World's First Telephone Book Surfaces
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
May 29, 2008 -- The only known edition of the world's first telephone book has just surfaced in Connecticut.
It will be auctioned along with a collection of noteworthy books and documents covering technology, science, math and philosophy over six centuries.
The 20-page directory was issued in November of 1878, just two years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. The phone book contained information useful to 391 subscribers within the New Haven, Conn., area who were obviously still learning their way around the new communication device.
"Should you wish to speak to another subscriber you should commence the conversation by saying, 'Hulloa!'" it instructs.
Tom Lecky, who is head of books and manuscripts at Christie's auction house, which is handling the sale, told Discovery News, "The directions start off by amusingly saying, 'Never take the telephone off the hook unless you wish to use it...When you are done talking say, 'That is all,' and the person spoken to should say, 'O.K.'"
The book goes on to tell readers they should leave the "lower lip and jaw free." They were also warned never to "use the wire more than three minutes at a time, or more than twice an hour" without first "obtaining permission from the main office."
Lecky said Bell was granted a patent for the telephone in 1876. He then demonstrated it to visitors of the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition that same year. In early 1878, he installed the first telephone exchange in New Haven.
No phone numbers were printed in the Connecticut city's milestone book -- just the names of subscribers. It did, however, list businesses in a separate section at the end, making it the world's first yellow pages too. The businesses included local newspapers, grocers, physicians and manufacturers.
For decades, the phone book was in the hands of private collector Richard Green, a physician and amateur astronomer whose library will be auctioned by Christie's New York on June 17.
The phone book is not the most valuable work in the collection. Appraisers gave that honor to a first edition of Nicolaus Copernicus' De revolutionibus, a book believed by many to be the most important scientific publication of the 16th century.
"Copernicus' work displaced man from the center of the universe," Lecky said. "By placing the sun at the center of the universe, and not the earth, Copernicus' heliocentric model was revolutionary in shifting the human perception of itself."
Jeremy Norman, a California appraiser and noted expert on scientific works, believes that "Richard Green's copy of the original edition of Copernicus, in its original binding of limp vellum, with the largest margins of any copy recorded, may be the finest copy remaining in private hands."
Norman told Discovery News that it is one of the most desired books for collectors of science publications.
Green's library also includes a richly illustrated 1660 Dutch atlas, Galileo's Dialogo, a first edition of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, as well as important works by Sigmund Freud, Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton and Karl Marx.
The collection additionally features 130 of Albert Einstein's reference copies of his own works, complete with scribbled additions and corrections, illustrating how Einstein frequently changed and perfected his calculations concerning special and general relativity, unified theory and quantum theory.
While Einstein kept his own writings, it does not appear that Bell kept a copy of the first phone book. In fact, Sharon Morrow, a heritage preservation officer at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site of Canada, said no telephone or phone book was found at Bell's Nova Scotia residence, where he and his wife were buried, and many of his ancestors still reside today.
"There is a legend, however, that the area had one telephone in the town of Baddeck," Morrow told Discovery News. "When Bell tried to use the phone, it was broken. He supposedly fixed it by removing the back and taking out a dead fly that had disrupted the system."
The public may view the first phone book, along with the rest of Green's collection, at Christie's Rockefeller Galleries in New York from June 13 to 16.