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BRITISH ERICSSON WALL TELEPHONES


by Bob Estreich

Towards the end of the 19th century, L M Ericssons were one of the leaders in the rapidly growing telephone industry. With the Scandinavian market approaching saturation it was necessary to branch out into other areas. Britain was particularly attractive because of their rapid growth and colonial interests. Their colonies which relied on the mother country for technology. Britain's telephone system was growing in a similar style to that of Sweden. Individual towns and cities were setting up their own exchanges and systems, and the hardware was being supplied by a range of small companies who were still developing their expertise. Ericssons , through their London agents, were supplying telephone parts to the National Telephone Company. Some National phones of the time are almost exact Ericsson copies, which causes confusion among collectors.

The Swedish factory was having trouble supplying enough parts to keep up with the demand. With an eye to the future, LME decided to set up a factory in Britain and to establish it as a joint venture with National . This gave the joint company a British flavour which stood it well in the future. The factory mass-produced telephones and components, switchboards, and even racecourse totalizers.

The phone is based on the Swedish-built model AB232. This model had a side-mounted handset, but the British-built models had separate transmitter and receiver. This is unusual for Ericssons, who had been producing handsets on their phones since the 1890s. It was made necessary by the National Telephone Company, who were supplying Western Electric switchboards to the British Post Office. Their Chief Engineer maintained that Ericsson phones would not work correctly with the WE boards. Ericsson's response was to produce phones with the White solid-back transmitter made under license from WE. Drawings of the model show it with a gooseneck transmitter arm and bells mounted on top of the case. This gives it a rather American flavour. The Beeston factory soon became the main supplier to the U.K. and the British Empire. When the telephone companies were consolidated under the British Post Office, it assigned contracts to the existing manufacturers for standardised telephone equipment . Beeston received nearly twenty percent of the contracts, far more than any other company obtained.

The Australian Post Office was in the market for a standard magneto wall phone, and they selected the Ericcson model. It was introduced in 1916 and only had minor variations through its life. The case is a plain oak box, 240mmm X 400mm X 150mm deep. The backboard has no outside screwholes or terminals. A pair of bells is mounted at the top of the front panel rather than on top of the case, and a writing slope is at the bottom. Timber is "matt polished oak" which appears to be a cellulose lacquer finish.

Transmitters came in three models. The first was the small brass "barrel" transmitter on a short swivel mount (PMG type 35MW, 1916). This was soon upgraded to the bigger solid back transmitter (PMG type 135MW, Ericsson model N2500). These were later replaced with the bakelite insert transmitter on a simpler stamped and folded metal mount. On PMG conversions, a 300-series handset was fitted on a modified switchhook at the side. This meant that the transmitter holes on the front panel had to be covered with a "How to Use" notice.

Some of the last models have a circular wooden plug just above the writing slope, filling a hole for a dial (PMG type 765AW). There do not appear to have been many converted to dial operation. These last models seem to have been mainly finished in dark varnish. This was to be prone to cracking and flaking, and a good original finish is uncommon.

The receiver was a simple brass tapered shape with a screw-on bakelite cap. Most were a "copper bronze" finish, but later renovations used black enamel. They were not issued in raw brass finish because of corrosion problems. The finish on the other metalwork was also copper bronze. Earlier models may still be found with the remains of an "Ericsson-England" transfer mounted under the transmitter, but this seemed to be pretty vulnerable to wear. The later refurbished models usually have a brass PMG plaque or decal.

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Similar styled phones have been noted from US makers, and from Sterling in the UK. The US phones usually differ in size, being a few centimetres taller, but the Sterling is a very close copy. Its main difference is in the shape of the corners, and its electrical fittings. The door has more squared-off corners than the Ericsson, and the sides are 118mm deep against the Ericsson's 113mm. The generator is a 3-bar model with cast end plates. For further details, see ATCS Newsletter January 1998.

British Ericsson phones were of a simple construction, reflecting the styles of the times. They lacked the ornate, sometimes flamboyant European styling. They were, however, solid and reliable. An Ericsson catalogue sets their place in the market by stating "These instruments, although cheaper and not so elaborate ... as the AB230 or AB535 types, are thoroughly reliable and efficient in service". The numbers that have survived are proof of this.





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