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Historical Archive

Over the decades the Marconi Foundation has acquired a series of collections and/or funds that have been added to the Foundation’s historical Archive, which is kept at Villa Griffone. Now it is possible to look through the complete inventory (with a brief description) of both the Archive and the collections/funds, by clicking on the side menu. 

The Guglielmo Marconi Foundation has also launched a challenging research programme, combining Italian and foreign archives, with the scope of collecting in a single virtual electronic archive all existing Marconian documentation.

The first step in this direction was to conduct a census of Marconian sources, that successively led to the identification of the principal archives in which this very rich documentation is present.

Marconi's long career, characterized by his numerous moves, and the displacement of his entrepreneurial activities in many continents, accounts for the fact that Marconian documents are present in many parts of the world. For the moment we have taken into consideration the two most significant countries, Italy and England.

 

The Marconi Archive at Lincean Academy

The Marconi Archive, preserved at the Lincean Academy in Rome accompanied by an inventory, drawn up in 1993 by Giovanni Paoloni, is composed of two clearly distinct parts.

Part I of the documentation (“Papers of Guglielmo Marconi 1931-1937”) was donated in 1973 by Giovanni Battista Marini Bettòlo Marconi, member of the Lincean Academy, whose adoptive father, Umberto Marconi, was Guglielmo Marconi's personal secretary from 1930 to 1937 (changing his surname to Di Marco). It is composed of eight series, predominantly correspondence, for a total of 36 envelopes:

I : Correspondence with people (408 correspondents)
II : Correspondence with institutions, companies, newspapers (223 correspondents)
III : Academic, scientific and political activity (1930-1937)
IV : Newspaper clippings
V : Business regarding the yacht “Elettra”
VI : Private and suppliers accounting (1930-1937)
VII : Miscellaneous (anonymous letters, telegrams, admirers, solicitors, recommendations, death of Guglielmo Marconi etc.) (1932-1937)
VIII : Photographic archive

Part II (“Papers of Giuseppe Marconi”, storage former Academy of Italy) was found in a case by Giovanni Paoloni in 1993 at the Farnesina, the headquarters of the Academy of Italy. The same year, Paoloni drew up the inventory revealing some significant pieces of information.

It contained eight packages labelled “G. Marconi documents” (G. = Giuseppe, not Guglielmo). The content was subdivided into two groups (A and B): the same subdivision was subsequently maintained; group A is made up of documents containing information regarding Guglielmo, while group B is made up of the remaining paternal documentation, including some administrative records regarding Marconi's properties which date back to Guglielmo's grandfather, Domenico.

According to Paoloni, the person responsible for this rearrangement was Marconi's secretary, Umberto di Marco, presumably following indications from Guglielmo himself: in fact, although there is no evidence so far as to why these documents were among the papers of the former Academy of Italy, several clues lead us to conclude that they were left there by the inventor when he was president of the Academy, so that they might be rearranged and preserved.

In the light of new documentation, kept in copy at the Marconi Foundation in Pontecchio, these statements should be in part revised.

While the history of the first part of the archive is simple, linear and well known, that of the second part is definitely more obscure.

When Paoloni discovered the case of documents, nobody knew why such documentation was there.

A precious typewritten dossier, preserved in the archive of the Marconi Foundation came to our aid. It was entitled “Correspondence relative to the transfer of a case of Marconian documents (1940-1941) from Villa Griffone to the Royal Academy of Italy”.

It consists in a collection of photocopied documents, not in chronological order, 94 pages in total, that help to reconstruct the eveent that began in the summer of 1940. Guglielmo had passed away three years before, when in 1938 the Marconi Foundation was established, and its first president was Luigi Federzoni.

On July 3rd 1940 the superintendent Salerno paid a visit to Duilio Moleterni's antique shop in Casalecchio di Reno, where he came to discover an assortment of papers, documents, printed material, paintings, portraits and furniture «of Marconian origin» which were kept both at Villa Griffone and at other people’s residences: lawyer Mario Jacchia (the attorney of the Marconi heirs), Enrico Franceschini from Pontecchio and Moleterni himself. A peremptory order was issued on behalf of the Bibliographic and artistic Superintendence and successive contacts and letters were exchanged whith the consequent involvement of the Marconi Foundation.

The Bibliographic Superintendence made an accurate account of the recovered documentation, in which «all the material examined has been divided into two sections».

This is the content inside the cases:

  • Printed books and magazines, predominantly English, most about fifty years old and of no particular interest;
  • A notable number of accounting records regarding commercial and industrial business management of the Marconi House (1860-1864) including property administration and family funds (1871-1896) as well as daily expenses;
  • Many business letters sent to Luigi Marconi (1861-1863), numerous others addressed to Giuseppe Marconi, Guglielmo's father, in part business, in part familial. Among the latter there are many sent by his wife Annetta from England around 1870, from the winter and summer residences in Florence, Livorno, Poretta, etc. from 1876 to 1890, and again from England around 1900.
  • A few notebooks and scraps of papers with drawings of geometrical shapes or chemistry and physics notes, which were most likely done by Guglielmo Marconi at a young age (I say most likely because they could also belong to his older brother Alfonso), some family portraits and a few rare papers or documents that make indirect reference to Marconi's discoveries.

Federzoni requested the authorization of the Superintendent to pick up at the same antique shop «what has been referred to as mementos and documents» which, at the time, were still in Casalecchio.

Thus, in a letter dated November 4th, 1940, Federzoni sums up the situation:

I have defined, I think in the best possible terms, considering the situation, the controversy with Mr. Moleterni. There was sufficient evidence to prove that the latter only sold the letter sent from Marconi to his father, that I was able to recover as a gracious donation of the buyer. In agreement with Mr. Ducati, I gave instructions to the Bibliographic Superintendent to consign the other papers presently subjected to constraint to the Foundation, and thus to the same Mr. Ducati. The truth is that the ransacking of the papers stored in the villa in Pontecchio occurred before the apparition of Moleterni and the establishment of the Foundation; and most likely, even before the death of the same Marconi.

It was then decided to send the above-mentioned documents and mementos to Rome, so that Marconi's relatives could see the material and take back those wich were exclusively personal and familiar. Everything arrived in Rome in January 1941: the case was addressed to Luigi Federzoni at the Academy of Italy.

On February 5th of the same year, «at 4 p.m., in a hall of the Royal Academy of Italy (Lungotevere Farnesina, 10, Rome)», «with the scope of opening a case sent from the Bologna Bibliographic Superintendence», the following people reunited: Domenico Fava (Bibliographic Superintendent entrusted by the Ministry of National Education), the lawyer Giuseppe Fuschini (representing the marquises Giulio, Degna and Gioia Marconi), the lawyer Serafino Cerulli (representing the marquise Maria Cristina Marconi) and Achille Mantovani (from the Rpyal Academy of Italy, representing the Marconi Foundation).

The minutes of the meeting state the following:

Inside the case there were five boxes and a package containing papers, prints and documents belonging to the late Guglielmo Marconi, coming from his Villa in Pontecchio in the municipal district of Sasso Marconi. After a brief examination of the contents, the five boxes and the package were once again placed inside the case, and the case was closed and sealed. The people present agreed that the examination of the papers and documents should proceed, in their presence, in successive days, to be determined.

The Account of de Januario is an extremely accurate description of the second part of the Marconi Archive (“Papers of Giuseppe Marconi: Storage former Academy of Italy; box 37-49”).

The papers were subdivided into two groups: A and B. The first contained “Documents of interest for the Marconi Foundation”, the second “Documents relative to arguments that do not hold interest for the Marconi Foundation”.

In more details:

GROUP A

File 1 Letters, notes and other writings by Guglielmo Marconi, his report cards etc.
File 2 Letters by Guglielmo Marconi's family members with details regarding his life and his work up until 1903
File 3 Newspapers, magazines, various publications containing references to experiments conducted by Guglielmo Marconi
File 4 Letters by celebrities and various Institutions, from relatives and friends of Marconi's family
File 5 Expenses sustained by Giuseppe Marconi for his son's (Guglielmo) experiments and for his economic support in England between 1896-97 – Buying and selling of shares of the Marconi-Wireless Company – Documents that reveal some aspects of Marconi's civilian and private life as well as his character
File 6 Facts relative to Villa Griffone
File 7 Photographs of Guglielmo Marconi and other family members

GROUP B

Administrative and accounting of the domestic and agricultural companies

Legal certificates
Correspondence from various time periods
Newspapers, magazines, train schedules, shipping lines, company addresses, publications
Photographs
Various

With this very detailed Account, that contains the document summary for the most part of the papers, the documentation ends.

All of that Marconian documentation, at the time property of the Marconi Foundation, was never returned, and remained for nearly fifty years in the basement of the Academy of Italy, until Paoloni's discovery in 1993.

 

Marconi Archives at Oxford

While the main Italian Marconian archive is the one at the Lincean Academy, without a doubt the most important archival body regarding Marconi and his work, even in terms of quantity, is the one preserved at Oxford, in the Bodleian Library of the prestigious English University.

In December 2004, after months of intimations of a possible fatal dispersion, the Marconi Corporation plc donated the archive to Oxford University.

In 2008 the impressive archive was inventoried and put online, for the delight of all researchers. In reality not only was the archive donated but the entire “Marconi Collection”, which included a considerable number of objects, now in the Museum of the History of Science at the same University.

In addition, the Bodleian Library contextually acquired an important website - www.marconicalling.co.uk created in 2001 – in which a part of the documents had been digitized: a digital archive that selects a part of the Marconi Collection (and makes it available in digital format) and focuses on the first 50 years of wireless, from 1896 to 1946. This covers an important section representative of the first equipments and experiments and contains a vast collection of documents, about 700 photographs and 500 pieces of “ephemera”.

The impressive Marconi Archives, that include over 4400 archival units, encompass documentation beginning from Marconi's arrival in England (1896) to the end of the next century. The most “Marconian” of the series are only three, but they are extremely dense (alone they represent about half of the entire archive, while for a complete view of the inventory it is best to consult the website of the Bodleian Library).

As noted in the inventory, the Marconi Archives include archives pertaining to the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company Ltd., the Marconi International Marine Communication Company Ltd., the English Electric Company Ltd., the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company Ltd., the British Thomson-Houston Company Ltd., the Associated Electrical Industries Ltd., the General Electric Company plc and other associated companies; together with personal papers of Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), “electrical engineer”, and Hugo Hirst (1863-1943), business man.

 

 

   


John A. Flemingfleming

Marconi had a large-scale vision and great faith in the future world of the radio since the first years of its invention. With that vision, he wielded an immense suggestive power infusing great enthusiasm in his collaborators, who not once doubted the ultimate success of their teacher.



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