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Porn and the Telephone


by Bob Estreich


Poor Lydia!



She is so poor she can't afford any clothes. This is probably because she has just paid her phone bill so she can keep that lovely S.I.T. phone that she is talking on. The one with the rare monophone handset. You ARE looking at the telephone, aren't you? It could also be a Berliner or a Grammont, but it would be necessary to study the photo very closely to correctly identify it. This could take a long time, with luck.

This is a typical example of a saucy French postcard from the late 1800s. The telephone was quickly adopted as an artistic prop, and the postcards are valuable in that they show many rare early phones (and, of course, quite a lot of Lydia).

The British, by contrast, never did get around to using sex appeal to sell the telephone. Take the card from the National Telephone Company of Britain from the early 1900s (at left). On the whole, the phone is the most interesting part of the picture. Stop looking at Lydia, you're supposed to be looking at the round-top Ericsson wall phone.

The British, of course, did not indulge in such suggestive things. Perhaps it is because British phones are, on the whole, rather boring? A postcard of a lightly-clad young lady was simply to suggest that the best time to make a phone call was just before bedtime, when the telephone system was at its lowest load. It had nothing to do with titillation (it doesn't mean what you think stop sniggering and look it up).

She was simply advertising the use of the telephone to keep in touch at such times as birthdays. And displaying a lovely example of a British candlestick phone, an early CB version with a solid back transmitter (at right and below left). You did notice that, didn't you?

Strangely, in Britain the telephone postcard concept continues, but with a revised meaning. Many British public telephone boxes are adorned with postcards featuring "Naughty Noreen Gives French Lessons " or similar. So I'm told. Alas, French lessons don't pay very well. Like Lydia, the young teachers can't afford much clothing. These cards are apparently becoming a collectable in their own right.

In Massachussetts the postcards wouldn't have got past the wowsers, who banned "wicked, profane, impure, filthy and obscene material" as far back as 1711. They probably didn't have telephone postcards in mind at this time, however, since the phone had not yet been invented. In 1815 their Supreme Court ruled that merchants could not show naked people for profit. I guess we know one place where Lydia won't be getting work.

In 1873 the United States Congress passed a general anti-obscenity law (without actually defining what obscenity was) which was obviously pre-empting Bell's nearly-invented telephone and the flood of obscene postcards that it would undoubtedly have spawned. The thought of Lydia fondling a triple-box Blake was probably on their minds at the time. In spite of this, the U.S. did manage to invent that curious aberration, the phone sex line. Their postcards, however, remained chaste to the point of being boring. Which allows us to concentrate on the No. 20 Western Electric candlestick, with its solid back transmitter.

These advertising postcards have just about disappeared, now. With cheaper printing the colour brochure has replaced them, and you can fit more phone pictures into a brochure.

Sorry, Lydia.



Postscript

The following was received by email from our Correspondent in Wales....


Well what can I say?

Just a little comment re "the National Telephone Company" postcard on Page 13 (bottom) in the newsletter (and shown in the above article, bottom right).

This postcard is not from the National Telephone Company. The Telephones are from one of the few Municipal Telephone systems that existed in the UK. The telephones are in fact from the Portsmouth Corporation system - here are two more in the series of postcards (left and right).

The Portsmouth Corporation's crest is quite clear on the front of the telephones. It is based on their Coat of Arms and can be

found on the Corporations website....... http://www.portsmouth.gov.uk/yourcouncil/1090.html.

The reverse of one of the above postcards is also of interest - on the front of the one on the left is printed "There you are - He's a fraud - Didn't I tell you so"! The reverse is hand written "You are a young flirt. Poor Eadie is a bit upset about it. From a friend". What was Fred Morris up to? Postmarked 1st April 1907!

Portsmouth Corporation's telephone system lasted until it was sold to the General Post Office Telephone Department in 1913 - the last municipal system (except for Hull which remained independent).

Regards.

Ian Jolly
North Wales



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