More Telephones

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A pair of old telephones


 These look like "intercom" type phones and appear to date from 1910 to 1920.

Each has a call button and an electric bell.

Were they something to do with the railways? The chap I got them from thought they had been retrieved from a railway hut. Did a signal box have a phone to the next box up-line and another down-line? Ex-BR people say they don't ever recall this type of phone being used and I believe this to be true as they are a little flimsy for heavy usage, and also the fact that they are devoid of any manufacturer's marks, does not seem right for a public utility.

Each has the letter "A" on the upper surface of the base and "12B" on the underside. Serial numbers are "84218" and "84222" so they are obviously closely related.


 I read that hardly any phones were used in the UK for intercom purposes, compared with the continent and the USA. The reason that was offered was that it had been assumed by the general public that one had to pay huge royalties to Edison (the inventor) just as in the case of wireless sets to Marconi. When this turned out to be untrue many phones were imported into the UK. No doubt many were used to replace the old-fashioned bells and electrically operated shutters employed in large houses between the entertaining rooms and servants quarters?

Darren Kitson, who has a keen interest in telephones has supplied some info... he tells me that these things were known as "CBS" telephones and were around from 1900 up to the advent of dial telephones which first appeared in 1912 (although not in general useage until the 1920s).

CBS phones were manufactured by a variety of companies but those from the Western Electric Company (later part of STC) were the most widely found. The Post office introduced their own version of the phone and these came to be known as the 'Type 20' series with the 'Type 26' being the most common variant.

Beyond that the history of these instruments is rather complex and centres around the available technology of the time. Generally speaking there were three types of telephone; the magneto, the LBS and the CBS. These initials standing for 'Local Battery Signalling' and 'Central Battery Signalling'.

The local types carried, or were connected to, their own battery and had only enough power to operate a small system of two or three telephones.

The Central types were connected to an exchange where the battery was located and it was this battery which the operator would use to make the distant telephone's bell ring. However, a further complication arose with these CBS telephones in that the transmitter and receiver still needed power, plus a means was also required to alert the operator to the fact that the user wished to make a call via the exchange. As a consequence, CBS telephones also had their own battery to operate the transmitter and receiver functions, as well as alert the operator. This battery, or accumulator, normally sat inside a wooden case which could either be desk mounted or wall mounted. The telephone itself sat on top of this wooden case. In such cases the operator could be alerted by either a bell, a buzzer, or - curious as it seems today - a semaphore flag operated by a solenoid.

Some of these telephones (like those shown above) had an integral bell whereas others had a seperate bell set. The local battery on both LBS and CBS types was largely superseded by the magneto which, curiously, predated them. The magneto apparatus had the advantage that it could operate over longer distances although this was generally at the mercy of the power supply at the exchange.

Because battery power has its limitations, this was the big drawback with LBS and CBS type telephones in that transmission could only be achieved over very short distances therefore this type of telephone was confined to small systems of an internal nature and not as part of the national network - such as it was at that time. Therefore typical uses would have been large houses, country estates, office and factory internal networks and the military.

Because of battery technology being not able to cope with the distances involved these types of telephone were not used by the railways with regard to signalbox communications. There is no reason why the railway companies did not use these telephones within office internal systems, but that's the only use the railways would have made of them.

Prior to the arrival of telephone equipment able to operate over distances, the railways made use of the Morse telegraph. In a few, but rapidly diminishing, locations on the railway network the telegraph system is still in use for coded bell signals between signalboxes.

What remains to be solved is who made them and how old they are. Regarding age, they are between 80 and 100 years old but without being able to match the serial numbers with any surviving manufacturers' records we will probably never know.
Many such telephones were manufactured by the Western Electric Company, among others. In later years many came under the jurisdiction of the erstwhile "National Telephone Company" and the local corporations.

In time these came under the jurisdiction of the GPO who repainted all such telephones, usually gloss black, to obliterate the markings of previous ownership and some telephones of the GPO and those of the early days of BT had an unmistakeable identification code underneath the baseplate. However, in the early GPO years the telephones manufactured for the GPO plus those inherited from other companies usually had a small ID number stamped into one of the metallic parts of the handset. With those telephones which had their transfers painted over by the GPO, it is not always possible to see traces of such beneath the paint because many examples were completely refurbished at some stage during their lives.

Some early telephones had spare terminals inside the telephone carrying combinations of the letters B, C and E, among others. This indicates the telephone was manufactured with an exchange connection in mind.

So summarising....Darren's opinion is that it is most likely that my pair spent their entire working lives on an internal or private system.

I wonder where?


Two Type "L" telephones dating from the 50s










World War I Field Telephone

(at least the only bit the Albert Museum had for sale)

 This is a German Telephone Battery Box with the inscription - something like "F.Mauthe Gmbh, Schalmingen" on the inside lip of the box.


 I wasn't sure what this was exactly until I went to the Imperial War Museum in June 2001 when I spotted one of these, looking complete, in a display cabinet.

It's a "Feldsendersprecher"..or something like that because I didn't make a note!

It was used for trench telephone communications and had a large speaker about 4 inches across carrying various sockets and patchfields connected to the end opposite the terminals and a second box which held the telephone handset. It could work over a range of 250 to 500 metres and it included a morse code attachment.

Telephone communication in WWI was fraught with danger as the Germans were able to use a high gain 4-valve amplifier to increase minute British signals carried in the ground return path and thus eavesdrop on what was going on. The benefits of SIGINT as it is now known are only realisable though if having got the information you can actually make use of it, and in doing so do not necessarily reveal that you knew anything you shouldn't.


 For more pictures of this box click the picture above

See yet more telephones