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The letterbook series for the years 1879-1886 comprises forty-one volumes. The books are divided into two sets: (1) General Letterbooks; and (2) Miscellaneous Letterbooks.
General Letterbooks. The twenty volumes in this set contain tissue copies of Edison's personal and business correspondence during the period November 1878-February 1887. Although there are occasional letters in Edison's hand, most of the material is in the hand of Edison's various secretaries. The books relate primarily to electric lighting, but they also include material about other inventions such as the electric pen, the electric railroad, the phonograph, the phonoplex, and the telephone.
Miscellaneous Letterbooks. These twenty-one volumes do not fall within the main run of letterbooks. Included in this set are two letterbooks containing copies of cable messages. The cables relate primarily to foreign electric light orders and to the telephone business in Great Britain. Two other letterbooks contain personal and business correspondence by Samuel Insull, Edison's personal secretary. Most of the remaining letterbooks contain correspondence and other documents relating to the business of the Edison Ore Milling Co., Ltd. (one volume); the Edison Shafting Manufacturing Co. (six volumes); and the Thomas A. Edison Construction Department (eight volumes). In addition, there are two letterbooks pertaining to the development and promotion of Edison's system of phonoplex telegraphy and telephony. Selections have been reproduced from all of the books with the exception of the Shafting Manufacturing Co. books, which contain only routine correspondence relating to orders.
The following categories of documents have not been selected: routine letters of transmittal or acknowledgment; routine correspondence concerning the ordering and shipping of materials; routine letters about financial transactions; routine responses to individuals seeking employment, requesting advice, or offering advice; routine answers to other unsolicited inquiries; routine letters of instruction to canvassers or suppliers (in the Thomas A. Edison Construction Department letterbooks); and routine correspondence concerning orders for, and the installation of, Edison's phonoplex.
Finally, some letters were not selected because they are illegible. Although every technical effort has been made to ensure the legibility of the documents in this edition, some of these materials may be difficult to read because of spreading, smeared, or faint ink; bleedthrough; and severely wrinkled or torn pages.
Tissue copies of outgoing correspondence can also be found in the "Edison, T.A. - Outgoing Correspondence" folders for 1883 and 1884 (Document File Series) and in the Charles Batchelor letterbooks (Special Collections Series).