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Holcomb, J. R.
Holcomb's Latest Improved Patent Automatic Telephone... The Only Mechanical Telephone having a Clear Title to Patent, embodying all the Latest Improvements in Insulation and Connections, with new and perfect Vocalizing Chambers and Compound Metallic Diaphragm...

J. R. Holcomb & Co., Mallet Creek, Medina County, Ohio, circa 1880

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quarto, 4 page promotional circular, with elaborate wood engraved illustration on front page showing how the "Automatic Telephone" worked.

Hardly a "rval" of Alexander Graham Bell, Holcomb was an Ohio housepainter and card printer who began a successful "novelty" business in the 1870s, producing school toys, music instruments and supplies for children and publishing a widely read teacher's journal. In 1878 - two years after Bell received the first patent for a telephone device, and five years before the incorporation of AT&T - Holcomb invented and patented an acoustic telephone, a sophisticated version of the "two tin-cans on a string" kid's toy, which, using no electrical transmitting or receiving devices - and thus not infringing on the Bell patents - allowed people to inexpensively talk to each other over short distances. Costing $ 4 each and guaranteed to clearly transmit voices over a distance of one mile, "with such power as to be heard distinctly in all parts of an ordinary room", 10,000 of these "elegantly finished" instruments were sold to satisfied customers as "the best and cheapest speaking telephone manufactured" for short lines. Given the Holcomb Company's reputation as "novelty school supply firm, this brochure stresses that their Automatic Telephone was "not a toy or plaything" but rather "adapted for actual every days use for Social or Business purposes" being "far superior to the more costly Magnetic and Electric Instruments" on short lines. A rare imprint, WorldCat locates only two copies of another(probably later) version of this circular at the Harvard Business School and Ohio Historical Society.