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The Strange Appearance of the COLLIER MARR


by Jim Bateman

The Collier receiver, which is well explained in a number of early texts and also in the January 1994 issue of the ATCS newsletter, was invented in Australia by Mr. A. T. Collier of Sydney some time in the very early 1890's or perhaps a little earlier. It is certainly in Poole's 1891 first edition. The invention seems to have sold overseas quite early because its name is synonymous with that of Marr's transmitter. Indeed we know the common howler on the Railway Phonopores as the Collier Marr receiver.

The Collier Marr company was based in Manchester (UK) and we are told the Collier receiver was popular for a short time after which demand collapsed. This was probably because the difficulties between the Bell and Edison camps were resolved or the end of patents meant that the Bell receiver became almost universally adopted. The surplus Collier Marr receivers were shipped off to lucky countries like Australia, sort of the parable of the prodigal's return.

And we had a use for them in Australia especially with the railways who refused to update when the telephone came along rather continuing to use telegraph infrastructure and technology. The Collier Marr receiver was, according to trials, which were held at the time, far superior in sound and lack of interference to either the Bell or Ader equivalents. What went against it perhaps was its peculiar shape; it never became, in the ergonomic sense, user friendly. Sad that its use in Australia was as a signalling device (because bells wouldn't work on telegraph lines).

It is worth mentioning here that there were several versions, but the one illustrated is the standard receiver. Not many Collier Marr telephones have survived, in fact I knew of none. But recently, on a farm in the midlands (Tasmania), two complete telephones came to light. The one depicted in the pictures has simply been cleaned but not restored in any way. The pair laid unused since they were sent to Australia from the supplier in the early 1890's.



Collier Marr obviously used a British Western Electric top box carcass, which included generator, bell motor and switch. The back board and battery box were different from the standard BWE and are probably some Manchester equivalent. Why would they hang the receiver from a pitchfork type hook instead of one made especially for the phone? I don't know - the pair of phones are both the same. A very similar set up was used for a Hunningscone twin box I have seen but it has a special switch hook for a spoon receiver. The Hunningscone also used a BWE top box with generator and bell motor, but they had fitted their own transmitter, receiver and hook. Both the Hunningscone and the Collier Marr have different non-BWE lightning arresters. The wooden cabinet in both cases is standard BWE.

The transmitter on this phone is a Marr (a variation of Hunningscone) as depicted in AHTS Newsletter No. 143 of September 1989. It tells us the transmitter was particularly effective for long distances. The same could be said of the Collier receiver. Perhaps the demise of this receiver in the UK saw them sent to Australia in large numbers and, with our extensive rail mileage, howlers were seen as an ideal use for them. Please note the picture of the receiver has a well-marked cap where the trumpet of the howler normally goes. Some of the howlers on Phonopores fit this shaved pattern, ie. not completely round but with one slightly flattened surface where the cap could have been. Others, later models I suspect, are completely round and have different markings. The internals are the same. Note the slotted apertures, which give access to the diaphragm as with the familiar howler.

Jim Bateman



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