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Dead medium: Caselli's Pantelegraph (Part Two)
From: From: (Bruce Sterling)
Source(s): "Caselli's Pantelegraph" by Julien Feydy.- Musee des arts et metiers *La Revue,* June 1995, n 11, p.50-57.

(((Part Two of Julien Feydy's stellar article on the nineteenth century fax machine that was never to be == bruces)))

"However, the Pantelegraph Society did not prove equal to the market which was apparently opening up and, failing to undertake any energetic promotion of the device, was content to wait passively for its capital to be remunerated via the flood of orders which were supposed to pour in from all over the world.

"In Italy, after an initially euphoric reception, the sluggishness of the administration and haughtiness of ministers led Caselli to give up any further development of his invention. In France, he clashed with the Telegraphs administration which, fearing competition with its ordinary telegraphic network, refused to lower the tariff for handwritten dispatches == which were nevertheless prohibitive == and even advised taxing such dispatches at a higher rate than ordinary ones.

"When the pantelegraph appeared, France was in fact in the process of setting up a complete telegraphic network, using the Hugues, Morse and then Baudot systems, replacing the former Chappe optical telegraph, which had been experimented since 1792. More than just a technical step forward, a qualitative transformation in the use of the telegraph system was underway.

"What had until then been an instrument of the governing powers and the stock exchange, was about to establish itself as a relatively commonplace means of communication, conveying a variety of urgent yet trivial pieces of news such as births, deaths, marriages or tourist hotel reservations. Because it had previously been limited to two powerful forces requiring extreme rapidity and perfect secrecy == the State and Finance == the Chappe telegraph had quickly become a myth within French society.

"What is more, popular literature glorified the telegraph's somewhat worrying and imperial vocation in this respect as, for example, in Alexander Dumas' *The Count of Monte Cristo,* or in the chronicles of the would- be-poet Barthelemy. The myth of instantantaneousness at the exclusive service of the government or the banking sector was about to become outdated at the very time when Caselli thought he was reaching his goal.

"Designed to transmit images, the pantelegraph, like today's fax, was perfectly able to transmit written texts correctly. However, whether conscious or not, there was a general refusal to allow it any other other role than the transmission of a banking signature or a trademark, since this was the only system capable of doing so, and the administration went on to ensure it was gently stifled out of existence.

"Any innovation strategy contains a great many traps, not the least of which is indeed to become fascinated to the extent of being hemmed in by the new technology contained within a given invention and which distinguishes it from all other existing processes, to the ultimate detriment of its flexibility of use and any real possibilities of development.

"In this respect, the pantelegraph adventure was all the more remarkable given that a tremendous short-cut was almost taken in the history of telecommunications at the time when its destiny was at stake in Paris. Indeed, in 1863, two top civil servants from the Chinese Empire requested a demonstration at the Froment workshops and could not hide their amazement and admiration in the face of an invention which, in one swoop, solved the tricky problem of the telegraphic transmission of ideograms.

"In 1884, fairly far-reaching negotiations appear to have taken place between China and Italy with the aim of carrying out experiments on the Caselli pantelegraph in Peking, but these were not followed up. However, this particular use of the telegraph, anticipated very early on by Caselli, was taken up much later by the Japanese, to whom we owe the massive diffusion of the fax.

"Today, pantelegraphs lie dormant in a few rare museums. Those kept at the Musee National des Techniques were given another chance to prove their reliability in 1961, between Paris and Marseille, during the commemoration of the first tests, and in 1982, at the Postal Museum in Riquewihr, where they operated faultlessly, six hours a day, for several months."