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Vibroplex "Junior," Serial No. 81438, circa 1921

by Neal McEwen, K5RW

Copyright © 1996, Neal McEwen

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Vibroplex semi-automatic keys, or bugs as they are more commonly called, are among the more popular telegraph items among collectors. Why? When Horace G. Martin introduced the Vibroplex in 1904, it revolutionized the way code was sent. Operators could send faster, for longer periods of time, without the career ending forearm stress. Consequently, Vibroplex Junior, 1921Vibroplex sold many, many thousands of bugs. Landline Morse men, commercial radio operators, military sparks, and many, many amateur radio operators used them and grew to love them.

The Vibroplex Company is still in business cranking out bugs for the amateur radio community today. Over the past 92 years there have been 11 basic models. The "Junior" model was in production from 1921 to 1939. It is a first cousin to the "Original". In fact, on first glance, it would appear to be an "Original". However the "Junior" is "Original" parts on a small base. The "Original" base measures 3.5 by 6.25 inches; The "Junior base measures 3.0 by 6.0 inches.

This "Junior" was not advertised until 1934. Although available earlier, it was advertised as an Original on a smaller base. Most collectors refer to this model as a "Junior" regardless of vintage. The "Junior" pictured has a japanned base, so called because the black with gold trim was representative of Japanese furniture of the period. Juniors were also sold with a nicked base and a black base without the pin stripes. Ads in "QST" show the "Junior sold for $10.00 in 1934.

There is really nothing unusual about number 81438. "Juniors" are not particularly uncommon. Then why is it featured here? Its condition! The base is in extraordinary condition for a japanned base bug of this period. Most bugs so finished show major loss of the gold pin stripes and loss of shine. Some loose the pin striping altogether. This "Junior" was made in 1921. Not many keys 75 years old, look this good. The nickel plate is also extraordinary.

An acquaintance of mine, Norman Wald, obtained this key from the Fleming Brown collection. Luckily, I was able to talk Norman out of it and give it a nice home in my collection. I promise to take good care of it and keep it in pristine condition. Needless to say, I am quite pleased to have this very nice piece in my collection.

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Neal McEwen,