Ericsson made Ericofon 700 - new style Plug and Socket version

L.M. Ericsson Ericofon

Nicknamed the Cobra phone

This telephone is included in the BPO/BT section since it was adopted into the Post Office’s ‘Special Range’ of designer telephones around 1980 (it is shown in PH2788AA dated May 1980 but not in PH2708 of August 1979). That said, the vast majority of Ericofons likely to be encountered by collectors will have reached the country by other routes.

The design is unique - a one-piece telephone that stands upright on its base, with a dial or keypad concealed in the base. Two models were offered in Britain, the 600 with a dial and the 700 with push buttons. Although new in 1980 to most British telephone users, the Ericofon had a much longer history in its home country, Sweden, and indeed in the USA. The Ericofon was launched in 1956 (or 1954 - reports vary) and according to the manufacturer   was immediately successful. “Demand grew rapidly. The major export markets were the US, Italy, Australia, Brazil and Switzerland. About 20 percent of output was reserved for the Swedish market. In addition to being compact, the Ericofon weighed less than the receiver of a conventional desk telephone of the time. It is easy to see why the Museum of Modern Art in New York selected the Ericofon as one of the best designs of the 20th century.”

That’s the official version from Ericsson, although others would qualify its success. Certainly, as Bruce Crawford points out, the Ericofon kick-started the ‘designer’ telephone market and was directly responsible for the design and introduction of the Bell System's 'Trimline®'  and other dial-in-handset telephones. He continues:-

Introduced in 1954 as a business telephone for 'in-house’ (PAX) systems, the original Ericofon was slightly less curved than later production, (which same is superbly illustrated in Kate Dooner's Seven Decades of Design, pages 51 and 52).

The spelling of Ericofon was varied in North America, and included variations such as 'Ericafone', or more simply, 'Erica'. However, Ericofon was (and is) the registered trade name. Sales were relatively flat (and, in fact, remained so over the life of the product). It was not originally intended that the product be connected with public administrations (at least, not in North America). The talking circuit was designed for 24-volt working (standard PAX voltage) and included a simple anti-side-tone 'network'. A complicated dial mechanism included the 'hookswitch' in the centre (where we are used to seeing the number card); and a buzzer and capacitor were part of an oversize connecting block. The cord between the connecting block and the Erica itself was unique: the first 12" was a coil, and the balance was straight. Initial production had the cord covered with a nylon fabric, which soiled easily; later production was of ivory PVC.

Because the sets were intended for internal use, the dial was numbered 1-0, only. However, there was European demand for the set for residential use, and LME decided to spruce up the set to meet North American standards, to test the market on this side of the "pond". ABC, DEF, etc., was added to the dial as appropriate; and the external buzzer was replaced by an internal 'tweeter', the first such use of an electronic 'ringer'. The operating companies showed little interest, however. And the Bell System wasn't about to allow this "foreign attachment" to be connected to their plant! (Besides, they had just introduced their first decorator set, the Princess® and weren't interested in a product not manufactured by WECo.)

In an effort to stimulate sales, the set was introduced in some bold new colours, such as the red and green on page 52 of Kate's book. The real impetus, however, came from a hospital group. A major problem for a bedridden patient is reaching to dial a telephone; with the dial-in-handset, the phone came to the patient! However, the Bell System steadfastly refused to permit these telephones to be "interconnected".

Unfortunately for the Bell companies, they did not have any product available to do the job (and which, as noted in the opening paragraph, provided for the impetus to design a Bell System "dial-in-handset" telephone). The hospital association simply approached various public utility boards, and eventually the Bell System capitulated: The customer would provide and maintain the Ericofon; the monthly tariff, however, would remain the same  (great for the Bell; same monthly rental, no capital investment!).

There was considerable media interest in the hospital connections and sales to non-Bell companies increased. However, after the introduction of the Trimline, media interest waned, and sales tended to slump. Sales world-wide for the ten year period ending 1964 were 1,000,000, representing about $20,000,000.00. This was a 'drop in the bucket' for a company the size of Ericsson. LME has had a strange on again, off again, relationship with telephone customers in the USA and Canada (although they have had a consistent business dealings with the Mexican telephone administration). LME is very strong in Europe, of course, where it is principal supplier to many of the administrations. In one of their "off" phases, LME decided to withdraw from the USA, and sold the manufacturing rights to North Electric. This represented North's last attempt at telephone manufacturing (or, really, assembly, because the components were imported), and, in the late 1970s, they withdrew from this business. A telephone rebuilding company, CEAC (Communication Equipment and Contracting Co., Inc.) were at their peak at this time, and they envisioned a future market for the Ericofon, and purchased the "line" from North. CEAC changed the product code to a simple 52, and offered it with or without the tone ringer (which they called "Ericotone').

Prior to the sale to CEAC, LME and North attempted to collaborate on a Touch-Tone Erica, strictly for the North American market. It was impossible to produce the rugged rotary-dial with in-built hook-switch that was so successful in the original Erica. A 'horseshoe' ring surrounded the dial pad, and a quantity of the sets were manufactured and sold. They did not stand up well in service, however.

Unfortunately for the Ericofon, the North American consumer preferred the dial-in-handset styling of the Trim-line, Slenderette, Styline, or Contempra. The reason? First, of course, would be the mass-marketing of these phones by the Bell System, GTE, and independents in the 1960s. And, the North American designed dial-in-handsets were easier to use: the Ericofon, in effect, had to be turned 'upside-down' to dial it. CEAC discontinued production of the Ericofon in the early 1980s, and the company itself closed shortly thereafter.

Manufactured by: Thorn Ericsson (probably made from Swedish parts and assembled in Britain). The current reproductions sold by a company called General Dare are just that; they do not contain any parts of original Ericofons.

Colours:  (Model 600) ivory, orange; (Model 700) brown, green or white. The North American range comprised Aqua Mist Blue-green, Crystal Mint Green, Petal Pink, Sandalwood, Candle Glow Ivory, Mandarin Red, Sahara Beige, and Taj Mahal White.

Repair notes: the telephones were originally glued together, making disassembly for repair rather difficult. A common fault is failure of the earpiece, which is hard to reach. Desperate problems call for desperate measures and the solution, suggested by Malcolm Percival, is to pour boiling water over the case, which softens the glue.

Special Range Telephone Suffix's

See also TSR 1004 for more information

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Last revised: May 30, 2010