These look like "intercom"
type phones and appear to date from 1910 to 1920.
Each has a call button and an
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
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
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
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
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?