TELEPHONE No. 1 - A discussion
|The Mystery Phone – BPO Tel 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 Emmerson’s book
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:
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 Emmerson’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 – 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
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 – Tele No. 79, Type 4, was a CB model used
as a “Special Fire Telephone for CB Exchanges”. Tele 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
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.
Last revised: November 28, 2020