TELEPHONE No. 1 - A discussion

The Mystery Phone - BPO Telephone No. 1 by Bob Estreich

These attractive wall phones are known to British and Australian collectors, but rarely seen. They have always been regarded as an Ericsson product, because they look like Ericsson and are often fitted with an LME handset or cradle. BUT...... there is no record of Ericssons ever having made them. Even their "First 100 Years" poster doesn't show this one.  Swedish collector Ove Svensson is certain that it wasn't a European model. So who else could have made it?

An appeal for information in the Newsletter brought some interesting results. Laurence Rudolf in Britain supplied photos of  seven phones, including  his own. The illustration in Andrew Emerson's book  "Old Telephones" provided another one. Bob Freshwater's CD on British phones supplied details of the British Post Office Models 79 and 81 and  Jim Bateman's book "History of the Telephone in NSW" has a photo of another which I assume is in a local collection. The first point of notice is how rare these phones really are, especially in private hands. The second point is that BPO Tel No. 1 is not one phone, but three different models. The small sample available is not much to draw conclusions from, but it's all we have for a starting point.

The phones were used by the National Telephone Company as their Telephone No. 15 and some still exist with National  markings. They seem to have been National's standard CB wall phone, bought somewhere between 1881 when National started operations and 1898 when they adopted standard Ericsson models. On the take over of National in 1912 the BPO took the phones into their inventory as their Tele No. 1, apparently with no regard for the range of models. From the pictures, there are now five main types. These are:

  1. Short model, with LME(?) handset and cradle (without teardrops) - 2 examples known (Bateman, Hull Telephone Corp)
  2. Longer model, pulpit transmitter and bell receiver, simpler "scooped" base with no bottom terminals.  May have old style transmitter  mount. Two known, Hull Telephone Corp (this one has a dial added to the side); Science Museum London
  3. Longest model, pulpit transmitter  & bell receiver, row of terminals along scalloped bottom. Earlier model with terminals across the top. Three known - British Telecom Museum, London; Science Museum London; A. Emmerson
  4. BPO Tel No 79, based on Type 2. Later reissue. Only drawings and circuit diagrams known.
  5. BPO Tel No 81. Magneto version of Type 4. Later reissue. 2 known to Laurence Rudolf; BT Museum Oxford

Jim Bateman's book shows a Type 1 with what looks like LME cradle, handset, and bells. The transmitter, however, doesn't have the LME dome-shape and its supporting mounting is tubular rather than the slightly bulged LME one. It is also thicker than an Ericsson. In fact, it looks more like an early Western Electric transmitter. The phone appears to be fairly original, carrying a National Telephone Company label. From pictures available, National did use some early phones from other makers, including Western Electric.

Andrew Emerson's "Old Telephones" shows a Type 3 in what must surely be its original form. With its little wooden "chesspiece" on top, rosettes around the screw holes, and ornate woodwork , it certainly looks like a  very early Ericsson. The solid back transmitter however has a thin step machined into the rim of the faceplate, and looks more like a British Western Electric. The receiver is a short outside terminal model on a spur switchhook, styles not used by Ericsson but common in the U.S. Chuck Eby in the United States says he hasn't seen these phones over there, though.  WE's early European phones differed widely from the U.S. models, however, because they were competing against established local styles which were more ornate than the U.S. models. The cradle on some of their early phones is either Ericsson or a good copy.  I checked in Ron Knappen's book "Old Telephones", which has a good coverage of their early  phones, and there it is on page 37, Western Electric, 1904. I assume this means the 1904 catalogue.

Peel Conner's early catalogues show that they were using Ericsson phones and parts, as were many other companies. Their model K8160 (1912 catalogue) is almost identical to the short model we are seeking, except for the lightning arrester.   This catalogue also shows a large number of parts similar to WE designs.

Back now to Jim Bateman's book. On page 44 he shows a WE phone that  looks precisely like a Type 1, but with the later standard rectangular Western Electric-type mount, gooseneck, and transmitter. These were adopted by the BPO as standard fittings, and manufactured by many companies. The phone would appear to be a later or refurbished model, but in most other ways it is identical to the Type 1. If this is not a U.S. phone, according to Chuck Eby, then it is possibly an updated  Peel Conner.

The British Post Office standardised on  a simpler CB wall phone, derived from  a WE model. It was about the same size as Type 1, but with a plain, squared off,  top. They also listed this as the Telephone No. 1. This suggests that it may have been just an update of the earlier model, rather than a new model from a different supplier. The simpler model was built by Ericsson (their model N1460), Peel Conner / GEC (Model KS140) ,  Sterling (Model U702), and possibly others.

The ornate phones appear to have been retired from service, but in 1917 and 1922 (from the dates on the circuit diagrams) some were refurbished and reissued by the BPO for internal use. This may have been a wartime emergency measure. There were two new model numbers: Telephone No. 79, Type 4, was a CB model  used as a "Special Fire Telephone for CB Exchanges".  Telephone No. 81 , Type 5, was a magneto equivalent. The exchange referred to was the Fire Station switchboard, not the BPO one. The connections show that it was connected directly to the Fire Station, not through the exchange. Only Type 2 and Type 3 are known to have been converted to these models. Some, such as Laurence Rudolf's, have been updated with the inset transmitter

On the information currently available, it appears that the short model, Type 1, may be Peel Conner.  For confirmation, I am seeking an earlier Peel Conner catalogue that  may show this style.

The long style, Type 3, is Western Electric, in spite of Ericsson parts which may have crept in.

The Type 2 model is still unidentified.  It could  be Ericsson or another unknown WE model. Both companies built custom models for some administrations although these were usually based on one of their standard models. This part of the mystery remains.


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Last revised: November 05, 2022