Widget Of The Week
15-Station Desk Intercom, 1940?
If anyone knows of a company where a Mr F
Kuehn, Mr Kewen, Mr Becmer and Mr Esdaile worked together, that had Stencil and
Counting House departments, a Garage and two offices or departments, simply
known as ‘D/M’ and ‘DMS’ please get in touch. It might just provide a lead to
the maker of the company’s intercom system and this odd looking phone. Web
searches of combinations of those very unusual names proved fruitless so it is
more likely that someone out there recognises this 15-station desk intercom, if
so please get in touch as the only thing I can be reasonably sure of is that
the handset is British made, by Ericsson; whether or not they made the rest of
it, and when it was made is all a bit of a mystery.
The fact that this phone has 15 buttons and the
names of the various departments suggests it once belonged to a medium to large
company and Mr Kewen’s position on the number one button might indicate he was
the boss. Maybe it was his secretary’s phone, who knows? Either way it’s a
pretty imposing instrument and the sort of thing that only company high-ups
would have had on their desks. The number of labelled buttons is also a fair
indication of the user’s status. It’s unlikely that dogsbodies and lickspittles
would need one to communicate with all those important sounding people. By the
way, here’s a little piece of historic tittle-tattle from that long forgotten
office. It seems that Mr Becmer took over from Mr Hooper, who’s name had been
hastily scratched out. Mr Esdaile was also a fairly recent addition to the
staff as his name is also written in by hand. Had I the time and inclination it
might be possible to tell who this phone’s user called most often, by examining
the wear on the contacts and buttons under a microscope, but maybe that’s
taking the story a bit too far…
Whoever made it didn’t skimp. The Ericsson
handset is a familiar item. It’s a hefty type 164 (GPO number), made of
Bakelite, used on generations of telephones made from the 1930s until the late
1960s. The base unit is housed in a sturdy metal case, supported by a pair of
detachable angled desk stands with four rubber feet. However, it’s clear where
the money was spent, inside the case. The elaborate switchgear and buzzer are
fine examples of early to mid-twentieth century precision engineering but it’s
the beautifully crafted -- and I use the word advisedly – wiring loom that
steals the show. The skills required to make a bundle of 30 wires look that
elegant and the neat and tidy wiring are sadly lost arts.
This desk intercom has been in my mish-mash of
a telephone collection for at least 25 years. I have no recollection of where
it came from and how much I paid for it but at the time I rarely paid more than
a couple of pounds for these things. The condition is fair to good, showing the
inevitable signs of wear and tear.
There are a few light scratches and paint chips on the case but the
innards look as though they were made yesterday. Such was the quality of
manufacture, and the reliability of the major components that I have no doubt
whatsoever that it still works. However, apart from some basic checks on the
earpiece (receiver) and microphone (transmitter), without access to another
phone like this, or the equipment it used to be connected to, there is no easy
way to properly test it.
What Happened To It?
Everything about the design and styling points
towards it being made somewhere between the late 30s to mid 50s but there are
no obvious maker’s marks, apart from Ericsson embossed on the underside of the
handset handle. There’s what may be a model or serial number printed on the
inside of the back plate. For the record it’s ‘N 1622 A’, and there’s a couple
of square boxes, which look a lot like quality control stamps, on the chassis that
read ‘Test 6 Room’ and ‘Test 23 Room’; make of that what you will.
In the wider world of vintage multi-station
office intercoms the basic design doesn’t seem to have changed very much until
the late 50s. By that time intercoms with banks of individual push-buttons were
being replaced by more familiar looking phones with rotary dials. Part of the
reason for that is larger businesses and organisations were increasingly using
PABX (Private Automatic Branch Exchange) systems, which meant tidier desks as a
single instrument could be used for making both internal and external calls.
Vintage phone collectors, and it’s quite a big
thing, especially in the US, are natural magpies and many of them also seek out
oddball designs like office phones and intercoms. Not knowing the name of the
manufacturer makes putting a value on this one quite difficult but I am
reasonably sure it would fetch upwards of £25.00 or so on ebay, possibly more
with a more detailed provenance. Some models, like wooden-boxed Dictographs can
fetch twice as much and there are probably even more sought after models out
there but either way, don’t pass up the chance if you spot one like this at a
car boot sale going for a fiver or so. Providing they haven’t been too badly
treated they’ll generally clean up quite well, and even if the only thing worth
salvaging is the handset -- especially if it’s one like this and in good
condition -- as it still has a value – between £10 and £20 – to collectors and
restorers for spare parts.
First Seen: 1940?
Original Price: £?
Value Today: £25? (1218)
self-latching station selector keys, call buzzer, handset cradle, magnetic
earpiece, carbon microphone, cotton covered braid cable
220 x 155 x 170mm
Made (assembled) in: Britain?
Hen's Teeth (10 rarest) 7