Today, the Ultra High Relief Gold Coin remembers the expiration of one of the original Bell telephone patents.
The Bell telephone company began its monopolization of the business early and kept a large percentage of the business for many years.
In 1984, the divestiture of the Bell system into regional Bell operating companies opened the marketplace to further competition.
Today’s telecommunications businesses look nothing like the business of pre-1984 much less the business of March 8, 1893.
An article from the Lewiston Daily Sun of March 9, 1893 provided insights into the early telephone business:
Now Public Property
Is the Original Telephone, Improvements Are Controlled by the Company.
Rivals will probably enter the field and it may give the public cheaper service.
New York, March 8. — The original Bell telephone patent expired today.
The patent, however, covered an instrument differing in many respects from the Bell telephone now in use and not nearly so perfect.
All the latter improvements upon the original instrument are still monopolized by patents belonging to the Bell company, many of them having long years to run.
It is claimed, however, that the expiration of the original patent will bring rivals into the field, and that the existence of the telephone monopoly may be seriously endangered.
The Bell company, however, has followed the policy of buying up for as small sum as possible, all improvements in telephones with the view of controlling the whole field when the original patents shall have expired.
At the same time there are several important telephone patents which are not owned by the company.
One of these is a switchboard arrangement, said to be more perfect than any now in use. It is the property of a company organized in Chicago with a large capital, and whose proposed intentions is to enter the field as a rival when the original Bell telephone patent expires.
The statement is made that the original Bell telephone is a good enough instrument for common use when it can be furnished to customers for less than a fifth of the sum charged for it by the company.
The amount charged for the latter is out of all proportion to the original cost. The sum charged for a telephone in this city amounts, it is said, in a week to more than the original cost of the instrument, and even then the instruments are still the property of the company.
The same service is furnished in other parts of the state for less than a fifth of the sum charged in this city and the rate for telephones differs in nearly every part of the United States.
Meanwhile, the Bell company has made millions since it first went into the business, and it is today one of the strongest monopolies in existence.
The original patent was granted to Alexander Graham Bell, March 7, 1876. Subsequent litigations over the telephone have engaged a host of lawyers and some of the suits are still on the court calendars.
A strong rival to the Bell company at this time, would, it is thought, be welcomed by the public.
One of the first results of such a fight would be to bring the price of telephones down to a reasonable basis; by such a reduction, the number of customers taking the telephone would be more than doubled at once, and a great public convenience would be secured.
They have been preparing to enter the business in this city on this expiration of the original Bell patent and have been keeping their movements secret.
It is confidently believed, however, that today’s expiration of the patent will before long work a revolution in the telephone world and that new and improved instruments may soon be looked for, which will be sold outright for a reasonable sum.
The Ultra High Relief Gold Coin shows with an image of an early Bell telephone, circa 1877.