immediately below.
#1013COE ... Signal Electric spark key R-64.
This is the Signal Electric "standard wireless key" for spark radio operation model R-64, which has the large 3/8" replaceable contacts. All brass construction with a mica insulator underneath. Excellent condition.
Most amateurs opted for the small contact R-62; this is the scarce model with huge contacts.
#414KEY ... Signal Electric hand key M-100.
This is the Signal Electric transmitting key model M-100. It has a chrome plated steel lever, and is otherwise all brass construction. A couple scratches on the shorting switch shows the lever has been closed once or twice, and the key needs cleaning, but otherwise it appears unused old stock.
It comes with the original box which is in fair condition (one end panel is very nice).
View of top of box.
E.F. Johnson brass keys. The Johnson name and address - maker of the famed Viking Ranger transmitter and other ham apparatus in the 1950s - is stamped on the frame under the gap adjustment screw. These have a solid brass frame and a steel lever. Johnson-marked hand keys are scarce, and a nice addition to a Johnson ham radio station.
On the left: Radio key (no circuit closer). In near-new, bright brass condition. #395. $85.00
On the right: Landline telegraph type (with circuit closer). Lightly tarnished. #311. SOLD
#WE607BAR ... Western Electric leg key.
A rare and unusual hand key. The base is a relatively thin (3/16") piece of flat stock brass. The pivot posts are attached to it by screws, and held in alignment by a round rod between them. Hand-stamped on the base is "ERIE," apparently referring to the Erie Railroad Company.
There is no maker's name on this key. However, one other is known which has "Western Electric" stamped on the circuit closer, and the knurling on these screws is in the typical W.E. style.
This key is complete and original; however, the difference in patina on the circuit closer screw suggests it might be a replacement. Close-up. ... Bottom view.
$195.00 (S&H = $8.00)
#S603TRR ... Western Electric "Steiner" hand key.
There were two styles of the Steiner key made by Western Electric, a leg key in which connections were made to the mounting bolts under the operating table, and this legless model with the wire terminals topside. This results in an interesting cross design to the key, and it can be displayed properly on a shelf. On the right side is stamped "W.E. Co., New York, pat'd Dec. 21, 1886." Spots of surface oxidation on the lever, base and terminals, and the closing lever knob is loose (I don't want to force the screw in). Second photo.
#S903TTR ... Western Electric "Steiner" hand key.
Same model as above, but with different and unusual gap and tension adjustors. Appears completely original. The knob has some distortion damage, and the lever has rust toward the knob end. Second photo. Third photo.
$275. (S&H = $7.00)
#S1004TYY ... Western Electric "Steiner" hand key.
There were two styles of the Steiner key made by Western Electric, a legless "cross" model with wire terminals on the top, and this leg key in which connections were made to the mounting bolts under the operating table. On the right side is stamped "Western Electric Company, pat'd Dec. 21, 188?." It is unusual that the complete name is spelled out; the year, worn off and unreadable, is of course 1886.
The left side of the base scratched, as if with a wire brush. The forward brass screw stud is stripped, the rear one is missing. Otherwise this is an interesting and early Steiner worthy of a bit of work. Second photo. Bottom.
$195. (S&H = $7.00)
6B ... Western Electric key.
This miniature telegraph key was made by J.H. Bunnell for the Western Electric Company. It is sometimes called a "spy key" due to its size - the base measures just 1/2" x 2". But it actually was part of a W.E. test set.
This is a "leg" type key; it mounts by the bolts extending under the base. It is fully adjustable for contact gap and tension, and has a circuit closing lever and a bakelite knob. With its small size and light weight it would make an excellent companion to a QRP ham transmitter or built into a portable amateur radio station.
For other items relating to Western Union, please see the bottom of the Landline and Railroad Telegraph Instruments page (meters, signs and miscellaneous).
#1112BAL ... Western Union 5-A key.
A rare key; this is one of only two known. Made by Bunnell, it is enclosed and insulated. The cover of the key is steel. This is a small key: the cover (and the Bakelite base) measures 2-3/8" wide x 3-1/8" long. The front (nearest the knob) adjustment is gap, the rear adjustment is spring tension. The metal nameplate reads: W.U. TEL CO., LEGLESS KEY 5-A, MFD. BY J. H. BUNNELL & CO.
Collector John Casale, W2NI, offered this information: "It was invented by Robert Steeneck of New York, NY in 1929. His design was to minimize exposure to the operator of any voltages that may be present on the exposed parts of a key, including the exposure of a wedge used with a Vibroplex or similar auxiliary key used in offices. The key lever and the spring and height adjustments are isolated from the line, and the circuit closer is isolated when the key is open. Also, the blades of a wedge off a Vibroplex can be inserted deep into the base of this key leaving just the insulated part of the wedge exposed. His patent was assigned to Western Union and granted August 19, 1930. (#1,773,325)"
Considering the assignment, Steeneck may have been an employee of Western Union. Cast into the bottom of the Bakelite base is "1930," likely a reference to the patent year.
The cover is Western Union green, but quite scratched up; the nameplate shows its age. This key is untested but seems to operate properly. A rare key for your communications display shelf, or a good on-the-air key for use with a vintage tube transmitter that may have high voltage at the key contacts.
Additional photos and link to patent.
#1208RONA ... Western Union leg key.
Made by the Manhattan Electrical Supply Company, this solid brass oval based leg key carries the company logo and W.U.T.CO. stamp on top of the frame, and WU stamped under the frame. As usual with most Western Union keys (especially if they went through the New York repair shop), the brass parts have been cadmium plated. This key has large contacts and its original wingnuts. The chrome on the steel lever is in excellent condition.
This is one of the nicest WU keys we have had in a long time.
Upper frame stampings.
underneath the frame.
#G706BTG ... Western Union - Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph Co. hand key.
On the frame is stamped "legless key 2A, W.U. Tel. Co." and on the closing lever is (was) "Gamewell F.A. Tel. Co." Years of use have worn the closing lever and obliterated most of "Gamewell." Under the closing lever is stamped "N.Y.R.S." (Western Union's New York Repair Shop).
This is a stamped brass hollow frame key. The spring and closing lever knob are vintage NOS replacements. The key would benefit from cleaning and light polishing. Gamewell WUTCO keys are not often found; a nice collectible. Second photo. Third photo.
$85.00 (S&H = $7.00)
#1206JE Marconi spark key.
(Click on photo for a larger picture.) This is a heavy spark key on a stone (likely slate) base. This early 1900s Marconi key is unmarked (like most Marconi keys) except for a serial number (310) stamped on the underside of the lever at the back (hard to see). The base is about 5-3/4 x 3-3/4 inches and almost a full inch thick; this rare key weighs over three pounds!
There is a chip in the knob (see photo) and the key seems to have suffered a burn-through on the bottom of the base at one time (early spark = high voltage) but is still in good operating condition (tested with my ohmmeter). It has all its original parts; the upper parts are all brass and have the typical patina of age.
Number under lever.
$2,795.00 includes USA shipping.
#509AEE unusual test set key.
(Click on photo for a larger picture.) This is a flush-mount key, with the adjustments and mechanism mounted underneath. It is stamped "7B", a typical Western Union style of nomenclature, and I am told it came from a telegraph test set. The Bakelite surface is 1-3/4 x 5-1/8 inches. The key lever is steel, and the other parts are brass.
There is a switch in the key's hot wire, but there may be one or two switch parts missing. Nonetheless, as a key it is complete and works well; this would make a rugged hand key for a vacation or backpack transmitter.
Top view. ... Bottom view. ... Bottom close-up.
#808k1 inexpensive plastic hand key.
(Click on photo for a larger picture.) This simple radio key (no circuit closer) has a plastic base. It is good for practice and instruction, and as a light-weight key could be used for QRP backpacking or portable work. The pivots are fixed, but it has the usual spring tension and contact gap adjustments. This is a new key, made in Japan; we have several available.
$14.00 (S&H = $5.00)
#B706EAG ... Bowman "Meteor" spark key.
Vintage marble-base wireless key made by A.W. Bowman -- unmarked, probably made for sale by Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward (two of their known secondary outlets). This is a beautiful key. The light marble base has a neatly beveled top edge; there are no noticable chips or cracks in the marble. The plating of the brass parts is bright, and the key is complete with all original parts.
#1004TAT ... Clapp - Eastham Co. spark key.
Vintage marble-base wireless key marked "Clapp-Eastham Co." on the top of the lever. This is their "Boston" key, and dates from about 1915. The base measures 3-1/2 x 6 inches, x 1 inch thick. The original small knob may have been replaced many years ago with the large, skirted knob now on the key to better protect the operator from the high voltage of spark equipment. Very good condition, a few tiny chips on some edges of the base, heavy patina on all metal parts. The spring is missing (I will add a modern replacement to this).
$975.00 (S&H = $12.00)
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