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Accoson Sphygmomanometer

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Aiwa LX-110 Linear Turntable

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Alcatel Minitel 1 Videotex

Aldis Folding Slide Viewer

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Airlite 71 Aviation Headset

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Amerex Alpha One Spycorder

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AN/PRC-6 Walkie Talkie

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Astatic D-104 Desk Microphone

Atari 2600 Video Game

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Avia Electronic Watch

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AVO Model 8 Multimeter

Bambino Challenger Radio

Bandai Solar LCD Game

Baygen Freeplay Lantern

Bellwood, Bond Spycorder

Benkson 79 Mini Tape Recorder

Betacom BF1 Pianotel Phone

Betacom CP/6 Ferrari Phone

Binatone Digivox Alarm

Binatone Long Ranger 6 CB

Binatone Mk6 Video Game

Binotone Radio Binoculars

Bio Activity Translator

Biri-1 Radiation Monitor

Bolex Paillard 155 Cine Camera

Bowmar LED Digital Watch

Boots CRTV-50 TV,Tape, Radio

Brydex Ever Ready Lighter

BSB Squarial

BT Genie Phone

BT Linesmans Phone 282A

BT Rhapsody Leather Phone

Cambridge Z88 Computer

Candlestick Telephone

Canon Ion RC-260 Camera

Cartex TX-160 Multiband Radio

Casio VL-Tone Keyboard

CD V-700 Geiger Counter

CD V-715 Survey Meter

CDV-717 Survey Meter

CD V-742 Pen Dosimeter

Central C-7980EN Multimeter

Channel Master 6546

Chinon 722-P Super 8 ciné

Citizen Soundwich Radio Watch

Citizen ST555 Pocket TV

Clairtone Mini Hi Fi Radio

CocaCola Keychain Camera

Coke Bottle AM Radio

Commodore 64 Home PC

Commodore PET 2001-N

Computer Novelty AM/FM Radio

Compact Marine SX-25

Concord F20 Sound Camera

Coomber 2241-7 CD Cassette

Craig 212 Tape Recorder

Craig TR-408 tape recorder

Dansette Richmond Radio

Daiya TV-X Junior  Viewer

Dancing Coke Can

Dawe Transistor Stroboflash

Decca RP 205 Record Player

Decimo Vatman 120D Calc

Diamond Rio Media Player

Dictograph Desk Phone

Direct Line Phones x2

Dokorder PR-4K Mini Tape

DP-66M Geiger Counter

Eagle Ti.206 Intercom

Eagle T1-206 Intercom

Eagle International Loudhailer

Electrolysis Cell

Electron 52D Spycorder

Electronicraft Project Kit

Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart Radio

EMS Stammering Oscillator

Ericsson Ericofon Cobra Phone

Etalon Luxor Light Meter

Euromarine Radiofix Mk 5

Exactus Mini Add Calculator

Fairylight Morse Set

FEP Microphone & Earphone

Ferguson FC08 Camcorder

Ferguson FHSC 1 Door Cam

Fi-Cord 101 Tape Recorder

Fi-Cord 202 Tape Recorder

Fidelity HF42 Record Player

Fisher-Price 826 Cassette

Fleetwood Globe AM Radio

Franklin LF-390 Guitar Radio

Gaertner Pioneer Geiger Counter

Garmin GPS III Pilot Satnav

GE 3-5805 AM CB Radio

GE 3-5908 Help CB Radio

GEC Transistomatic

GEC Voltmeter

General Radiological NE 029-02

Giant Light Bulbs

Giant Watch-Shaped  Radio

Gowlland Auriscope

GPO Headset No. 1

GPO Keysender No 5

GPO RAF Microphone No. 3

GPO Telephone Series 300

GPO Telephone Type 746

GPO 12B/1 Test Meter

GPO Trimphone

GPO Ring Microphone No 2

Gramdeck Tape Recorder

Grandstand Video Console

Grundig EN3 Dictation

Grundig Memorette

H&G Crystal Radio

Hacker Radio Hunter RP38A

Hacker Radio Mini Herald

Hanimex Disc Camera

Harvard Batalion Radio

Heathkit GR-70 Multiband Radio

Henica H-138 Radio Lighter

Hero HP-101 Intercom

Hitachi MP-EG-1A Camcorder

Hitachi WH-638 Radio

Hitachi VM-C1 Camcorder

HMV 2210 Tape Recorder

Homer KT-505 Phone Amplifier

Homey HR-408 Recorder

Horstmann Pluslite Task Lamp

Ianero Polaris Spotlight

Ingersoll XK505 TV, Radio

International HP-1000 Radio

Internet Radio S-11

Ivalek De Luxe Crystal Radio

James Bond TV Watch

Jasa AM Wristwatch Radio

Juliette LT-44 Tape Recorder

Jupiter FC60 Radio

JVC GR-C1 Camcorder

JVC GX-N7E Video Camera

JVC HR-C3 VHS-C VCR

JVC HR-3300 VHS VCR

King Folding Binoculars

Kodak Brownie Starflash

Kodak 56X Instamatic

Kodak 100 Instamatic

Kodak Disc 6000

Kodak EK2 'The Handle'

Kodak EK160 Instant Camera

Kodak Pony 135

Kvarts DRSB-01 Dosimeter

Kvarts DRSB-88 Dosimeter

Kvarts DRSB-90 Geiger Count

Kyoto S600 8-Track Player

La Pavoni Espresso Machine

Macarthys Surgical AM Radio

Magnetic Core Memory 4kb

Maplin YU-13 Video Stabilizer

Marlboro Giant  AM Radio

Mattel Intellivision

Maxcom Cordless Phone

McArthur Microscope OU

Memo Call Tape Recorder

Micronta 22-195A Multimeter

Micronta 3001 Metal Detector

Micronta S-100 Signal Injector

Microphax Case II Fiche

Midland 12-204 Tape Rccorder

Mini Com Walkie Talkies

Minifon Attaché Tape Recorder

Minolta 10P 16mm Camera

Minolta-16 II Sub Min Camera

Minolta XG-SE 35mm SLR

Minolta Weathermatic-A

Minox B Spy Camera

Mohawk Chief Tape Recorder

Motorola 5000X Bag Phone

Motorola 8500X ‘Brick’

Motorola Micro TAC Classic

MPMan MP-F20 MP3 Player

Music Man Talking Radio

Mystery Microphone

Nagra SN Tape Recorder

National Hyper BII Flashgun

National RQ-115 Recorder

National Panapet AM Radio

National Toot-A-Loop Radio

NatWest 24 Hour Cashcard

Nife NC10 Miner's Lamp

Nimslo 3D Camera

NOA FM Wireless Intercom

Nokia 9210 Communicator

Novelty AM Radio Piano

Nuclear Enterprises PDM1

Olympia DG 15 S Recorder

Onkyo PH-747 Headphones

Opax Stereo Microscope

Optikon Binocular Magnifier

Oric Atmos Home PC

Panda & Bear Radios

Panasonic AG-6124 CCTV VCR

Panasonic EB-2601 Cellphone

Panasonic Toot-A-Loop Radio

Panasonic RS-600US

Parrot RSR-423 Recorder

Penguin Phone PG-600

Pentax Asahi Spotmatic SLR

Philatector Watermark Detector

PH Ltd Spinthariscope

Philips CD 150 CD Player

Philips Electronic Kit

Philips EL3302 Cassette

Philips EL3586 Reel to Reel

Philips PM85 Recorder

Philips P3G8T/00 Radio

Philips VLP-700 LaserDisc

Philips SBC RU 098 TV Remote

Phonotrix Model 1 Recorder

Pifco 888.998 Lantern Torch

Pion TC-601 Tape Recorder

PL802/T Semconductor Valve

Plessey PDRM-82 Dosimeter

Polaroid Automatic 104

Polaroid Land Camera 330

Polaroid Supercolor 635CL

Polaroid Swinger II

Polavision Instant Movie

POM Park-O-Meter

Prinz 110 Auto Camera

Prinz Dual 8 ciné Editor

Prinz TCR20 B&W TV

Psion Series 3a PDA

Psion Organiser II XP

Pye 114BQ Portable Radio

Pye TMC 1705 Test Phone

R2D2 Lazerbuilt Novelty Phone

Rabbit Telepoint Phone

Quali-Craft Slimline Intercom

RAC Emergency Telephone

Racal Acoustics AFV Headset

Radofin Triton Calculator

Raytheon Raystar 198 GPS

Realistic TRC 209 CB

ReVox A77 Tape Recorder

Roberts R200 MW/LW Radio

Rolling Ball Clock

Rolls Royce Car Radio

Ronco Record Vacuum

Royal/Royco 410 Recorder

Sanyo G2001 Music Centre

Sanyo MC-1/1A Mini Recorders

Sanyo MR-115 Tape Recorder

Sanyo M35 Micro Pack

Satellite AM/FM Radio

Satvrn TDM-1200 Sat Box

Science Fair 65 Project Kit

Seafarer 5 Echo Sounder

Seafix Radio Direction Finder

Seiko EF302 Voicememo

Seiko James Bond TV Watch

Sekiden SAP50 Gun

Shackman Passport Camera

Sharp CT-660 Talking Clock

Shira WT106 Walkie Talkies

Shira WT-605 Walkie Talkies

Shogun Music Muff

Silma 120M Projector

Simpson 389 Ohmmeter

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Sinclair FM Radio Watch

Sinclair FTV1 Pocket TV

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Sinclair Micro FM Radio

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Sinclair MTV1A Micovision TV

Sinclair MTV1B Microvision TV

Sinclair PDM-35 Multimeter

Sinclair System 2000 Amp

Sinclair Super IC-12

Sinclair X1 Burtton Radio

Sinclair Z-1 Micro AM Radio

Sinclair Z-30 Amplifier

Sinclair ZX81

Smiths ECS Process Timer

Smiths SR/D366 Gauge Tester

Speak & Spell

Sony Betamovie BMC-200

Sony CFS-S30 'Soundy'

Sony DD-8 Data Discman

Sony CM-H333 Phone

Sony CM-R111 Phone

Sony FD-9DB Pocket TV

Sony M-100MC Mic'n Micro

Sony MDR3 Headphones

Sony MVC-FD71 Digicam

Sony TC-50 Recorder

Sony TC-55 Recorder

Sony TR-55 Camcorder

Sony Walkman TPS-L2

Sony Rec Walkman WM-R2

Speedex Hit Spy Camera

Standard Slide Rule

Starlite Pocket Mate Tape

Staticmaster Static Brush

Steepletone MBR7 Radio

Stellaphone ST-456 Recorder

Stuzzi 304B Memocorder

Stylophone

Talkboy Tape Recorder

Taylor Barograph

Tasco SE 600 Microscope

Teacup Novelty AM Radio

Technicolor Portable VCR

Telephone 280 1960

Telequipment Servicescope

Telex MRB 600 Headset

Thunderbirds AM Can Radio

Tinico Tape Recorder

Tokai TR-45 Tape Recorder

Tomy Electronic Soccer

Toshiba HX-10 MSX Computer

Triumph CTV-8000 5-inch TV

TTC C1001 Multimeter

Uher 400 RM Report Monitor

Vanity Fair Electron Blaster

Vextrex Video Game

VideoPlus+ VP-181 Remote

Vidor Battery Radio

View-Master Stereo Viewer

Vivalith 301 Heart Pacemaker

VTC-200 Video Tape Cleaner

Waco Criuser AM Radio

Waco TV Slide Lighter

Wallac Oy RD-5 Geiger Counter

Weller X-8250A Soldering Gun

W E Co Folding Phone

White Display Ammeter

Wittner Taktell Metronome

Wondergram

Yamaha Portasound PC-10

Yashica AF Motor 35mm

Yupiteru MVT-8000 Scanner

GE Help 3-5908 Emergency AM CB Radio, 1983

If your car breaks down in the UK it’s usually no more than an inconvenience and even in the days before mobile phones, the chances getting help, or someone coming to your assistance, were generally quite good. It’s a different matter in the US, where it is still possible to find yourself lost, alone, miles from anywhere and in real peril, from the weather, extreme heat or cold, lack of water and food. Of course cellphones improved safety there too, but before that anyone going on a long journey, especially if it involved travelling the back roads, journeying into wilderness areas, crossing deserts or going into the mountains, would have been well advised to have a Citizen’s Band or CB radio in their vehicle.

 

Citizens Band, which was briefly popular in the UK in the 1980s, is an easy to use, licence-free,  two-way radio system, capable of operating over distances of 5 – 20 miles, depending on the terrain etc. It began in the US, in the late 50s. It used a set of frequencies on the Short Wave band, at 27 MHz, employing AM modulation. Initially it was split into 23 channels, this was later increased to 40, to meet the growing demand. At first truckers mostly used it as a way to exchange information on traffic conditions, warn of speed traps and just chat to one another. A lot of small local businesses also found them useful and during the 70s it became popular with ordinary motorists with the development of small and inexpensive in-car units or ‘rigs’. The fad didn’t last very long though; eventually things settled down and CB returned to its roots, with the truckers, but it still had a role to play in emergency communications. This new market also helped take the sting out of rapidly dwindling sales for manufacturers of CB equipment like General Electric or GE.

 

The GE Help we’re looking at here was one of several emergency CB transceivers that appeared in the early 1980s: others include the Cobra SOS, Kraco Mayday, Midland Ready Rescue and Uniden Traveller. The GE Help, and most of the others are almost entirely self-contained, fitted into compact plastic boxes, and stored in the car’s trunk -- or boot, as it is properly called -- until needed. The idea was there was no need to have a CB rig and antenna permanently installed in your vehicle. This outfit includes a telescopic roof-top antenna fitted with a magnetic base mount and a power lead that plugs into the vehicle’s cigar lighter socket. The most important features, however, are that it operates at the maximum permitted transmitter power output (4 watts RF) for the greatest range. It covers all 40 channels, with Emergency Channel 9 clearly marked on the dial, and it is very simple to use, with a built in microphone and loudspeaker and a minimum of controls and displays. All this means that it can be up and running in just a couple of minutes, and with the large, prominent red Push To Talk (PTT) in the middle of the front panel users hardly need to read the instructions to put out a call for help.

 

On the base of the unit there are just two sockets, one for the antenna cable (around 2.5 metres long), and the power lead. The controls are mostly self-explanatory. The rotary knob on the left is for selecting the operating channel and this is shown on a small 2-digit LED display in the top left hand corner of the front panel. The knob on the right is the on/off volume control and beneath that there’s a slider control marked Receiving Range, Local – Distant. This is a Squelch control, a common feature on many two-way radios. Basically it cuts out the background noise until a signal strong enough to be heard above the hiss is received. LED indicators show power on and transmit mode; the built-in microphone is mounted above the volume knob and the speaker occupies the lower third of the front panel. Everything fits neatly into the tough plastic case and there’s a handy pictorial guide inside the lid, just in case you can’t figure out how to use it.

 

Judging by the way the cables  were still neatly coiled with their original tie-strips it appears that this one has never been used. It was clearly fortunate for the previous owner and lucky for me, as it has been preserved in near-mint condition. The only sign that it is more than 40 years old is the stage case, which has the sort of scratches and scuff marks that come from a life spent rattling around in a trunk or toolbox. I found it at a rural ‘Swap Meet’ – a cross between a car boot sale and market -- in a tiny desert town in Arizona. I decided it was best not to haggle with the burly stallholder (they carry guns in those parts…) and I paid the asking price of 10 dollars, which at the time of writing was around £8.00-ish. It was as you see it now, and apart from some dust inside the case and a quick wipe over it looks as good as the day it was made. It works too, though I should point out that since it operates on the US AM CB band, which is illegal to use in the UK, I couldn’t test it properly, though I have no doubts that if anyone else with a similar setup were nearby we could exchange a few ‘that’s a big 10-4 good buddys ’…        

 

What Happened To It?

To be fair to the small bands of die-hard CBers on both sides of the big pond, it has never really gone away. However, the fact remains that it is an obsolete technology. Nowadays virtually everyone has a mobile phone, and they’re usually a much better bet if you need to summon help in an emergency, or simply chat with someone, but there are still a few things CB does better than anything else. It’s an open communication system, which means anyone within range can overhear or participate in a conversation. That works both ways and here in the UK at least idiots often plagued the bands with inane chatter, but on a good day it created a kind of community spirit, which really isn’t the same thing as web-based social media. It’s also free to use, once you’ve paid out for the equipment, and it excels at local short range, point to point communications. This can be handy for things like crowd control and event organisation, vehicle to vehicle comms and so on, though it has to be said that the modern versions of license-free ‘CB’, operating on VHF and UHF frequencies, work a lot better than the hissy old AM short wave system.   

 

Even though they are illegal in the UK vintage AM CB transceivers in good working order will always find a buyer. There’s also a modest collector’s market for iconic or highly featured ‘rigs’ from manufacturers like Cobra, Midland, President and Uniden. The GE Help isn’t in that league, at least not yet. Emergency outfits like this one are a largely forgotten backwater of the CB story and there is very little information about them on the web. GE Helps turn up every so often on the US ebay site and typically sell for under $25.00 but one thing is for sure, only a small handful of them would have reached the UK. For that reason this one is a little bit special and on a good day, with the wind in the right direction, it might be worth between £20 and £50 to the right person.


GIZMO GUIDE (Manual)

First seen:           1983

Original Price:    $50?

Value Today:      £20 (0217)

Features:            40 channel AM CB Transceiver (26.965 – 27.405MHz), 4 watts RF output, LED channel indicator, rotary volume & channel selector controls, squelch (Local – Distant) slider control, external telescopic ground plane antenna with magnetic base, power lead with cigar lighter plug, carry case

Power req.                         12-volts DC

Dimensions:                       195 x 80 x 52mm

Weight:                              1.35g

Made (assembled) in:        Hong Kong

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest)       8


Homer KIT-505 Telephone Amplifier, 1968

The dates and original prices attributed to some of the items appearing in dustygizmos are occasionally little more than an educated guess. They’re based on sometimes shaky recollections and possibly dubious references in books, magazines and on the web but for once, here’s something that can be dated, priced and even localised with almost clinical precision.

 

The date is the day it was sold, and that was Monday the 11th of November 1968. It cost three pounds two shillings, and it was bought from West London Direct Supplies located at 169 Kensington High Street in London W8.

 

The item in question is a Homer Model KIT-505 Transistor Telephone Amplifier, and the reason there is so much detailed information is because it came in its original box, along with a sales receipt, instruction leaflet and a copy of West London Direct Supplies’ catalogue from September 1968. It all makes fascinating reading and you can see them in the Manuals Archive. Best of all, it looks like the box hasn’t been opened since the day it was sold.

 

A telephone amplifier, in case you haven’t come across one before, is pretty much what you would expect. It’s a small box, containing a battery powered amplifier and it connects to a telephone, so you can hear what the other person on the line is saying without having to clamp the handset to your ear. In other words it’s for hands-free operation, though back in the dim-distant, when these things were popular, landline telephone earpieces were a lot quieter than they are now. The emphasis then was on it being used for crackly long distance or ‘trunk’ calls and as an aid for the hard of hearing.

 

It is really easy to use, and there’s no need to mess around with wires and connectors, not that they were allowed in those days. The GPO, later to become BT, was fanatical about what could be connected to their network and as far as most residential subscribers were concerned it meant virtually nothing was allowed. Devices like this telephone amplifier got around that inconvenience using a clever device called an induction coil. This attaches to the side of the phone or the handset with a suction cup and it picks up electromagnetic emanations from coils inside the phone. The tiny signals are then fed into an amplifier and heard through the built-in speaker. This used to work well on the telephones of the day but as time went by phones used fewer coils and on many modern phones induction coil pickups hardly work at all. On this one it is still possible to get a faint response from some models, and there’s sometimes a sweet spot on the handset, close to the earpiece.

 

The amplifier used in the KIT-505 is a basic three-transistor circuit, so there is very little to go wrong and it is still in good working order even after all these years. Even components like electrolytic capacitors, which tend to deteriorate after a couple of decades, were still okay. In fact the only thing that didn’t work was the 9-volt battery, which wasn’t too surprising as it was the original, still in its cellophane wrapping, that came with it. Even more remarkable was the fact that it hadn’t leaked – in those days leakproof meant what it said!

 

This one was a fairly recent (late 2016) ebay find. I was the only bidder and it never got above the starting price of £2.50. It might have attracted more attention if the description had made more of the fact that it was virtually as-new, in near pristine condition and had probably never been used.

 

What Happened To It?

Don’t read too much into the Homer badge on the speaker panel. It was one of hundreds of western-sounding names used by small, obscure (and often unpronounceable) Japanese companies churning out gadgets like this. The vast majority of them have since vanished without trace. In fact this model was almost certainly sold under a dozens of different names, including ones chosen by importers and retailers like West London Direct Supplies. As you’ll see from the company’s catalogue in the Manuals Archive the plastic case really earns its keep and turns up in other guises, in intercoms and baby alarms, and probably a few other things besides.

 

Telephone amplifiers, on the other hand haven’t gone away, even though hands-free operation has become a common feature on home and office phones. However, most modern telephone amplifiers work differently to this one. Instead of a pickup coil they attach to the handset and use a small microphone to pick up the sounds coming from the earpiece.

 

There is no question that this one was an absolute bargain but that is mainly due to it’s immaculate condition and provenance, but even used examples of similar vintage and in a good state of repair fail to generate much excitement amongst phone collectors and fans of retro technology. Even though they don’t come up very often on ebay prices are still quite low and they generally sell for between £5 and £20. There are exceptions though, and devices made in the 40s and 50s are rarer and more ornate, with prices to match. If you wait long enough small sixties telephone amps like this will creep up in value so now is a good time to invest, and you can afford to be choosy and target the best examples. 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                1968

Original Price         £3 2s (£2.10)

Value Today           £10 (1216)

Features                 3-transistor amplifier, 70mm speaker, induction coil pickup coil with suction cup, rotary volume, on/off switch, 2.5mm jack (for pickup coil). 

Power req.                     9-volt PP3

Dimensions:                   103 x 73 x 43mm

Weight:                          250g

Made (assembled) in:    Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  7


Betacom CP/6 Ferrari Phone, 1986

This Betacom CP/6 is about the closest most of us will ever get to owning a classic Italian sports car, but count yourself lucky! A real Ferrari Testarossa isn’t half as much fun as you might think. Take your weekly Tesco shop, for example. There’s barely enough room in the boot for a couple of carrier bags. You could buy a small house for what you’ll pay for insurance and don’t get me started on the fuel consumption  -- 12mpg tops, and that’s on a good day.

 

Thanks to the miracle of eighties technology this scale model of the Testarossa is much more useable, and a whole lot cheaper than a gas guzzling supercar. Just stick your fingers through the windows, lift up the roof and hey presto; you have an elegant, retro-styled push-button phone. Okay, that’s not much consolation but if you believe the descriptions of some of the Betacom CP/6s on ebay, it’s a highly sought-after collectible, especially amongst Ferrari owners and enthusiasts, so who knows? One day a CP/6 could be worth as much as the real thing…

 

It might not be able to do 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds but this tiny Testarossa does have one or two interesting features, like old-school pulse dialling. You have to remember that in the mid to late 80s only a handful of UK telephone exchanges had been upgraded to digital operation and tone dialling, so it needed to be compatible with the network as it stood back then. The designers were a bit lazy and left the Star and Hash buttons on the keypad on the UK version – tone dialling was the norm in the US and some other markets – but rather than remove or re-label them the keys were reassigned to Mute and Last number redial functions. A year or two later a tone-dialling version was introduced and they can be identified by a switch, to swap between the two modes.

 

To round off the highlights there’s a small switch below the keypad for turning the ‘ringer’ on and off. By rights the phone should make a throaty, macho engine noise when someone calls, or possibly a jaunty Italian hooter but alas, it was not to be. It makes what may be one of the saddest sounds ever heard from a novelty car-shaped telephone, just a feeble tinkle, the sort you get from a novelty Christmas card, and you would be lucky to hear it across a averagely noisy living room. There are more disappointments, the wheels do not turn, though this is probably to stop it rolling off the table or surface on which it stands, even so… A little more attention to detail wouldn’t have gone amiss either; the opaque red windscreen really spoils the effect and how much would it have cost to put a few dabs of silver paint on the lights?  

 

On the plus side this one was really cheap, just 50 pence at a local car boot sale. All it needed to get it into showroom condition was a quick strip down to remove the dust and hairs that made it into the case and handset, followed by a wipe over with some plastic cleaner and polish. In common with most phones from that era -- compliant with BT regulations -- it was quite well made so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to find that it was still in good working order.

 

What Happened To It?

Betacom set up shop in the mid 60s and were a prolific importer of budget priced audio and video products, and novelty phones. In the early 90s Amstrad took a controlling interest in the company, giving it a slice of the UK's growing telecomms market. The association didn’t last very long though and by the late 90s Betacom had been sold off to the Alba Group, later to become Harvard International, at which point the Betacom brand seems to have sunk without trace.

 

Novelty telephones designed to look like sports cars, and just about anything else you can think of, are still with us but hard-wired landline phones are rapidly becoming an endangered species, now that just about everyone on the planet has at least one mobile phone. This is good and bad news for collectors of vintage technology. Phones like this one are cheap and plentiful and now would be a good time to start a collection, and do your bit to save this often overlooked branch of late twentieth century technology from extinction. The bad news is that most phones from the 70s onwards are unlikely to gain much in value, at least not in the short term. There are a few exceptions and the Betacom CP/6 could be a borderline case. The perceived cachet associated with the Ferrari name means that prices on ebay are often some way above what they are really worth. Mint and boxed examples will always sell for a bit more than a well used one, but in the end their actual value is no more, and no less that someone is prepared to pay, which can be anywhere between 50p and £50.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen               1986

Original Price         £20

Value Today           £5 (1116)

Features                 Numeric keypad (pulse dialling only), mute & last number redial functions, ringer on/off

Power req.                    n/a (line powered)

Dimensions:                   230 x 115 x 60mm

Weight:                          600g

Made (assembled) in:    Hong Kong

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


BT Telephone 282A, Linesman’s Test Phone, 1984

There’s something of the forbidden fruit about linesman’s test phones. They’re from that parallel universe of technology, where only the chosen few get to see what’s inside those mysterious grey, black and green boxes containing the magic of modern tele-

comms. Once upon a time, way back, in 1984, this bright yellow BT 282A was part of that secret world and at the cutting edge of the wizardry. It was one of the first generation of test phones to have a fully featured numeric keypad and this made it suitable for use with digital exchanges, which at the time were being rolled out across the UK. It is possible that this model was developed quite rapidly as it is housed in what appears to be a near identical handset moulding to its immediate predecessor, the plain vanilla BT 282. This had a miniature rotary dial where the keypad on the 282A sits.

 

Apart from that the basic functions of the two models are very similar. It’s fitted with a standard BT plug and the controls, apart from the keypad, are limited to a rocker switch on the rear of the case labelled ‘Mon ,TX and M. C/O’. The first two positions (Monitor & Tx or Transmit) replicate the on and off the hook functions of a normal domestic phone; the M.C/O position is spring-loaded and it stands for microphone cut-out or mute, so the engineer can listen to what’s happening on the line under test, without being heard.

 

There is a large belt hook at the top and it is one of the possible explanations why instruments like this are known in the trade as ‘Butt’ (or ‘Buttinski’, mostly in the US) phones. One theory is that when not in use the phone can be hung from the linesman’s tool or ‘Butt Belt’. The alternative is that it allows engineers to ‘butt’ into conversations; take your pick…

 

Inside there’s a fair amount of electronics on the single PC board, including a couple of custom microchips and several components not normally see in conventional home phones. There’s also more than the usual assortment of unused connectors and jumpers, which may indicate that it can be configured for specialist applications. This one is set up for testing normal domestic phone lines but with the appropriate cable and connectors it can also be used to check large-scale business and commercial systems and exchange equipment. A later version, the 284 also had a row of buttons for testing various other functions and a facility to switch between tone and pulse dialling, so it could be used on older exchanges.

 

The quality of construction is up to BT’s usual very high standards. This is just as well as these phones tend to suffer from a good deal of abuse and rough handling and no doubt an occasional accidental tumble from the top of a telephone pole. This one, though, seems to have led a fairly sedate life with just a few light scratches here and there. Somehow the case also managed to escape being branded with ‘Property of BT’ or personalised, with the engineer’s name. This can be a fairly brutal process, accomplished with the aid of a hot soldering iron or sharp instrument. It’s a very old tradition, supposed to stop expensive test instruments going walkabout, and if they do, help to identify and reunite them with their original owners.   

 

It was found at large Sunday car boot sale in Dorset, along with a few other exotic test instruments and tools, rarely seen in the wild. The seller revealed that she was an embittered ex wife of a BT engineer and having ‘a bit of a clearout’. It was a popular stall… This 282A set me back just £2.00, and I wasn’t about to argue, not least because it was a good deal for one in such good condition, and due to its age BT probably wouldn’t want it back. The stallholder’s other telecomms items were similarly priced but they were mostly in a poor state and far too specialised, even for me. Essentially all it needed was a quick wipe over and it was good to go. It’s fully functional and if it fits in with your décor it could, at a pinch, even be used as a normal house phone, though the ‘ringer’ is so quiet as to be next to useless but the two LEDs above the keypad flash brightly when there’s an incoming call.

 

What Happened To It?

It was made in the UK by A P Besson Ltd, a company formed in the late 50s, initially to make parts for hearing aids but it quickly diversified into other areas including handset manufacture, PCB assembly and injection moulding for the likes of the GPO and later BT. In 1990 it was taken over by the Japanese Hosiden Corporation and continues to this day supplying parts and components to the telecommunications industry.

 

The 282A appears to have been in production for around 5 years, before being replaced by the more sophisticated 284 models. Prior to the changeover to digital exchanges linesman’s phones could remain in use, virtually unchanged, sometimes for several decades but the demands of the new technology meant that older and simpler models could become obsolete in just a few years. Current models have many more functions and facilities suited to digital operation, nevertheless vintage instruments like the 282A can still be used to diagnose basic line faults, and provided it’s connected to a home network with at least one other phone with an audible ringer there’s no reason why it can’t continue to earn its keep. They’re not expensive either and good examples can often be found on ebay for between £10 and £20. Prices probably won’t increase by much in the short term, though. There is relatively little interest outside of the phone collecting community and this one is a little too recent to generate much excitement, but give it time…


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                  1984

Original Price           £n/a

Value Today             £10.00 (1016)

Features                   Tone dial, numeric keypad (with star and hash keys), manual on/off hook switching, LED indicators (red: connected, green: off hook, together ringing), butt belt hook, BT connector

Power req.                   n/a (line powered)

Dimensions:                  267 x 90 x 70mm

Weight:                         400g

Made (assembled) in:    Bristol, UK

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


R2D2 Phone Lazerbuilt Model 805, 1995

Few movie franchises have spawned so much merchandise as Star Wars. It regularly features high on the list of the most expensive action figures and collectibles and some of the rarest ones can sell for tens of thousands of pounds. Sadly this R2D2 novelty phone is not in that league but it’s almost certainly worth a fair bit more than I paid for it.

 

It’s an original 1995 vintage model – more about that later – and surprisingly big too, measuring 285mm (over 11 inches) from the base of its articulated locomotive units (legs) to the top of its rotating head dome. The handset is cleverly disguised as part of R2D2’s left leg, and when someone calls the dome lights up and starts moving back and forth whilst emitting a stream of those familiar beeps and chirps. This feature can be turned off if required. There’s also a button on the front, marked Demo, which makes it go through its routine; it is just as well there’s an off switch, as it can get quite annoying after a while. It probably reduces the battery life too, from a year or more to just a few weeks, especially when there are kid (of all ages…) in the house. For such an advanced robotic contrivance the phone part is disappointingly basic; no transwarp Wi-Fi or X-Wing Bluetooth connectivity, just an ancient touch-tone keypad with a last number redial button, but back in this Galaxy, a long, long time ago -- the late twentieth century -- that was all you needed..

 

It is an impressive piece of work though, very well made, and clearly built to please finickity Star Wars fans with lots of small and authentic-looking details. The only real problem with this one, which I found at a car boot sale in Surrey a couple of years ago, is the white plastic on the front part of the case, which has become slightly discoloured. It has taken on the characteristic yellow tinge, which usually means it has been standing in strong sunlight for several years. There’s a lot of advice on the web about how to remove the discolouration but since it mostly involves the use of noxious or messy chemicals and/or lots of elbow grease, it’s not a job I’m keen to tackle anytime soon.

 

The stallholder assured me that it was in good working order and had been in regular use until recently. It appeared to be in very good shape but I wasn’t able to give it more than a cursory inspection as the lid for the battery compartment was held in place by a tiny screw. He seemed like an honest chap and the asking price of £10 wasn’t too outrageous, though I couldn’t resist haggling him down to £8.00. He didn’t protest too much, and I found out why when I got it home. It seemed that he had been telling porkies and it was pretty obvious that it hadn’t been used for a long time, if the state of the two very ancient batteries in the compartment on the back of the unit were anything to go by. One of them had leaked but luckily it was just a dribble. The goop dried quite quickly so the damage was minimal. The worst affected part was one of the metal contacts; some of the plating had been eroded but after a session with my Dremel’s wire brush attachment the worst of it came off and the metal underneath was still clean and sound. The dried up gunge on the plastic came away with a mixture of household cleaners and some gentle scrubbing with a toothbrush and a nylon kitchen scourer. The damage, such as it is, is now virtually invisible. Thanks to the quality of the parts this one survived; all of R2D2’s systems powered up first time and worked perfectly, once some new power cells had been installed. 

 

What Happened To It? 

Collecting Star Wars paraphernalia can be a risky business. Detail and provenance is everything. It pays to do some homework before parting with serious money on allegedly ‘rare’ or expensive items in the hope of one day getting a return on your investment. Take this phone, for example. It was made in 1995 and marketed in the UK by a company called Lazerbuilt. It was a good quality item, aimed at collectors and closely based on the iconic robotic character from the first 1977 film. Back then it was a fairly pricey item, even for a novelty phone. It arrived more than 10 years after the last movie had been released (Return of the Jedi in 1983) so interest in the movies may have been at a low ebb. From the evidence of the serial numbers on this one and others I have seen it doesn’t look like many of them were made. However, in 2005, in the wake of the dreadful trilogy of prequels, released between 1999 and 2005, there was a big revival of interest in all things Star Wars and the company that originally made this R2D2 dug out their old moulds and dusted them off for another much larger production run.

 

That means that one way or another quite a few R2D2 phones have been produced over the years but a lot of those that are still around today are probably not that old, which must be a consideration when it comes to value. I have seen several listed on ebay and other websites, which could easily be the later version, with incredibly optimistic price tags of several hundred pounds. Even though this one is a genuine ‘first’ generation model there’s no way it is worth anything like that; more realistically priced examples can certainly be found and £30 to £50 for a clean, working, Mk 1 version isn’t out of the question.

 

Phones of all types and vintages continue to be popular collectables and more recent ones can be put to good use, providing they still work and have minimal touch-tone facilities. Throw in the Star Wars connection and the obvious quality of this model and you can’t go far wrong, but as always age, condition and price are everything. A good R2D2 phone will always tickle the fancy of Star Wars collectors and the good news is that there are bargains out there to be found, if you trust in the Force. 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                 1995

Original Price           £50

Value Today             £45 (0916)

Features                   Feature phone with moving, illuminated head, R2D2 sound effects, switchable ringer, demo mode

Power req.                    2 x 1.5 volt ‘D’ cells

Dimensions:                  285 x 222 x 180mm

Weight:                         1.2kg

Made (assembled) in:    China

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  8


BT Rhapsody SR 1012A/8012 Leather Phone, 1982

Some really weird things happened in the 70s and 80s, so the fact that BT started marketing telephones clad in tan leather shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Even so you still can’t help wondering what was going through the minds of whoever came up with such a bizarre concept in the first place...

 

To be fair it wasn’t BT who dreamt it up, that honour goes to a Belgian company called Atea, though what was to become the BT Rhapsody SR 1012A (or TSR 0812) that you see here was based on a phone called the Unifoon, designed by Dutch Telecom and launched Holland in the late 70s, initially with a rotary dial. Incidentally, the SR and TSR prefix on a lot of interesting and oddball GPO and BT phones issued from the early sixties to the late nineties, stands for Special Range/Telephone Special Range and the differences in the model number denote whether or not it was fitted with the now standard BT plug. Just thought you’d like to know…

 

Anyway, back to the leathery Rhapsody phone and even without its cowhide cover it is still an interesting design, with several unusual features. Starting with the case it's a flexible design that can be used on a tabletop or wall mounted. Look closely and you might spot a rectangular opening in the recess where the microphone rests. This serves two purposes. Firstly it can be used as a handle, so you can walk around with the phone while making or taking a call, and second, it makes it easier to keep clean by avoiding the problem of dust and fag ash accumulations, which can clog up the microphone grille. Ironically this apparently sensible idea backfired and led indirectly to a fairly common fault on this model. If the area around the front of the phone were regularly cleaned with an aerosol polish the spray would be directed up through the hole into the microphone capsule, eventually causing it to fail…

 

As you can see from the photos it has push-button dialling and BT marketing couldn’t resist jazzing it up by calling it a ‘Pressure Point Keypad’. The keys are very low profile and this was supposed to make it easy to keep clean and suitable for use in messy environments, like a kitchen or workshop. It was another apparently good idea with a sting in the tail. The membrane type keypad used wasn’t very resilient and reportedly didn’t fare well when repeatedly exposed to strong detergents, or used heavily.

 

By the way, the keypad uses the old ‘pulse’ dialling system; in other words it simulates the action of a mechanical rotary dial. At the time UK exchanges were being converted to digital operation and DTMF or ‘tone’ dialling hadn’t been fully implemented. Consequently on this phone there are no Hash or Star keys but there are two extra buttons marked ‘S’, for secrecy (mutes the microphone) and ‘R’ or last number redial.

 

In spite of those shortcomings it was still quite advanced for an early 80s phone, but instead of a fancy electronic ringer or warbler there’s a pair of good old-fashioned mechanical bells. It’s not completely antiquated, though and a switch on the back is for nighttime use. This stops the striker from hitting the bells, so instead it produces a low level buzz.   

 

Finally we come to that leather covering. On the plus side it’s a really neat job and the quality of the material and stitching are both excellent, but that still leaves open the question of who would want such a thing? Leather wasn’t especially trendy in the early eighties and the other colours in BT’s Rhapsody range (blue, grey & ivory) were much more in keeping with the styles of the time. Leather is a tough material but it has its drawbacks. It needs looking after, regular cleaning and can deteriorate if left in bright sunlight or kept in a dry atmosphere. It wasn’t a cheap option either. In the early eighties the vast majority of BT customers were still renting their phones; you couldn’t officially buy a Rhapsody phone so the only way to get one would be pay BT £25 for installation and shell out an extra £2.50 over and above the normal quarterly rental fee.

 

I struck lucky with this one, found at a large open-air antiques fair in Surrey. It was in amongst a lot of expensive Art Deco ceramics. I call this the fish out of water scenario and it can often help with the price. And so it was; the stallholder had no real interest in the phone and was happy to accept an offer of £5.00 for it.

 

It looked as though it had been in storage for quite a while – the novelty had probably worn off quite quickly -- and underneath a few light layers of dirt it appeared to have been little used and in really good condition. It worked too and apart from the limitations of the vintage keypad, it performs as well as any modern phone.  

 

What Happened To It?

The early 1980s were a very busy time for BT. It is unclear when the Rhapsody model was withdrawn but it probably didn’t hang about much beyond 1985 as by then BT had been fully privatised and the changeover to a digital network was nearing completion. All of this resulted in a growing demand for more compact, sophisticated and novel phones. The choice and design of standard residential phones had also improved in leaps and bounds, and a growing number of BT consumers were opting to buy their own phones, rather than renting from BT. No doubt the Rhapsody’s innards could have been updated but the styling was starting to look dated, it’s time had passed and not even the fancy leather covering could save it.

 

I doubt that more than a few thousand leather Rhapsody phones were issued and the majority of those would have been returned to BT for disposal as and when they were replaced. Technically they were still BTs property, so any that escaped into the wild and have survived until now are few and far between. They do come up ebay every so often and prices are generally in the range £30 to £50, which isn’t a lot for such a rare and idiosyncratic design. If you can do without the leather trim then standard Rhapsody phones generally go for well under £20, but the lowish prices probably reflect the fact that the numeric keypad limits its functionality in today’s digital universe.     


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                 1982

Original Price           £25.00 installation plus additional £2.50 quarterly line rental)

Value Today            £30 (0816)

Features                  Push-button digital keypad, bell ringer with mute, ‘S’ secrecy (microphone mute) button, redial last number, table top or wall mounting, integral carry handle

Power req.                    n/a (line powered)

Dimensions:                  237 x 162 x 85mm

Weight:                         1.5kg

Made (assembled) in:    Belgium

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


Pye TMC 1705 Linesman’s Telephone, 1970

It’s such a mundane and everyday activity that few of us ever think about what happens when we make, or take, a phone call. By the way, we’re talking about proper telephones, the sort that are connect to a local exchange by wires, not those new fangled mobile jobbies… Anyway, the point is that most of the time phone calls simply happen; but what about when something goes wrong? To fix those problems, and try to stop them occurring in the first place there’s small army of engineers. They’re responsible for keeping the UK telephone networks up and running, and until comparatively recently a lot of them would have something very like this Linesman’s Telephone as part of their tool kit.

 

Now this is where it gets a bit complicated, and a tad pedantic because the instrument you see here is actually a Pye TMC 1705. This is the military version of the one used by GPO and BT engineers, which has the designation 704A, or Linesman’s Phone B. However, apart from the badge on the top of the case and one or two minor technical differences they are practically identical. This model, one of a very long line of portable test telephones, was first issued in 1968 and was apparently still in service 20 years later. At around that time telephone exchanges across the country were being converted to digital operation and most domestic phones were starting to appear with numeric keypads, rather than dials, so these old warhorses had to be replaced by more sophisticated test instruments.

 

Basically it is very simple, it’s a portable telephone designed for use in the field, up a pole or indeed anywhere there was a fault, or suspected fault. It has all of the features of a regular phone, namely a handset, rotary dial and an internal ringer or buzzer, but there the similarity ends. The most obvious difference is the size, and that’s due in part to the rugged carry case, which clearly suited its role in military service. Unlike a normal phone, though, it has a pair of terminals, for a temporary connection to a phone line, and there are extra sockets for a headset, and a ‘Tone Amplifier’. This is an add-on that helps an engineer to identify pairs of cables, and if you’ve ever seen the rat’s nest of wires inside one of those kerbside junction boxes you’ll understand how useful this can be.  There’s another novel feature on the handset earpiece, and it is one of the few differences between the 1705 and 704 models; it’s a small white button connected to the microphone or transmitter. On the civilian 704 the button can be latched in the cut-off position, on the 1705 it operates as a PTT (push-to-talk) switch. The requirements for such a switch are many and various, from carrying out certain types of test, to being able to silently monitor calls.

 

The most significant difference between a 704/1705 and a regular phone, though, is the internal battery, comprising three 1.5-volt D cells, and that’s where the three position switch on the top panel, marked CB, LB and Ringer comes in. CB and LB are short for central battery and local battery, which has to do with the way phone networks are, or rather were powered. In the very early days – around the turn of the twentieth century – each telephone had to have its own set of batteries. Early batteries were messy and expensive, and a major maintenance headache, but within a few years those local batteries were replaced by large banks of batteries at the nearest telephone exchange. The need for a local battery feature on a modernish test phone might seem a bit archaic, but a lack of power is one of the myriad faults that can occur on a telephone network, so it can be quite handy for engineers to have a phone that can operate independently. In case you’re wondering the Ringer position on that 3-position switch mentioned a moment ago does exactly what it says. It’s spring loaded and when the 704/1705 is in LB mode or used for testing, pressing the Ringer switch makes the phone to which it is connected ring, buzz, beep or do whatever it does.

 

Here’s a quick one for trivia fans. In the olden days of local battery operation phones were without dials so you had to signal the exchange to let them know that you wanted to make a call. To do that you had to crank a small generator or magneto, fitted to the side of your phone or installed in a nearby bell box. When the call was over you were supposed to notify the exchange with quick crank of your magneto, and that is where the expression ‘ringing off’ came from. See, gadget collecting can be educational, as well as fun…

 

And so we come to this particular 1705, which came into my possession many, many years ago. Exactly how many, I can’t remember, but I know it didn’t cost me a bean as I swapped it for parts and spares with another vintage phone collector. It had been quite well used with a fair few scratches and marks on the case and there were signs of a leaky battery but luckily the there was only light corrosion on the contacts and it cleaned up well. It was minus the case lid latch, but this is an easily obtainable part and I probably will get around to replacing it one day. The dial was a bit sluggish too but a few spots of light oil on the mechanism had it purring again. It still works, there’s not a lot to go wrong, but its days of being a useful test instrument are over and as a house phone it leaves a lot to be desired. In any case mine hardly ever rings these days, and every other call I make seems to involve pressing the hash or star key at some point…    

 

Pye and TMC go way back, to 1896 in the case of the company formed by one William George Pye. TMC or The Telephone Manufacturing Company of Britain was formed in 1920, and until the 1960s they were separate, but often overlapping suppliers of telecommunications equipment to the GPO then BT and The Ministry of Defence. Pye eventually bought out TMC and in 1976 they were swallowed up by the (then) mighty Dutch Philips Group, where eventually the two once distinctive brands quietly faded away. As a matter of interest this 1705 has the code TMA stamped on the inside of the lid; the interweb suggests that this indicates it was made in TMC’s Airdrie factory, which was sold off by Philips in the mid 1990s. 

 

What Happened To It?

I suspect that Linesman’s test phones have been around since a day or two after the telephone was invented, which was probably when the first fault was reported. Most of the 704/1705’s predecessors are immediately recognisable as test instruments, though not all of them are so bulky. Some like the famous Telephone 280 or ‘Buttinski’ are almost pocket size. The big difference in the 704/1705’s immediate successors, which started to appear in the mid to late seventies following the changeover to digital exchanges, was the addition of a digital keypad and extra features designed to speed up fault finding.

 

For purists the disappearance of the rotary dial has meant that linesman’s phone have lost a lot of their appeal so by rights the 704/1705 should be a sought after collectable, except that they were made in vast numbers. There are usually plenty of clean and keenly priced ones on ebay, with prices starting at well under £20. They’re also no stranger to car boot sales and if anyone tries to sell you one for more than £10, tell them what they can do with it. Don’t be put off though; no collection of vintage phones is complete without at least one of them. They make an interesting addition to any occasional table or hallstand and a guaranteed conversation starter at parties. What’s more, if you’re handy with a screwdriver, you could cobble together a simple intercom with another old phone, so you can call the wife or kids from the garage or shed where you have been sent, to indulge in your strange hobby… 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen          1970

Original Price   £? (a lot…)

Value Today     £10 (0716)

Features           2-wire connection, two transistor internal buzzer/ringer. LB/CB (local/central battery) operation, rotary dial, transmitter cut-off switch (on handset), external headset socket, tone amplifier sockets

Power req.                     3 x 1.5v D cells

Dimensions:                   300 x 145 x 155mm

Weight:                          2.8kg

Made (assembled) in:    Airdrie Scotland

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  5


Direct Line Phones -- Geemarc & Matchbox , 1993-5

It’s two for the price of one with this pair of novelty telephones from the early nineties. One is a real working phone, the other is a noisy toy and they were given away, and sold, as promotional items for Direct Line Insurance.

 

The iconic bright red wheelie phone first appeared in Direct Line’s 1990 TV ad campaign for car insurance and the clever design and annoyingly memorable ‘Cavalry Charge’ jingle were an instant success and have been a fixture ever since. It’s hard to say exactly how, when or why the phone made the transition from an animated film prop to an actual working product but it probably happened at around 1992/3, due to public demand, or through the efforts of an astute marketing wallah. Although both items went on sale it looks like a lot of them were given away, to Direct Line employees and customers. They were made in China by serial novelty phone manufacturer Geemarc and almost certainly based on an existing copy of the classic Type 746 phone, which the company was also making. The actual phone was supplied to GPO/BT subscribers from the late sixties onwards, though to be precise, push-button variants like the Direct Line phone didn’t appear until the early 1980s. The only significant difference to the real thing is the addition of the four wheels; incidentally, they don’t turn, presumably to stop the phone rolling off tables and stands.

 

Dates and details regarding the tiny phone are also a bit sketchy but the three things we can say for certain are that it is a surprisingly detailed and accurate one quarter scale replica; it was made by the Matchbox toy company in the UK, probably starting around 1995 – give or take a year or two -- and when you press the keypad it plays a tinny rendition of the Direct Line jingle through a piezo sounder mounted in the base. Oh yes, the handset is removable and the wheels go around.   

 

Apart from the fake wheels the big phone is a reasonably convincing copy of later Type 746 models, right down to the internal twin bell ringer, though the sound it makes isn’t up to much. It’s actually a rather poor imitation of a proper BT phone ring, and not very loud either. And to make absolutely sure it won’t be heard more than a few metres away it’s fitted with a crude mechanical volume control, consisting of a sliding plastic muffler that presses against one of the bells. Other noteworthy features include a pair of buttons next to the cradle for last number redial and recall, and the ringer can be turned off, presumably to silence the phone at night, or for the benefit of clairvoyants. The case and handset are fairly well made, though, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s not a patch on the original, which was clearly built to survive earthquakes and nuclear war. The circuit board inside the Direct Line phone looks like something out of a cheap 1970s transistor radio and strips of sticky tape and great gobs of hot melt glue hold the wiring in place. The shoddy construction and flimsy build quality would bring tears to the eyes of veteran GPO engineers…

 

Matchbox has also done a great job copying the design, and -- nerdy-geek trivia alert -- they’ve gone one step further in the cause of authenticity by omitting the hash and star keys from the keyboard. These were not fitted to the phones featured in the early adverts – you can see them on YouTube, should you be so inclined. There’s a couple of surprises too; it’s is unexpectedly heavy and that is due to the circuit board and piezo sounder both being attached to a 30 x 35mm slab of mild steel. There doesn’t seem to be any particularly good reason for this, after all stability isn’t a great concern on a small plastic toy, but clearly someone somewhere thought it necessary. The other oddity is how horrible it sounds. It takes several goes before you make out the jingle. Initially I though it was due to a duff, or cheap and nasty sounder, but swapping it for a newer, higher quality item made no difference to the harsh, grating noise it makes. It seems to be simply a case of crappy design; cheap tune-playing birthday cards sound a hundred times better than this and as an advert for Direct Line it does them no favours whatsoever.         

 

The first of my two Direct Line phones came from a car boot sale many years ago, it cost £1.00, which seemed like a real bargain at the time as I was looking for a fun phone for my then pre-teen son's bedroom. It turned out to be just an empty shell, at some point someone had ripped out the circuit board and it was next to useless for anything, even as a toy since the wheels didn't work. I really should have spotted it by the weight and missing switches. The second one is a more recent off the cuff acquisition. I came across it by chance on ebay and this time I made sure it was listed as complete and working. I was the only bidder and I snagged it for the opening bid of £5.99. The toy Direct Line phone also came from a boot sale; it wasn’t something I was consciously looking for but having spotted it, curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask the price. Since the stallholder was only asking 10 pence, it seemed rude not to buy it. The two working phones were both in great condition and only needed a clean up to be looking almost as good as new; after installing a set of button cells the toy phone was making its terrible noises once again, probably for the first time in many years.

 

What Happened To Them?

Production of the full size Direct Line phone appears to have stopped about 10 years ago. A goodly number of them must have been made and there’s usually half dozen or more on ebay at any one time. Prices vary enormously, from the occasional sub-£10 bargains and fixer-uppers to £50 plus for pristine boxed examples. It’s late twentieth century retro tech kitch at its best (or worst…) with the added interest of the advertising and marketing links, plus it’s fully useable. It is well on the way to becoming a collectable too and there’s a noticeable upward trend in prices so grab one while you can. As for the smaller version, they are no longer being made and it too is the sort of thing can appeal to collectors of promotional ephemera, and possibly to fans of Matchbox products as well. Prices for boxed ones are currently between £5 and £10 and there’s every reason to suppose they will increase so if you spot one for substantially less than that do not hesitate to give it a good home.   


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                     1993 (phone), 1995 (toy)

Original Price               £25.00 (phone) £5.00 (toy)

Value Today                 £10.00 (phone) & £5.00 (toy) (0516)

Features                       Phone: numeric keypad, redial and last number recall, mechanical bell ringer (variable volume), ringer mute, fixed wheels.

                                    Toy: Direct Line ‘Cavalry Charge’ jingle, detachable handset, rotating wheels

Power req.                   Phone: line powered;

                                    Toy: 3 x LR41 button cells

Dimensions:                 Phone: 220 x 210 x 140mm

                                    Toy: 65 x 60 x 35mm

Weight:                        1kg & 294g

Made (assembled) in:   China (phone) & UK (toy)

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest): 6 & 6


Penguin Phone PG-600, 1983?

On the dustygizmos scale of quirkiness, with 10 being weird to the point of certifiable insanity, the PG-600 Penguin Phone doesn’t score more than a 4 or 5, but it does have one thing going for it. It appears to be unexpectedly rare and intermittent checks on ebay and a trawl around the phone collector websites drew a complete blank. That’s not to say that telephones and penguins are entirely unconnected. Quite the contrary and there’s more than 27,000 penguin-themed mobile phone cases on ebay, not to mention a dozen or so penguin-shaped phones, but none of them are exactly like this one. No doubt the Taiwanese factory that churned it out made many more of them but for some reason they either didn’t sell very well, or when the owners eventually tired of them, they ended up in the bin.

 

The lack of a makers name, documentation and online references makes it difficult to be precise about when it was made or the original price, but it is possible to take a semi educated guess at its likely age. The internal circuitry suggests early to mid 80s, and to back that up it doesn’t have convenience features, like a multiple number memory, LCD display, selectable ringtones or any of the other fripperies that adorn most novelty phones made in the last 25 years. In fact the only things that could be even vaguely described as extras, over and above what is required to make and take phone calls, is a pair of red LEDs. These are mounted behind the penguin’s eyes and are supposed to light up when the phone rings. They’re actually quite useful as it has a switch to turn off the ringer (and mute the microphone when a call is in progress). Still on the subject of the ringer, when it is switched on it definitely won’t be ignored, especially by dogs and bats. It emits a very loud, high-pitched tweeting noise that someone somewhere probably thought sounded a bit like a penguin…

 

Otherwise, apart from the shape, the rest of the phone is fairly ordinary. The line switch is mounted on the underside, so when you pick it up the call is answered. The penguin’s back flips open to reveal the alphanumeric keypad, ringer/mute switch, microphone and earpiece, Shutting the lid and putting it down ends the call. It has a long curly lead and a BT type plug, and it still works, and that is really all that needs to be said about it, from an operational perspective.

 

I found this one at one of my favourite haunts, one of the regular open-air antique fairs held at the South of England showground in Ardingly. It was in a box of household clearance items, priced at £1. This was the only thing worth having – trust me… -- and as you can see it is in very good condition and only needed a quick spring clean to have it looking like new.

 

What Happened To It?

Novelty telephones have been with us, almost since the day after Graham Bell/Elisha Gray/Thomas Edison (depending which expert you believe) hung up on that first historic phone call in the mid 1870s. However, in the UK at least, the market for, shall we say ‘distinct’ phones began unofficially in the late 1970s and really took off in the early 80s following the privatisation of British Telecom. Up until then private subscribers were generally compelled to rent telephones from the GPO but there were plenty of unauthorised and sometimes quite dodgy phones being sold that could be connected to a phone line using the then, newly introduced, BT 6312 socket (the one we still use).

 

In the early days of privatisation it was possible to buy a few selected phones, tested and approved by BT, though it is extremely unlikely that this was one of them. It does have US FCC conformity marks, but that was never a guarantee (on cheap Far Eastern phones) that it actually met any technical standards. It is possible that it was never sold in the UK, and may even have been a souvenir from a US holiday, either way, it seems clear that there isn't very many of them around. In the normal course of events that should make it quite collectable but in this case scarcity doesn’t help the value. I suspect that even on a good day it might only fetch between £5 and £10 on ebay so it’s going back into the loft for future generations to admire, and hopefully a time when late twentieth century novelty telephonic apparatus receives the appreciation it so richly deserves…    


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                1983?

Original Price         £10?

Value Today           £5 (0416)

Features                 Folding cover, alphanumeric keyboard, ringer/mute, last number redial, silent LED call alert, base-mounted line switch

Power req.                     n/a (line powered)

Dimensions:                   150 x 80 x 75mm

Weight:                          225g

Made (assembled) in:    Taiwan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  7


Compact Marine SX-25 VHF Transceiver, 1996

Although I am not particularly nautically minded, marine and aviation technology does interest me so I was pleased to spot this Compact Marine SX-25 VHF transceiver at a local car boot sale. I’ve been fascinated by all forms of two-way communications since my first juvenile experiments with two tin cans and a length of string, which, for me, was a good enough reason for wanting  this one. It also occurred to me that if it worked I might be doing the boating community a big favour by stopping it falling into the wrong hands.

 

Marine radios like this one, widely installed on smaller vessels and leisure craft, are mainly used for navigational purposes but more importantly they can summon help or respond to distress calls. At the very least, by taking it out of circulation it will prevent idiots from using it to annoy boaty types around marinas and moorings; at worst some tosspot could trigger a false alarm, scramble the emergency services and potentially put lives at risk.

 

As a matter of interest marine radio is one of the oldest branches of the technology and some of Marconi’s earliest demonstrations, in the late 1890s, involved sending and receiving wireless signals over water and to and from ships at sea. Radio also played a vital role in the rescue of survivors of the ill-fated Titanic in 1912, and has saved countless lives since then, so it’s a pretty serious business.

 

The Compact Marine SX-25 is a fairly typical example of a late twentieth century radio. It operates on the internationally agreed VHF Marine Band, which occupies a set of frequencies between 156 and 163 megahertz. The band is split into 88 channels, around a quarter of which are assigned to specific applications, for use by harbour masters, port authorities, pilots and so on. However, the single most important VHF channel is 16 and this is supposed to be used exclusively for safety, distress and emergency calls. In fact all mariners are required to maintain a listening watch on channel 16, whenever their radio is not being used for other approved communications. To that end the SX-25 automatically defaults to Ch16 whenever it is switched on, and it’s instantly accessible by pressing the single red coloured button on the front panel keypad. Channel 16 is also preset for another one of the SX-25’s functions, called Dual Watch (DW), and when selected this constantly flips between Ch16 and one other user-assigned channel.

 

Accessing the other 87 channels is equally straightforward and the SX-25 makes it really easy with a Scan facility. This steps through the channels one at a time and by carefully adjusting the Squelch control it stops scanning as soon as it picks up a transmission. Otherwise channels can be selected by tapping in the number on the keypad, or by manually stepping up or down the frequency band using two buttons. The channel in use and operating mode are shown on a small backlit LCD. A press-to-talk (PTT) switch on the side of the microphone puts the radio into transmit mode and there’s the option of high or low RF power output (1 or 25 watts), depending on how close, or distant, the other station happens to be.

 

Around the back there are three sockets, one for a 12-volt DC supply, an SO239 socket for the antenna, and a minijack for an extension speaker. In short it’s really easy to use and in that respect little more than a posh CB radio. Well, maybe that’s a bit unfair; in terms of build quality it is in a very different league, with particular attention paid to waterproofing, ruggedness and protection against harsh treatment, from both users and the elements. This also means they’re not cheap and in the mid-ish 1990s, when this model first appeared, it sold for the thick end of £500.

 

From the outside it appeared to be in very good condition though it was hard to tell if it was working as it’s difficult to test this sort of thing in the middle of a field, miles from the sea, not to mention the fact that it would be illegal without a Marine Radio Licence (they are actually relatively easy to obtain and involve filling out a form and sending the authorities £20…). I was expecting the seller to be asking somewhere north of £50 for it so I only asked the price out of mild curiosity. I was surprised when he said £5.00, which suggested that it was probably a complete wreck, but I offered him £4.00, which I reckoned the microphone and any salvageable parts might be worth, and he accepted without any hesitation.

 

I fully expected a nasty mess inside the case but it looked as though it had never been opened with no signs of corrosion or popped components. It was hooked up to a bench power supply, initially without an antenna -- in case it decided to boot up in transmit mode – and it came on without a hitch or worrying smells and a reassuring hiss from the speaker. This probably meant that the receiver section, at least was working so after checking out the various channel selection and function buttons I coupled it up to a marine mag-mount antenna and a quick scan through the channels bought up some faint and probably distant signs of life. I didn’t try the transmit functions but I have little doubt that it also work; this will have to wait until the next time I buy a boat, and win the Lottery, to pay for it…

 

What Happened To It?

The basics of marine radio have changed little since the Second World War, when the use of the VHF frequency band was first introduced. On the other hand the equipment has changed out of all recognition, mirroring developments in valve, transistor and microchip technology over the years, which have all resulted in smaller, more sophisticated and increasingly reliable hardware.

 

The majority of ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communications are still by voice but many marine radios made within the last decade or so now have an additional feature called DSC or Digital Selective Calling. This is a single-button distress call function that sends a signal detailing the vessel and radio operator’s unique identity code or call sign known as the MMSI or Maritime Mobile Service Identity number. If the radio is coupled to a GPS receiver, it can also send positional data. This instantly provides rescue services with detailed information about the boat – where it is, the name, size, passenger capacity and so on – which might otherwise be hard to convey in a force 10 gale over a noisy audio channel.

 

Very little appears to have been written about Compact Marine or the SX-25 and the few references I found concerned a couple of units for sale on ebay, several appeals for an instruction manual and a one-line mention in 1997 boating magazine in a price list of VHF marine radios. In other words the only things I know for certain is that it was made in the mid to late 1990s in Japan (there is a stamp on the case). No other models have come to light, so it is likely that the manufacturer or distributor, Compact Marine or possibly Shore-Line (the name on the microphone) is no longer with us. Any additional information is, as usual, very welcome.

 

As for value, the pair I saw on ebay sold for £10 (non working) and £45 (working). The market for marine radios is quite small, and I presume that most boat owners prefer to trust their safety to a new and modern radio, rather than take chances with a second hand unit. It’s not old enough to be collectible, nor, as far as I can see, is it especially unusual, but in my opinion it is the sort of thing that’s worth hanging on to, just in case. With sea levels rising and the ever-present threats of zombie and alien attack, taking to the water might be the only way to survive. The point is you are going to need a way to know when it’s safe to go ashore – assuming there’s anyone left alive to take your call…        


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                1996

Original Price         £500.00

Value Today           £25.00 (0416)

Features                 88 channel VHF marine band transceiver 156.6 – 162.925MHz), Hi/Lo power output (1 or 25 watts RF), channel scan, Channel 16 priority key, rotary volume & squelch controls, channel selection & secondary function keypad, LCD channel & mode display, dual watch (Ch 16 & user-set), speaker mute, display dim, PTT microphone, SO239 antenna out, built-in speaker, external speaker minijack 

Power req.                    external 12 volts DC

Dimensions:                  170 x 153 x 52mm

Weight:                         1.2kg

Made (assembled) in:    Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  7


Eagle TI.206 2 Station Intercom, 1968

At the risk of appearing a tad weird and nerdy I admit to having a mild obsession with vintage intercoms. I'm not especially interested in fancy office jobbies with lots of buttons - I'll have one if I see one at the right price - but the ones that float my boat are the cheap little 2-station models made in the 1960s. Fortunately there's no real need for me to undergo psychotherapy, not just yet, anyway... It all started back in the early 60s when several outfits, just like this one passed through my hands. To a budding young electronic enthusiast they were fascinating and just about the only legal and affordable way to dabble with short-range two-way communications. At first they were used, more or less, for their intended purpose but when eventually they stopped working  - as they always did  -- I pulled them apart, to try and fix them. Mostly I didn't, but I learned a lot about how they worked (or rather didn't work) and the salvaged parts came in handy for other electronic projects.

 

The Eagle T1.206 appears to be a slightly later version of the TI-206 which also appears on this site, but apart from the obvious cosmetic differences, shorter cable and substitustion of a full stop for a hyphen in the model number, they are virtually identical. It wasn’t a model that I owned but it followed the same basic pattern of two small plastic boxes, connected together by a long length of 2-core cable. One of the boxes, the ‘Master’ contains a simple audio amplifier and the battery; the other one, called the ‘Sub’ just has a call button, capacitor and a speaker, which doubles up as a microphone. The mode of operation is elegantly simple. With the Master switched off either station can call the other by pressing the button, which generates a loud tone heard through the speaker. When the Master is switched on the line from the Sub is constantly open, so you can listen to whatever is going on in the vicinity of the unit, which makes it useful as a baby alarm, or eavesdropping device. The Master talks to the Sub by pressing the Call button.

 

In the case of this model the amplifier uses just two fairly ordinary germanium transistors, yet it still manages to push out 200mW of audio. This may not sound very much but it’s actually impressively loud. The amp is a simple 2-stage design, and as you can see from the photograph, a lot of the heavy lifting, and the reason there are so few other components, is down to the three small transformers. The amplifier works in two ways, as a normal amplifier, when the two stations are used for voice calls, and as an oscillator, to generate the call tone. That is achieved by connecting a low value electrolytic capacitor across the input. The really clever bit though, is that this works when the Master is switched off, and this is achieved by some rather ingenious wiring on the two call switches

 

The TI.206 outfit includes a 20 metre (66 feet) long length of 2-core cable, fitted with standard 3.5mm mono minijacks. It would also have had a bag of staples, for dressing the cable, to keep it out of harm's way, though they were either used or lost on this otherwise very complete example (there’s a copy of the instruction leaflet in the Manuals section).

 

This one was a boot sale find, and rather good one at that, costing just 50 pence. It was all the more remarkable considering how good the condition is, and that it came with the original box, cable and instructions. There were a couple of very minor problems; at some point the cable had been severed, which was very common. An attempt had been made to repair it by twisting the ends together, and covering them with sticky tape. It may even have worked, for a short while, but eventually it had gone open circuit, and that may have been the reason it was put back in its box and forgotten. A proper soldered repair took just a few minutes and the insulation was restored using a couple of short lengths of shrink-wrap tubing. The other issue was the two electrolytic capacitors, used for the Call function. As usual these old caps had degraded. Modern replacements were fitted and it was instantly firing on all cylinders, sounding as good as new. Otherwise everything else was in excellent shape with few, if any, signs of prolonged use.    

 

What Happened To It?

Two-station intercoms of this type were comparatively cheap -- this one generally sold for under £3.00 – and they were clearly never intended for serious office use. They were typically sold as toys, or baby monitors and so would have had relatively short lives. Normally this means that 50 years down the line they should be quite rare, but if ebay is anything to go by there’s still a few of them around. To be honest a lot of the ones that I have seen are beyond help and either unlikely to ever work again, in a poor state or missing vital components. Even so, decent ones are around, though you would be very lucky to find another one like this for 50 pence. However, the lack of interest means that prices are far from scary; in fact you would be hard pressed to spend more than £20 to £30 on a clean, boxed specimen. Collecting vintage intercoms is not, as yet a popular pastime but trust me, their time will come so if you know what’s good for you, the next time you see one that’s in good shape and sensibly priced, grab it quick, or tell me!   


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen            1968 (Manual)

Original Price    59/6 (£2.97)

Value Today      £10 (0316)

Features             2-station intercom, tone calling, 2-transistor amplifier (200mW), 58mm speaker/microphones, 20 metre (66 foot) connecting cable terminated with 3.5mm mono minijacks, on/off volume

Power req.                     1 x PP3 9 volt battery

Dimensions:                   105 x 75 x 45mm

Weight:                          100g (Master) 75g (sub)

Made (assembled) in:    Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  5


Nokia 9210 Communicator, 2000

It is widely believed that the smartphone revolution began with the first Apple iPhone in 2007. In fact there had been mobiles with smartphone like capabilities at least ten years before Apple got in on the act. It’s difficult to pin down the exact date and model number of the first one, but we can say with some certainty that the words smart and phone appeared together for the first time in 1995, relating to an early contender developed by AT&T, called the Phonewriter Communicator.

 

By the late 90s there were a dozen or so models with PDA (personal digital assistant) type functions that could create and share documents and spreadsheets, organise contacts, calendars and alarms as well as send and receive messages and even faxes. However, credit for pulling all of the threads together and getting a practical product onto the shelves arguably belongs to Nokia with the 9000 Communicator, first seen in 1996. The clever bit was the ‘clamshell’ design; when closed it looked just like any other mobile phone of the period – albeit a fairly chunky one -- but open it up and you had a pocket-size PDA with decent-sized screen and QWERTY keyboard. It was horribly expensive, but business users took to it in a big way.

 

Fast forward three years, Nokia’s development teams had been hard at work and the result is what you see here, the 9210 Communicator. In so many ways this was the inspiration for many of today’s smartphones. Although it had the same clamshell design as its predecessor – touch screen technology still had a way to go -- the main screen was now in colour. It had a built-in web browser, email, and almost unique fax facilities plus a well-specified suite of office applications for creating, viewing, sending and receiving documents, spreadsheets etc. Extra programs, or 'apps' as we call them now, could be installed and it had expandable user storage, courtesy of the (then) new, fangled SD memory card – the first Nokia phone with this feature. There was also PC connectivity, though the latter was via notoriously fiddly RS232 and infrared protocols. Back then USB was still fairly new and only just starting to show up on mass-market home computers and laptops.

 

To a generation that has grown up with the comparatively low cost and flexibility of modern smartphones, Touchscreens and vast libraries of apps, the 9210 must seem quaintly old-fashioned. However this was a really big deal in 2000, and the idea of being able to access the Internet on a pocket-sized device was impresive, even if the cost of sending data over the still expanding GSM network meant that it would remain a rich-man’s toy for some time. The 9210 would have been even better if it could be relied upon, but more on that in a moment.

 

When it behaves itself it is easy to use, though you need to forget everything you’ve ever learned about using touch screens. It relies on good old-fashioned button-prodding and wading through menus to get to where you want to go and make things happen. Even so, after a few minutes it becomes quite intuitive and the word processor could teach modern smartphone WP apps a thing or two when it comes to ease of typing and editing. The ‘proper’ keyboard is a pleasure to use and although the narrow LCD screen is a bit cramped it’s fine for editing text and composing messages, managing contacts and your diary but it has to be said that web browsing and viewing images is hard going.

 

This one has been gathering dust in my loft for at least 10 years. I can’t recall exactly when it came into my possession but it’s almost certainly a leftover from my days reviewing mobile phones for various magazines. It ended its days as a test bed for accessories, chargers, batteries and so on. It’s had quite a bit of use but apart from a few light scuffs it is still in reasonably good shape, and it works, though the battery no longer holds much of a charge and gives up the ghost after only an hour or two. Like most borderline ‘vintage’ mobiles from that era it is digital and still useable on the current GSM networks. It’s a real scene-stealer down the pub, when someone pulls out the latest must-have smartphone whip out this old lump and see which one gets the most attention… However for day-to-day use the novelty quickly wears off. It’s fine for making and taking phone calls and texts but it is no substitute for a modern smartphone. The narrow screen is next to useless on the modern web and that clanky old processor is painfully slow.

 

What Happened To It?

The 9210 did well, though the high costs of the buying and using it meant that most of them were bought or rented by corporate and executive users and it pretty much ruled the roost until BlackBerry got into their stride in 2002/3. The 9210 was flawed, though, and part of the problem was the Symbian operating system. It had been around a while but by the time the 9210 appeared it still had some annoying bugs that Nokia were slow to acknowledge, and even slower to fix. The other big drawback on this model was the lack of user memory and processor speed. It slowed the whole thing down and restricted the number of programs that could be running at the same time. For example, if you were doing something important on the web and a text message came in, or the phone rang, the chances are something would crash if you tried to switch between applications.

 

Most of those problems were addressed by its successor, the 9021i, released in 2002, but by then other manufacturers, most notably BackBerry, were rapidly gaining ground with cheaper and more refined models. Nokia’s brief lead quickly fizzled away. They failed to see which way the market was going and by the mid noughties the Finnish giant, once a world leader in mobile telephone and smartphone technology, didn’t react quickly enough to the changing market. The rise of Apple and Google seemed to catch them by surprise and when they eventually caught on to what was happening, they backed the wrong horse by teaming up with Microsoft and its Windows Phone operating system.

 

Original 9000 Communicators are now collector’s items and attract some fancy prices but second generation models like the 9210 are still quite plentiful on ebay though prices have been steadily rising. Until fairly recently you could pick up a presentable 9210 with plenty of life left in it for a few pounds. Now you would be lucky to find a working fixer-upper for less than £40. Clean ones start at £60 or so and mint boxed models regularly sell for £100 or more. The message is clear. If you want one don’t hang about, and if you want it for everyday use it will be a short-lived diversion so don’t give up your smartphone!


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                2000

Original Price         £1000

Value Today           £50.00 (0116)

Features                 Phone: GSM 900/1800, SMS, email, fax, ringtones (WAV, RNG, WVE, AU), speaker/speakerphone, Symbian operating system, 52MHz 32-bit ARM processor 16Mb onboard memory (14Mb applications, 2Mb user), front screen: mono LCD 29 x 22mm 80 x 48 pixels. PDA: main screen: TFT colour LCD (4096 colours) 110 x 35mm, 640 x 200 pixels. PDA functions: Word, Excel, PowerPoint PDF viewer, web browser (WAP, HTML, Java, video player), IR port, built in speaker, RS232 port, fold out antenna

Power req.                     Rechargeable Li-ion battery type BLL3 3.7v, 1300mA

Dimensions:                  160 x 55 x 28 mm

Weight:                          250g

Made (assembled) in:    Finland

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


Quali-Craft Slimline Intercom Telephone Set, 1965

There is absolutely no doubt where the inspiration for the Quali-Craft two-station Intercom Telephone came from. It’s on the box and ‘From the original Swedish design’, clearly indicates that it was inspired by the classic Ericsson Ecricofon or ‘Cobra’, which was the first one-piece phone (see the last photo for a side by side comparison). It dates from the early sixties, possibly the golden age of the intercom, though simple two-station models like this one tended to be marketed either as baby alarms or toys. They are generally quite bland designs, mostly dull grey or cream coloured plastic boxes so it looks as though someone has put a little thought into this one. The photo on the front of the box plays heavily on the toy theme but elsewhere classic sixties graphics cheerfully show it being used in the ‘home office, workshop, den and nursery’; the first of those applications are feasible but we’ll come to the practicalities of it being used as a baby alarm in just a moment.

 

Unlike most other intercoms of this period this one is based on traditional telephone technology going back to the nineteenth century, in other words there’s no electronics or any sort of amplifier. Instead it uses carbon microphones or ‘transmitters’ and magnetic earpieces or ‘receivers’, and it’s fully duplex, so there’s no need for a press to talk button and both users can hold a normal conversation, listening and talking at the same time, should they so desire. There are other similarities with regular telephones and instead of an electronic ‘call’ signal or bleeper, it has an actual bell, albeit a rather unusual one. Instead of a straightforward mechanical striker, operated by an electromagnet it’s rung by a small motor fitted with two spinning weights on the end of a short arm. While we’re on the subject, the 45-foot/13-metre twin core connecting wire uses proper telephone style cable and it has phone-type plugs, instead of the usual mini jack plugs that most other intercoms of this type and era generally use.

 

In case you are wondering how it works without an amplifier, it’s elegantly simple and goes back to the basics of telephone technology. Inside the transmitter capsules there are tiny granules of carbon, sandwiched between two metal surfaces. One of them is very thin and this vibrates the particles in sympathy with the users voice. A voltage is applied across the plates and since the carbon particles are conductive, they act like a variable resistance, making the voltage on the second plate go up and down according to the vibrations. The microphone is connected by cable to the to the other phone and the receiver module, which uses a small electromagnet to turn the varying voltage into sound by acting upon a thin metal diaphragm. Back to the earlier point about potential uses and like all basic telephones it’s not very loud and you can only hear the other user’s voice with the receiver firmly pressed to your ear. That, and the relative insensitivity of the microphone makes it use as a baby monitor somewhat suspect. 

 

On the plus side it is exceptionally easy to use. To call the other handset all you have to do is press the white button on the front. The other person picks up the handset and this releases a small spring-loaded switch on the underside, which puts both units into phone mode. A circuit diagram is helpfully moulded into the battery compartment covers, which you may just be able to make out in the picture above.

 

Ebay was the source for this one; I was the only bidder and snagged it for the opening price of £4.00, plus postage. It had been used but the previous owners had treated it well; there were no marks or scratches and both handsets polished up really well. It even came with the original box and foam packaging, though the former was quite tatty. One of the plugs had become detached – possibly an argument with a vacuum cleaner – but this was easily fixed. With a set of four fresh C cells installed (two in the base of each phone) it remained annoyingly silent. I started by checking the cable, which turned out to be okay, but the brass contacts in the two plugs were heavily tarnished. Rather than spend ages trying to track down the fault I decided to clean all of the plug and switch contacts, which were all pretty grim, and that did the trick. Everything worked, though one of the transmitters was a little under par with slightly lower volume. This can be caused by damp, and removing it and placing it in a warm, dry place for a few days can sometimes fix it and that’s now on my to-do list.   

 

What Happened To It?

It was made in Japan by Kanto Gosei Kogyo for a US company called Quali-Craft Corporation of Flushing, New York. I have been unable to find out much about eiher of them but it appears that Quali-Craft was wound up in the early 1990s. I have given it a speculative date of 1965, which may be out by a couple of years either way, there’s nothing on the phones or packaging to say for certain, but everything about it screams mid 60s, especially the box design. It was available in a range of typically vivid colours, and the shape ties in neatly with Ericofon Cobra phone, which was introduced in the States in the mid 1960s

 

This one turned out to be something of a bargain as I have subsequently seen them changing hands for between £20 and £50, though sellers normally claim that the higher priced examples are in as-new condition with intact boxes and instructions. There are not many of them around but enough for serious collectors who can afford to be choosy. However, there’s a lot to be said for cheap fixer-uppers like this one and it doesn’t take much to get them back into showroom condition; even tatty cardboard boxes can be tarted up without compromising their originality too much. Sixties tech is a rapidly growing area of interest for collectors and toys have always been popular so prices for off-beat gadgets like this, which have been largely ignored up until now, can only increase in the long term.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                1965?

Original Price         £10?

Value Today           £10 (1215)

Features           Two-station phone-style intercom, carbon microphones, magnetic earphones, mechanical (motor-driven) call bell, 45 foot (13.6 metres) connecting cable

Power req.                     4 x 1.5volt C cells

Dimensions:                   248 x 80 x 100mm

Weight:                          280g

Made (assembled) in:    Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


Shira WT-605CB Walkie Talkies, 1979

Here in the UK the decade between 1975 and 1985 was a very strange time indeed, for so many reasons. One of the many weird things that happened was the brief fad for Citizen’s Band radio. Many relatively sane and apparently sensible blokes (and it was overwhelmingly a male thing…) drove around in their cars at night, talking to  strangers in a faux American accents. They called each other ‘good buddy’, Volkswagen Beetles were known as ‘pregnant roller skates’ and wives and girfriends unflatteringly referred to as ‘seat covers’ and ‘beavers’.

 

Those of us who were around at the time and involved in the CB madness are probably cringing by now, having done our best to forget that embarrassing period, but it all came back to haunt me when my gadget hunting brother presented me with this pair of Shira WT-605CB Walkie talkies. Included with the outfit was the original instruction sheet, almost a third of which is devoted to CB Slang – and if you fancy a wince you can see it in all its glory in the Manuals section of dustygizmos.

 

What makes the WT-605CB slightly unusual is the walkie-talkie function, which does not operate on the 27MHz short wave bands used by CB radio (at that time). Instead they work at VHF frequencies, 49.86MHz to be precise, and over the years radio amateurs and TV stations have variously occupied this part of the radio spectrum.

 

The justification for the CB slang dictionary is WT-605’s built-in 27MHz receiver, which tunes over the 40 AM channels used by the US system. This was never legal in the UK but it was very widely used, before the UK government gave into pressure and legalised a wimpish FM system (also on 27MHz) in 1981. The popularity of illicit AM CB was mainly due to a thriving black market in contraband American ‘rigs’ mostly imported from European countries where it was allowed, or at least tolerated. This is all academic though, and it is highly doubtful that the CB receiver feature on the WT-605CB ever worked. The tuning function is manual, rather than crystal controlled, making it impossible to discriminate between adjacent channels and the telescopic antenna would have a tough time picking up transmissions more than a few hundred metres away.

 

Just when you though it couldn’t get any odder, one of the WT-605CB’s other headline features is Space Alert. Almost all toy walkie talkie sets of this era had a ‘Morse Code’ or signalling button, which generates a tone that can be sent to the companion handset. The WT-605CB is no exception but the button has two settings; a light touch generates the Morse tone, and pressing the button all the way creates a wacky warbling sound. A small person with a lively imagination could pretend it was the sound of a laser disintegrator or interstellar communicator; holding down the press to talk (PTT) switch on the side of the handset at the same time sends the Morse tone or Space Alert to the other handset.   

 

Brother Pete found this set at his local Sunday car boot sales, in deepest Dorset. He paid just £5.00 for them, which was something of a bargain as it came in its original box, complete with the poly packing, and the all-important instructions. Both units are in extremely good condition and look as though they have hardly been used. One of them worked straight away, the other one was as dead as a doornail; it must have happened quite early on and it was probably the reason there was minimal wear and tear. Luckily it was the easiest (and one of the commonest) faults to fix. One of the wires to the battery clip had broken, almost certainly as a result of its original owner pulling too hard to detach the 9 volt PP3 battery. All of the functions worked, though as per usual, the performance was awful. The range is around 50 metres and sound quality is dreadful, but it’s worth remembering that the 70s and 80s were simpler times. In the years before mobile phones any form of wireless communication would have been something of a novelty, especially for a youngster. The CB receiver appeared to be working but it was difficult to be certain. Apparently there are still a few AM CBers out there, but none of them were within range at the time of testing.

 

What Happened To It?

Cheap toy walkie talkies are still with us, as are their more effective grown up cousins but the world has moved on and these days most pre-teens are more interested in communicating over the Internet. Vintage models like the WT-605CB are becoming quite scarce, though on the face of it this is not an especially unusual model. It was one of several thousand designs around at that time, though the CB receiver feature does set it apart from the crowd and gives it a modest rarity value, possibly as much as £20 to £30 on ebay if a couple of excitable bidders got carried away. Other types have become seriously collectible, though, and are now fetching some very impressive prices. The one’s to look out for are early examples from the 60s and 70s, and their appeal increases dramatically if they’re a novelty design with a tie-in to a popular TV series, movie or well-known cartoon character from the period. Needless to say if they are in pristine condition and boxed you can start talking serious money and it’s not unusual for mint examples to change hands for £100 or more.


GIZMO GUIDE (Manual)

First seen                1979

Original Price         £15

Value Today           £25 (1015)

Features                 Dual mode walkie talkies (49.8MHz)& 27MHz CB receiver, Morse Code & Space Alert signalling, 8-transistor circuit, PTT switch, pressure-sensitive Morse Code/Space Alert button, variable CB tuner (40 channels…), rotary volume, mode select (Walkie talkie/CD receiver), 50mm speaker/microphone, 7-section telescopic antenna, belt/sun visor clip,

Power req.                     1 x 9v PP3 battery

Dimensions:                   165 x 78 x 48mm (each unit)

Weight:                          250g (each unit)

Made (assembled) in:    Hong Kong

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  8


Hero HP-101 All Transistor Handy Phone, 1966

In my ongoing quest to re-acquire the long lost electronic gadgets of my youth this has been one of the most elusive but now, thanks to ebay, the search is over. The Hero Handy Phone is a 2-station intercom and it played a key role in my understanding of electronics, communications technology, and remote surveillance, but more about that in a moment. I cannot recall if the one I had was badged ‘Hero’; it probably wasn’t, early 60s Japanese electronic products like this often appeared under a dozen or more different band names but that doesn’t matter, in all other respects it is identical to the one that I once owned.

 

Although devices like these were sold in Exchange And Mart and wonderful shops, like Headquarters and General, as intercoms, they were more realistically baby alarms, and little more than toys. To qualify as a properly serious  Intercom it really needs at least two ‘sub’ stations in addition to the ‘master’ unit, but that really didn’t matter to pre-teenage kids; in the early 1960s being able to hold a private two-way conversation with a sibling or friend over distances of up to 60 feet -- the length of the connecting cable -- was nothing short of a miracle.     

 

Nevertheless it is a fully functional Intercom and with the master unit switched off both units can ‘call’ each other by pressing the button on the top; this generates a tone or rather a buzz on the other unit’s speaker. When the sub calls the master the procedure is to use the volume thumbwheel to switch it on and the sub’s speaker becomes a microphone allowing whoever is using the master to hear the caller. To reply they press the button on the top and the master unit’s speaker now becomes a microphone. Leaving the master unit switched on puts the Handy Phone into monitor mode, allowing the master user to hear whatever is going on in the vicinity of the sub unit. This feature was one of the Handy Phone’s, and similar models, biggest attractions. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how it can be used for spot of discrete eavesdropping. Probably fortunately for my juvenile ears, my parents were sufficiently tech-savvy to know about this feature and my attempts to covertly listen in to what they were saying after I had gone to bed were thwarted, either by the cable being unplugged, or it being ‘accidentally’ sucked up in the vacuum cleaner.

 

The circuit is a brilliant piece of minimalist design with very clever use of (then) expensive components. Using the speakers as microphones is one example and the call function tone, which  is derived by forcing the simple two-transistor push-pull amplifier to oscillate, shows considerable ingenuity. It also helped keep the cost down, which, for the record was typically forty-seven shillings and sixpence (£2.37), plus another four and sixpence (22 pence) for postage, if bought by mail order.

 

I have been on the lookout for one of these for a while and although they do occasionally pop up on ebay but they are either long past help or stupidly expensive. This one ticked all the right boxes, though; it was clearly in pretty good shape cosmetically and the description made it clear that it was complete, but a non-runner. There were no other bidders and was all mine for just 99p (19 shillings and 10 pence), though postage prices have risen somewhat in the past 50 or so years (£3.50…). It came in its original box, with a full reel of cable, which made it even more of a bargain. It had two relatively simple faults; the first one was the cable, which was open circuit. This turned out to be a broken joint on one of the jack plugs, and took about two minutes to fix. The other fault was a dicky electrolytic capacitor. This is very common on 60’s electronic devices and rather than mess around trying to find which one(s) are responsible I replaced them all with modern components for the simple reason that if they haven’t gone yet, they will eventually. Since there were only three of them to contend with this was another quick and easy job.  Apart from that all the two units needed was a quick clean up and it was working, and looking almost as good as new.

 

What Happened To It?

Looking back through my collection of old electronics mags (Practical Wireless & Practical Electronics etc.), basic 2-station intercoms like this made regular appearances in the small ads from the mid 1960s, for the best part of ten years. They didn’t suddenly disappear, though, and they continue to this day in the shape of baby monitors and door entry systems, though nowadays often without the connecting cables. However, for simple two-way communications they were somewhat overshadowed by cheap walkie-talkies, which by that time were coming out of the woodwork. On paper at least, to a budding young electronic enthusiast walkie-talkies seemed a lot more exciting though the vast majority of them had a range of around 20 metres, or around as far as you could shout…

 

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that collecting old intercoms is a fairly specialised hobby. There is a clear overlap into the much more lively telephone collecting market, though, where elegant vintage brass and bakelite models, and wacky looking designs, can command quite respectable prices on ebay. On the other hand cheap little mass-produced plastic jobbies like the Hero Handy Phone are never going to excite much interest or investment potential but like all 60’s electronic gadgets, good examples, especially if they come with their original box, will have some value to collectors of late 20th century ephemera and if he price is right, a really clean one might even make you a few bob one day.  


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                1966

Original Price         47/6 (£2.37)

Value Today           £10 (0715)

Features                  2-transistor (2SB221), push-pull audio amplifier, ‘call’ master/sub function, push-to-talk button, volume on/off thumbwheel, 2 x 55mm speakers, folding stand, 2.5mm mono jack sockets, 18 metres (approx 60 feet) connecting cable

Power req.                    9V PP3 battery

Dimensions:                  111 x 33 x 68mm (both units)

Weight:                         133g (Master) 110g (Sub)

Made (assembled) in:    Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  7


Panasonic EB-2601 Mobile Phone, 1990

Looking back at the early history of the mobile phone it is surprising to see how few Japanese brands were featured in the best seller lists. The market was dominated by American and European companies throughout the 80s and 90s though they, and the Japanese, have since succumbed to the relentless rise of Chinese and Korean manufacturers.

 

Japan’s lack of success wasn’t for the want of trying, though. Every so often Sony, Sanyo, Panasonic, Mitsubishi and NEC would produce something a bit special that would be briefly popular, but the general consensus was that many of those early designs were a step or three behind their Western counterparts. The Panasonic EB-2601 illustrates the point well. It’s a 1990 vintage cellphone and state of the art as far as the features are concerned, but as you can see it’s quite a lump. This type of phone was known in the trade as a transportable; it’s was a hangover from the first generation of mobile phones that appeared in the early 80s and the technology of the day meant that by necessity they were large, cumbersome and by weight, mostly battery. However, progress had been rapid and by the end of the eighties the Americans and Europeans were churning out pocket-sized handsets, and the Japanese were struggling to keep up.

 

The EB-2601 was one of the last of a dying breed but it still packed quite a punch and in spite of its shape and size, it is still very easy on the eye. The slim handset fits snugly into a cradle at the top of the unit and is held in place by a strong magnet; incidentally, this was one of the first mobile phones, of any type, to have a large LCD display; back then most phones were still using a single row of numeric LEDs showing the number dialled. Below the display there’s an illuminated keyboard with the usual bank of number buttons, each with a secondary function, plus three rows of dedicated function buttons for things like power on, number store, last number redial, Send and End call and so on. The handset connects to the two-part main unit by a thick curly lead and the only other items of interest are the mounting socket for the rubber ducky antenna (sadly missing), and a six-pin connector for the battery charger and car power adaptor/speaker. Alongside the handset is the NiCad battery pack, which is released by a button on the underside. The combined handset cradle and battery holder is attached to the electronics module by a single screw; presumably this allowed Panasonic to easily tailor the phone for different markets and at the time there were at least four competing technical standards for analogue cellphones in use throughout the world.

 

I found this one at a Sunday morning car boot sale in deepest darkest Kent and it cost me just £5.00, haggled down from £10. For the record this model would have cost the thick end of £1000 when new, and that was when a thousand pounds was worth something…

 

The ridiculously low price reflected the fact that it was in a pretty parlous state and only barely recognisable as a phone under the thick layer of crud. Closer examination suggested that it was in fairly good shape, with no obvious corrosion or serious marks on the case. The only visible problems were the lack of an antenna and the rubber carry handle, which had snapped cleanly in the middle. I have since learned that this is very common and I have only seen one or two others where the handle is still intact.

 

It cleaned up really well and the battery even managed to hold a charge for a few minutes, long enough to light up the LCD and handset buttons. It probably still works but nowadays its operational status is irrelevant. The analogue cellphone networks have long since disappeared, and it’s only possible function now is as a decorative, and increasingly collectible curio.

 

What Happened To It?

Transportables phones lingered on for a short while after hand portables first appeared. These old beasts typically had more powerful transmitters, more efficient antennas and the large batteries meant that they had running times of a day or more. This would have appealed to those who lived or worked in rural areas, where reception was often patchy, and users like vets, doctors, builders, field engineers and so on would probably be on the road for much of the time, so size and weight wasn’t necessarily a problem.

 

However, even before the EB-2601 appeared the demand for transportables was in steep decline, and it wasn’t long before the rapid improvements in network coverage, handset power management and battery technology meant that by the early 90s’ these technological dinosaurs were effectively extinct.

 

The fiver I paid for this one wasn’t unrealistic, considering the condition it was in and if the stall holder had spent just a few minutes cleaning it up it could have easily fetched four or five times as much, maybe more. Vintage cellphones have become very collectible though, and are now commanding some quite staggering prices though the big bucks tend to be concentrated on very early models, especially the rare and iconic ones. Later transportables like this will never be as popular but there’s no reason to suppose that they won’t gradually increase in value so now is as good a time as any to grab one while there are still a few about and prices are relatively low.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                  1990

Original Price           £1000.00 plus

Value Today             £10 - £50 (0615)

Features                   Analogue ETACS network connectivity, alphanumeric LCD screen, 8-number memory, last number redial, call timer, eco mode

Power req.                    10.8 V rechargeable nicad battery pack, 12 VDC car adaptor

Dimensions:                   220 x 165 x 60mm

Weight:                         - 2.2kg

Made (assembled) in:    UK & Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  7


Acoustic Coupler, 1975

These days most hotels have Wi-Fi on offer. True, you might have to pay through the nose for it, or if it is free, only accessible in the lobby, or by hanging your smartphone or tablet PC out of a tenth story window but the point is, it’s a damn site easier to get online when travelling than it used to be. Back in the dark ages, somewhere between the mid 1970s to late 80s, not only did you have to heft a so-called portable computer that probably weighed more than the rest of your luggage, there was the problem of connecting it to a phone line. Even if you managed to do that there was the difficulty of actually establishing a data link with a remote computer, not to mention explaining the eye-watering bills when you got back, assuming that you actually managed to get through..

 

The first hurdle, though, was always the computer/phone line interface. Very few hotel rooms had phone sockets, and those that did it, were bound to be a weird type, that you didn’t have an adaptor for. Seasoned travellers took to carrying an assortment of adaptors plus a screwdriver and some basic tools so if all else failed they could cobble together a hard-wire connection with the room phone’s junction box. There was another way, though, and that was to use something like this. It’s a portable acoustic coupler and it doesn’t get much simpler. All you had to do was slip the rubber cups over the room phone’s mouthpiece and earpiece and plug it into the modem’s audio port, or if you were lucky and your computer had suitable modem built in, pop it into the PC’s audio input jack.

 

It probably seems a bit strange now that we have become accustomed to digital phone lines, fast broadband, wireless connectivity, 3G and 4G mobile data, and all the rest of it, but you have remember that before that, data was sent down phone lines as a stream – or rather a gentle trickle -- of audible tones. That meant there was no need for a direct electrical connection between the phone and the modem. It was stone-age technology, but it worked, albeit at speeds that seem derisory now. Theoretically, on a crystal clear line it was possible to get up to 1,200 bits per second; in practice you would be lucky to achieve a quarter of that. On the upside life online was simpler back then and communications tended to involve sending and receiving relatively small amounts of text. An acoustic coupler also solved at a stroke the problem of the multitude of incompatible phone plug and socket types, differences in phone standards and hotels switchboard operators who delighted in blocking or interrupting data calls, all of which conspired to make international travel even more of a misery than it already was, and still is!

 

This particular acoustic coupler seems to be quite rare, it's purpose-designed for portable operation and was probably at the budget end of the market; the majority of models were intended for desktop use and built into a single unit or cradle into which you inserted the phone. This design has the advantage of being able to fit a much wider range of handsets shapes and sizes. It looks simple, and it is. Aside from the two pliable silicon-rubber cups and connecting cable, terminated with a standard 3.5mm stereo jack, the only other components of note are the two earpieces. They’re unmarked but they look a lot like STC 4T earpieces. These were something of a standard in phones made from the mid 60s onwards. It would have made sense to use them, technically and economically, and earpieces with similar characteristics to the one in the majority of phones would be least likely to run into compatibility problems. Using an earpiece as a microphone is also simplifies the design and helped keep the price down.

 

My elder brother gave this one to me; he was a hard-core business traveller of many years standing, and used it with an Osborne 1 ‘luggable’ PC, which he still has, (and one day I hope to get my hands on). This coupler probably wasn’t a supplied accessory and there is no indication of the maker’s name or country of origin but it is quite similar to one sold by Radio Shack/Tandy at about the same time, which cost around $40. I have no doubt that it still works, there’s virtually nothing to go wrong. The only problem is that life is way too short to find out for sure as it would involve finding a suitable modem and setting up dial-up modem connection, and that’s not something I ever want to do again…

 

What Happened To It?

Direct connection modems started appearing in the early 80s and rapidly became standard fitments in early laptops and widely available as stand-alone or plug-in adaptor cards for desktop machines. Advances in modem technology, a tightening up of data comms standards and protocols and big improvements in phone line quality resulted in steady increases in data speeds, from 1200 to 2400 bps, at which point acoustic couplers became unreliable and ineffective and they went in to a steep decline. In short they’re pretty much useless for anything other than curios and novelties so if you have one, I can confidently tell you it is not going to make you rich. They do have some historic value, though, and it is easy to forget the many trials and tribulations early PC users went through, to connect to and communicate with fellow users, and occasionally, the sheer joy when it actually worked! 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                   1970?

Original Price            £40.00?

Value Today              £5.00? (0515)

Features                     2 x STC 4T earpiece/receiver. silicon rubber cups, 600mm cable, terminated in standard 3.5mm stereo jack plug 

Power req.                      n/a

Dimensions:                     74 x 60mm (each cup)

Weight:                            180g

Made (assembled) in:      UK/USA?

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):    8


BT Genie Phone TSR8023, 1983

According to adverts at the time the BT Genie is a ‘little piece of telephone magic’, and it wasn’t just the shape, loosely inspired by the classic Aladdin magic lantern; it had a push button dial as well, which the ad also claimed worked ‘like magic’; it seems that we were easily impressed back then… To be fair this was the 1980’s, a decade notorious for countless aberrations in style and taste and the Genie was a product of its time. No doubt it is due for a revival, given the ongoing trend for kitsch and retro gadgetry and the good news is that it is a useable phone, providing you’re not looking for fancy (and to a 1980’s adman, ‘magical’) features, like hash and star buttons.

 

It’s all about the shape; under the skin the main components are all fairly conventional and there’s nothing really new. This didn’t stop promotional blurb and several write-ups claiming it was the first phone to have an electronic ringer, but that’s clearly wrong, the GPO Trimphone had one twenty years previously. The design was new, to the UK at least, though it originated in the USA in the late 1970s, developed by the American Telephone Corporation (ATC or Deco-Tel). The Genie phone first introduced by BT in 1983 was made under licence in the UK by two companies, AP Besson Ltd, and Autophon Ltd and part of its Telephones Special Range (hence the TSR model number), which also included the Ericofon Cobra.

 

As usual the standard of construction is very high and it’s made of a near indestructible plastic, available in a range of colours including the Blue/White model here, plus White, Peach, Red and Brown. Inside there’s a single printed circuit board on which the dial and all of the electronic components, apart from the ringer module, are mounted. The handset connects to the base unit via a pluggable curly cord and the line cord is terminated in the standard BT jack. The design of the handset came in for a fair amount of stick and because of its curvy shape it was almost impossible to use it hands-free (i.e. clamped between the user's ear and shoulder), and when it did fly free and land on a hard surface the two parts – held in place by four screws -- would sometimes come apart. The only controls, apart from the push-button dial, are a three-way slide switch for setting the ringer volume (Off/Hi/Lo). Annoyingly two of the dial buttons on this particular model are unmarked; on some later versions one of them is used for a last number redial feature. 

 

This two-tone model was found at open-air antiques market, it was clearly a veteran of such events and looked rather bedraggled. It was optimistically priced at £8.00 but the it didn’t take much persuading for the stallholder to drop the price to a fiver, which seemed fair in view of the fact that he couldn’t give any assurances as to its working state. I needn’t have worried, it takes a lot to damage vintage GPO/BT phones and all it needed was a strip-down, a wipe over for the case and handset with some white spirit, to remove the drippings of decades of lazy painters, and some plastic polish, to get it looking like new. Judging by the condition of the innards it was unlikely that it had been opened since the day it rolled off the production line and as expected it was in good working order.

 

What Happened To It?

The records are a little vague but it looks like the Genie was available until the late 80s and possibly into the early 90s and it appears that it was very popular, if the numbers of them appearing on ebay is anything to go by. It’s not a valuable classic, at least not yet, and you can find plenty of clean examples selling between £15.00 and £25.00. There doesn’t seem to be any special editions or rare variants, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for experimental and trial versions, one was  clad in leather, and models sold in other countries with different colour schemes, which might be worth something to collectors in the future. 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                  1983

Original Price           £70 plus additional £5.00 monthly rental & installation charge

Value Today             £15 (0415)

Features                   Electronic ‘ringer’, push-button dial, 3-position volume switch

Power req.                     n/a (line powered)

Dimensions:                   220 x 95 x 110mm

Weight:                          0.55kg

Made (assembled) in:    UK

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  4


GPO/RAF Desk Microphone No. 3, 1945?

It’s a microphone, that much is obvious, but the model number or designation for this item, and the date of manufacture, are all conjecture. That’s because it is a bit of a mongrel and to explain that we need to indulge in some industrial-strength geeky-nerdism so if you feel a yawn coming on please skip the next paragraph.

 

As you can see it looks a lot like the classic GPO candlestick telephone, a Type 150 to be precise, fitted with the later Bakelite Transmitter No.16 (or possibly No. 22) microphone assembly (I did warn you if you’re still here…). Normally candlestick phones have a hinged arm, connected to a switch, sticking out through a slot in the side of the pillar, where you hang the hand-held earpiece or ‘receiver’, but not on this one. Now, if you cast your eyes down to the base, where you generally see a rotary dial, there is a small toggle switch, for turning the mike on and off. The Bakelite housing at the top usually contains a No. 10 or No. 15 transmitter ‘inset’; basically this a carbon type microphone module, and used almost exclusively in telephone systems. However, this has been replaced with a magnetic microphone insert, of unknown make and type, but it is clearly intended to match the electrical characteristics of amplifiers and communications equipment. Inside there are more signs of its telephonic origins, including the metal chassis on which the previously mentioned switch was mounted, as well as a couple of rows of brass terminals for the wiring.  

 

How this hotch-potch of parts came into being is still a bit of mystery but the most likely explanation seems to be that it was put together by the GPO for the RAF during the Second World War, for use by military aircraft controllers and radio ground stations. It may also have seen service later on in civilian applications such as PA systems but it is unlikely that it was ever used for anything more demanding, such as broadcasting or recording, as the microphone isn’t a quality item though it works perfectly well for speech.

 

It is as tough as old boots and apart from the transmitter module at the top, it’s all-metal construction, steel for the pillar and skirt, there’s a heavy cast iron base on the underside and the hinged neck parts or ‘swizzle’ are all made of brass. There are very few visible marks anywhere, but the transmitter has TE 12, No 16 moulded into the cap and MPL on the rear section. The switch is printed with a crown and the letters AR, which I suspect stands for Air Ministry, with part number 10F-10338 and neatly painted on the base there’s what might be a military stock or stores number, 10A/12052.

 

I found it in a box of junk at a car boot sale a few years ago and as far as I recall it cost around £1.50. It was in a fairly tatty state and until recently stored, as found, at the bottom of a box of ‘to-do’ items in my garage. It didn’t take long to lick it back into shape, though. The old stove enamel finish was quite rough but this cleaned off easily, back to bare metal and it was treated to a few layers of car spay undercoat and gloss black topcoat. The brass parts were heavily tarnished but scrubbed up nicely with some Brasso and a lot of elbow grease. The Bakelite transmitter module also responded well to the Brasso treatment and now shines like new. Rubber insulation on the internal wiring was in an advanced state of decay and the microphone cable, which once upon a time was protected by a heavy woven metal sheath had been cut off, so the remaining portion was removed. There’s really not a lot more to add and, as ever, if anyone has more detailed information about its history please feel free to drop me a line and put me right..

 

What Happened To It?

It is hard to say exactly when it was made, but the parts and construction, plus the markings on the switch all point to it being WW II era and it was probably cobbled together quite quickly, to meet the urgent need for communications equipment. When the war ended some undoubtedly continued to be used for a while but most of them would have gone into storage. Others were eventually replaced by better specified or purpose designed mikes. Later, probably during the 50s and 60s some found their way onto the military surplus market. What happened to this one prior to ending up at a boot sale is anyone’s guess. I do not think these microphones are especially rare and when they turn up on ebay prices tend to vary between from £5 and £25, sometimes more if a couple of collectors, enthusiasts or interior decorators get into a tussle. It’s probably not going to become a valuable or sought after collectible, nor is it especially useful for anything, other than an ornament. However, I urge anyone who finds one, or a genuine candlestick phone, not to commit the ultimate sacrilege and convert it into a table lamp – save that for the cheap  modern repros...  


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                1945 – 55?

Original Price         £?

Value Today           £10 (0315)

Features                  Magnetic microphone module, on/off toggle switch, heavy cast iron base

Power req.                    n/a

Dimensions:                  290 x 135mm

Weight:                         1.8 kg

Made (assembled) in:    England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


AN/PRC-6 (RT-196, TR-PP-8) Walkie Talkie,1963?

In almost every film and TV show made about the Korean or Vietnam wars you’ll see these iconic walkie-talkies, usually in the thick of the action. It goes under several different names; the official US Military designations are AN/PRC-6 and RT-196 but to those who used it, it was often known, sometimes even  affectionately, as the Green Banana or Prick 6. (For the record and in case you were wondering, AN/PRC is US Military jargon for Army Navy/Personal Radio Communications).

 

Development work on the PCR-6, led by US electronic manufacturer Raytheon, began in the late 1940s and it was intended to replace the even more famous SCR-536 ‘handy-talkie’, used throughout World War II by US and allied troops. The key design requirements were that the new field radio would be smaller, lighter and more efficient than its predecessor. This was achieved through the use of newly developed sub-miniature valves or vacuum tubes, It has 12 of them (plus one normal-sized valve), in a frequency modulated (FM) transmitter-receiver circuit operating on the 47 – 55MHz band, with a choice of up to 44 crystal-controlled channels. Together this provided better range and sound quality plus longer battery life than the SRC-536. To say it was a success would be an understatement and not only was it manufactured in vast numbers in the US throughout the 1950s and early 60s, it was also produced under license in France, Germany, Greece, Israel and Italy, to name just a few and it continued in service with the US military until 1972; solid state variants were still being made, and used several years after that

 

This one is a actually TR-PP-8, which is the French made variant and it is essentially the same as the US original, though there are differences in the tuning mechanism, which we will come to in a moment. It was designed from the outset to be idiot proof and virtually indestructible, and in those regards it does brilliantly! The microphone and earpiece are built-in and conveniently located for one-handed operation, even if the user is wearing a helmet. There are just four simple controls; the press to talk button is on the left side, a rotary volume knob is on the other side, below the earphone is the main on/off switch, which doubles up as the selector switch for the internal microphone/earphone or an optional external telephone handset, and on the top is the channel selector knob. On the French model the channel selector knob operates a rotary carousel containing the crystals and their associated tuning components. In the original US version the crystals and tuners are fixed for single channel operation..

 

The case is a two-part aluminium casting, held together by four clasps and there are rubber gaskets and seals throughout, to keep out moisture and dirt. Extra protection in the form of waterproof covers for the mike and earphone were also produced and there is a screw cap cover for the handset connector. The case is airtight too, and there is an air valve on the underside of the case that the user is supposed to close when the unit is not being used. The reason for this is unclear but it may be that it’s a way of protecting the valves if the unit is transported by air in unpressurised aircraft. On the back of the case there’s an elaborate adjustable webbing strap, designed to make it easier to hold, with or without gloves, and slung over the shoulder when it is being carried.

 

The PRC-6 was supplied with a whip antenna of ingenious design. It’s a 60cm length of laminated steel strip, not unlike the spring steel used in retractable tape measures (but a bit thicker), which makes it very durable. When not in used it can be safely bent and wrapped around the case, held in place by the case clasps and a small clip. A folding direction-finding antenna was also produced for the PRC-6 and this could be used to help locate other users in difficult terrain.

 

The transmitter has an output of around a quarter to a third of a watt (250 – 300mW) and the claimed range on open ground was around 1.6km or a mile or so but this dropped off significantly in heavily forested areas or jungle terrain, down to just a couple of hundred metres or so. It’s primary use was to provide short range communication between ground forces and mobile units; the manuals also suggest that it can be used to communicate with aircraft but this seems a tad optimistic given its relatively low power output.

 

Service and maintenance were given a very high priority and the electronics are contained in a single and easily replaceable module. The valves and crystals could also be replaced or changed in the field by untrained personnel if necessary. The only real operational problem is the battery, or rather batteries. Since it uses valves it requires several different voltage supplies, which for the record are  +1.5, -4.5, +45 and +90 volts DC. Needless to say the disposable battery pack these things used are long gone, (they weighed over 1kg and apparently lasted around 10 hours with normal use), so anyone wanting to get one of these old beasties up and running faces a challenge. It can be done, though and several websites have plans for power packs using modern batteries (the + 45 and +90 volts can be produced by stringing 10 x 9 volt PP3 type radio batteries together), and there is plenty of room inside the case so it is certainly do-able. Valves and spare parts are still available on the web, though they are becoming increasingly expensive and difficult to find as the years go by.

 

I found this one at a regular Surrey antiques fair and almost didn’t spot is as was in such a filthy state. The stallholder said he picked it up in France but didn’t know what it was, suggesting that it might be an early cellphone. He obviously wasn’t attached to it and readily accepted my offer of £5.00. Before parting with the cash I had a peek inside and it was relieved to see that the seals had done their job well, apart from a few spider’s webs it appeared to be in excellent condition.

 

The biggest problem was corrosion on the outside of the case where the metal had been exposed but rather than leave it or try and patch it up I removed all of the innards and stripped the case, and all the metal fittings, back to bare metal. As it turned out the corrosion damage wasn’t too bad and most of it could be cleaned up with Dremel tools. There were one or two more serious patches but these were filled in with resin and sanded back to a smooth, and now virtually invisible finish. Several coats of filler-primer and two of olive drab later and it looks like it has just come out of the factory.

 

The webbing straps were a bit weather-beaten but they responded well to detergents and fabric conditioner and apart for the loss of colour, should be good for a few years yet. The exterior labels and data plate were in poor condition. Replacements are available but I decided to make my own using a PC image-editing program and a combination of scans of my originals and photos from the Internet. These were laser printed onto clear OHP film and the back sprayed with silver paint. I defy anyone but an expert with a magnifying glass to tell them apart from the real thing.

 

I haven’t yet got around to testing it but a close inspection of the electronic module suggests that there is no reason, barring failure of one or more valves, why it should not work. It is going to have to wait, though until I have mustered the energy and inclination to build a power supply

 

What Happened To It?

The PRC-6 was manufactured by several different companies, in various countries around the world so it is difficult to say when production finally ended. Valve-based versions made in the US probably didn’t continue much beyond the early 1960s as by that time transistors had become sufficiently reliable and could do a better job, though for several years it appears that old PRC-6s were kept in service by replacing the valve unit with a solid-state curcuit module.

 

Until a few years ago quite large numbers of decommissioned PRC-6s were coming on to the military surplus market and selling for the equivalent of just a few pounds, though a lot of them were beyond repair and it wasn’t unusual for collectors to buy several at a time and with luck have enough usable parts to make one complete unit.  In fact it is a wonder that any of them have survived -- see below:


From The AN/PRC-6 Field Maintenance Manual:

Section II DEMOLITION TO PREVENT ENEMY USE

75. Methods of Destruction

  1. Smash. Smash crystals, tubes, main chassis and handset, using heavy tools. If none of these are available use one piece of the case as a hammer.
  2. Burn. Burn everything that cannot be smashed completely, including instruction books. Use gasoline, kerosene, oil or incendiary grenades.
  3. Explosives. If explosives are necessary use firearms or grenades.
  4. Disposal. Bury or scatter the destroyed parts in slit trenches, fox holes or other holes or throw them into streams.

In stock condition the PRC-6 operates on or close to one of the amateur (Ham) radio bands but the circuitry simply isn’t good enough to make it useable so there are quite a few examples PCR-6’s where the original guts have been removed and replaced with modern communications equipment.

 

At the time of writing there’s usually a dozen or more PRC-6s and European variants on sale on ebay. Typically around half of them have very badly corroded and battered cases, and are probably unsalvageable, nevertheless the prices remain high and even what look like complete basket cases can fetch £50 or more. However, be warned that many of them are in the US so shipping can be expensive. There are always a few from European countries, often in slightly better condition but although the shipping is cheaper they tend to be quite expensive. I was definitely very lucky with mine but it isn’t unique and they can still be found at bargain basement prices, at boot sales and antique sales, but be prepared to do at least some restoration work. 


GIZMO GUIDE (Manual)

First seen              1950

Original Price        £?

Value Today          £75 (0315)

Features                 6-Channel FM transceiver, 6 channel operation 47 – 55.4MHz (44 channels possible with 200kHz separation), 300mw RF output (range up to 1.6km/1 mile in open), 13 sub-miniature miniature valves (5678 2G21 5672 5676 3B4), water resistant casing with pressure equalisation valve, 51cm flat flexible steel antenna, optional telephone handset, optional directional antenna, webbing handgrip & sling 

Power req.                    Proprietary battery pack (+1.5, -4.5, +45 & +90 VDC)

Dimensions:                   370 x 110 x 125mm

Weight:                          2.2 kg (3.2kg inc. battery pack)

Made (assembled) in:    USA/France/Germany etc

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


GPO Headset No.1, 1969

There is an interesting document on the Britishtelephones website, probably dating from the early 1960s. It covers the development history of GPO Headset No.1, from 1948 to 1959. It’s a fascinating insight into the bureaucracy of a state-owned organisation, and the legendary inertia of the GPO’s engineering division. But this was a very different time, and truth be told it wasn’t that unusual for it to take 10 years or more for what now seems to be a relatively unsophisticated product, to get from the drawing board to the production line. However, the big question is that how, after more than a decade of work, they still managed to come up with such an inelegant and uncomfortable design…

 

It was definitely an improvement on its predecessor, though, which was a cumbersome and heavy ‘chest’ microphone, suspended around the operator’s neck. High on the list of Headset No 1’s design objectives was that it should be lightweight, and it is, just 120 grams or a little over 4 ounces and this was largely due to what was then newly-developed compact microphone or ‘transmitter’ and headphone or ‘receiver’ modules. These are mounted together into a weirdly shaped, scalloped enclosure moulded from nylon, which also helped keep the weight down. The really distinctive feature though, is the ‘acoustic horn’, which makes it look like something from the 1930s, rather than the space age sixties. To be fair it does the job, and it is cleverly articulated, on a ball-joint type arrangement, which gives it a good range of movement, to put it close to the user’s mouth. It can also be turned through 180 degrees, so it can be used for right or left side operation.

 

The olde-tyme horn is actually a consequence of the microphone module, known as Transmitter Inset No.15 to its friends. It is a carbon granule type and essentially a miniature version of the ones that had been used in phones since the year dot, which was a little after the carbon mike was invented, in the late nineteenth century. Carbon mikes were still in widespread use until very recently and Telephone Inset No.15 also popped up again in the GPO Trimphone, this time used as the sounder for the distinctive ‘warbler’ ringer. The horn helps to make up for the carbon granule mike's lack of sensitivity; they also have a very narrow frequency range, though this isn’t a problem for speech. Most importantly, the way that they work means there is no need for amplification, which is a major plus point for telephone systems. If you are interested there’s more about them in this earlier GPO Dustygizmo.

 

Incidentally, the Acoustic Horn on my example appears to have a slightly narrower mouth, compared with others that I have seen (the original is Part No. 1/DMO/66, this one is marked 1/402), so it may be an alternative type or a later replacement.

 

The headphone module uses rather exotic sounding ‘rocking armature’ technology. Basically a thin diaphragm, attached to a small magnet, moves up and down in response to voltages passing though a coil around the magnet. In other words it’s a lot like modern headphones and loudspeakers. Apparently it worked a little too well and after a while operators in public telephone exchanges could find it a bit too loud. The solution was to wire a 150-ohm resistor across the terminals to wind down the volume a little  

 

User comfort seems to have been given a fairly low priority, fortunately it doesn’t weigh very much but the wire headband is quite springy and gives the hard and uncushioned headset module and round rubber ‘headpad’ on the other end a fair old squeeze; the little sliding pad on the top doesn’t do much at all. It was probably configured for a notional standard GPO head and took little account of different head or ear shapes and sizes, hair styles and so on. You start to notice it after a few minutes, so heaven knows what it was like to wear for hours on end. By the way, there’s also a Headset No. 2. This has a second earphone on the other side (Part 1/DCA/99) plus a more substantial headband (Headband No.13). Both Headset 1 and 2 were made in black and grey plastic.  

 

This one has been tucked away in a box of old phone parts in my garage for more than 20 years so I cannot remember how I came by it, or how much it cost, but if I did pay for it, it would have been pennies, rather than pounds. The only thing missing is the connecting cable and plug. I suspect that it was in poor condition when I first got it, so I cut it off, meaning to replace it at some point. Maybe I will, one day, and I am pretty sure that it still works, as there is almost nothing to go wrong. The overall condition is very good indeed and apart from some signs of light use, it could almost be fresh out of the box.

 

What Happened To It?

Tens of thousands of Headset No.1 were made, probably at great expense to the British taxpayer, and they would have been in regular use at least until the early 1990s. Many of them found their way into the consumer marked as they were replaced, sold off and thrown away as telephone exchanges and switchboards were updated from the1980s onwards. Modern operator headsets are a world away from this old dinosaur, which even managed to look old fashioned when it first came out. The basic design principles haven’t changed much though, and it is still important for an operator to be able to hear both the phone line, and the outside world; nowadays there’s a much greater emphasis on comfort and even hygiene, plus a raft of special features, like noise cancellation that improves sound quality at both ends of the phone call.

 

Unfortunately, apart from a museum piece Headset No 1 isn’t much use for anything anymore. You could replace the microphone and headphone with modern inserts and use it for video gaming, or even as a funky mobile phone headset, but it’s hardly worth the effort, and you wouldn’t want to wear it for any length of time. They are not especially rare either, though prices are creeping up and you can expect to pay £20 to £25 for a really clean one. They’re a little too recent, and not weird enough to be a fully qualified collectible, but give it time. If you spot one at a low enough price it’s probably worth stashing away for your children’s, or more likely your grandchildren’s retirement fund. 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                 1960

Original Price           £? (probably lots...)

Value Today             £25 (0115)

Features                   Carbon granule microphone (Transmitter Inset No.15), rocking armature earphone (Receiver Inset No. 3T, 150 ohm impedance), right or left ear operation, sliding headpads, elbow/ball-jointed acoustic horn

Power req.                    n/a (powered by exchange equipment, 40mA optimum feed current)

Dimensions:                  160 x 140 x 190mm (unexpanded)

Weight:                         120g

Made (assembled) in:    England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


Ericsson Ericofon 600 Cobra Telephone, 1983

It is really easy to get drawn into the weird and wonderful world of collecting old telephones. Once hooked you quickly become an armchair expert and doomed to bore those around you every time a historically inaccurate or inappropriate phone appears in a period TV drama or movie. Fortunately most normal people rightly regard old phones as rather dull, utilitarian objects, which is good news for us collectors as it means that interesting and historic models turn up regularly at car boot sales and flea markets, often for a fraction of their real worth – to collectors, at any rate.

 

Here is one that any budding phone collector (there doesn’t seem to be a collective noun, so how about blowerphile…) should definitely have on their watch list. It’s a genuine design classic – there’s one in New York’s Museum of Modern Arts. It’s officially known as the L.M Ericsson Ericofon and it was conceived in the early 1950s, by a team of designers and engineers led by Ralph Lysell, with Gösta Thames, Hans Kraepelien and Hugo Blomberg; it finally went into production in 1956. 

 

The most noticeable feature is the all-in-one design, with the earpiece (receiver), microphone (transmitter) and rotary dial -- the latter set into the base – together in one hand held unit; a large red button in the middle of the dial acts as the line switch, so all the user has to do is pick it up to make or take a call. This wasn’t an entirely new idea; prototype one-piece phones had been around since the 1930s, but the Ericofon was the first one to actually go into production, and it was also one of the first phones to be made entirely from a lightweight thermoplastic, and available in a range of colours. Until then almost all phones were made using heavy, any-colour-you-like-as-long-as-it is-black, Bakelite. As you can see it is an elegantly simple and practical design and it became popular with hospitals, as bedside phones, as patients could use it one handed. Its snake-like appearance quickly earned it the nickname ‘Kobra’ or Cobra, as it spread to English speaking markets.

 

America and Australia became early adopters in the early sixties; in the US it started out as an office phone; initially there was stiff resistance from Bell Telephones, who were not keen on having foreign objects connected to their apparatus. Eventually they gave in and were made available to the public and such was the demand that an assembly plant was set up in the US by North Electric, a company part-owned by Ericsson.

 

This particular Ericofon is the British version, made in Sweden and imported by BT during the late 1970s as part of its ‘Special Range’. It was designated model number 600, though internally it was known as the TSR8007B (TSR stands for Telephone Special Range). It was basically the same as the Swedish original but it doesn’t have a built in buzzer (Ericsson were one of the first to use an all-electronic ringer), as apparently BT felt that it would mostly be used as an extension phone. At the time you could only rent phones from BT and it remained their property; to get one you had to pay a one-off charge of £20, plus an additional rental fee of £2.50 a month, and that was a fair whack back then.

 

I found this one at a large antiques market in Surrey. The stallholder was asking £10 for it, but being a wet and windy day I managed to haggle it down to £8.00. There was no way of knowing whether it worked or not, but that’s not really a deal-breaker on old dial phones. Without star and hash functions they are of limited use on digital phone networks, but condition is still important. I was lucky and all it needed was a good clean up and as it turned out, it was in full working order. Even though it is more than 30 years old it still sounds as good as most modern phones. The only slight flaw was the cracked and partially missing plastic skirt or gasket that goes around the base; this part is notoriously fragile, fortunately modern replacements are readily available for a few pounds.

 

There are a few points for would-be collectors to watch out for. Original Swedish made models are more desirable than the more numerous US versions, and the older they are the better. First generation models are fairly easy to spot as they are slightly taller (around 230mm) and it’s worth looking inside, as there should be a date of manufacture stamp on the inside. There are a fair few modern repros and copies doing the rounds. Normally a modern push-button ‘dial’ or keypad on a vintage phone is a bit of a giveaway, but this was a feature on models made in the US and Sweden in the late 60s.  A more angular push-button only model was also introduced in the 1980s, called the Ericofon 700. It wasn’t very popular so they are quite rare but they lack the kudos of the curvy 600. Weight and feel is another indicator of age and the genuine article feels solid and well made; the real thing should also have an Ericsson or North Electric maker’s label on the base. Early models were available in a choice of 18 colour variations, later reduced to 8. For the record green, dark grey, pale blue and burgundy are the ones serious collectors are most interested in.

 

What Happened To It?

The US market for the Ericofon went in a fairly rapid decline following the introduction of a rival one-piece phone from Bell Telecom. It was eventually discontinued in 1976, though parts were sold off and a third party company continued making them for a couple of years. However, by the early1980s phone markets across the world were awash with cheap, often eye-catching and usually more technically advanced phones. Although large-scale production had ended by the mid 80s, the basic one-piece design lives on through countless modern variants and more recently, faithful reproductions, like the Wild and Wolf Scandiphone.

 

For collectors, though, only the original will do, and for the moment at least, they are not too difficult to find. The most abundant source is ebay; the majority of them are in the US, so watch out for shipping costs, but there are usually two or three UK models up for grabs. Prices are all over the place, from £20 - £30 for good clean examples, to wildly optimistic three-figure sums, but as ever it pays to be patient and keep your eyes peeled for those bargains.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen         1956

Original Price   £n/a (BT option £20 plus £2.50 monthly charge)

Value Today     £30 (1114)

Features           One piece design, rotary dial, line switch on base

Power req.                     n/a (powered by phone line)

Dimensions:                   225 x 111 x 95mm

Weight:                          410g

Made (assembled) in:    Sweden

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  7


Motorola Micro TAC Classic Mobile Phone, 1991

If ever you need reminding how far and how fast technology has changed then look no further than the phone in your pocket. The very fact that you have one is nothing short of remarkable given that in less than three decades mobile phones went from being something only the rich and powerful could afford to own and use, to an everyday commodity item. And here’s something else to think about. According to an ITU (International Telecomm - unications Union) report, in 2014 there were more mobile phones than people on the planet. That’s not the number of phones made to date but ‘active and in-use’ devices, which suggests that quite a lot of people have more than one phone…

 

Back in the late 80s and early 90s mobile phones were still a bit of a novelty. Although they were steadily moving into the mainstream, having one usually marked you out as a high flyer, or a builder, and if you had any say in the matter, the phone that you wanted would probably have been a Motorola MicroTAC (TAC stands for Total Area Coverage, by the way…). It was the very first ‘flip’ phone, and it all began with the Motorola MicroTAC 9800X, in 1989. This one is the slightly later Classic model, launched in 1991, but apart from a few cosmetic tweaks, and an uprated display, it shares most of the important features of the iconic original.

 

Aside from the small size and light weight, the key selling point was the flip cover and its primary job was to protect the keypad. As phones got smaller and eventually pocket-size, a very common complaint was how easy it was to accidentally brush the keys and make unwanted (and very expensive) phone calls. Most manufacturers incorporated some sort of keyboard lock function, which was usually inconvenient to use, especially if you were in a hurry, but Motorola’s ingenious flip cover solved the problem at a stroke. As an added bonus it also made users look cool – or so many of them thought -- when they ostentatiously flipped it open to make or take calls.

 

The original 9800X had the microphone built into the flip cover; it was a feature that Motorola exploited in a series of memorable TV adverts, showing users with their mouths on the sides of their faces; you need to watch the ad to understand… It took off almost immediately and the flip cover became a standard feature on all subsequent MicroTAC models and slavishly copied by other manufacturers.

 

What few of those later MicroTAC owners realised was that even though the flip cover had what looked like a little hole for the microphone, it was actually built into the body of the phone, and the real mike hole was tucked away in a gap in the hinge assembly. This wasn’t the only piece of fakery and the pull-out antenna, which many owners delighted in extending at every opportunity, even if they weren’t in a poor signal area, was in fact just a piece of plastic covered wire. The actual active antenna is housed in the short stub at the top of the case and the pull-out jobby is just a cosmetic con. Research at the time showed that users expected mobile phones to have antennas, and no doubt most of them thought that this one really worked. 

 

When it came to features and functions those early MicroTACs were nothing special but these were simpler times and the scope for fancy bells and whistles was limited by the fact that this was a first generation analogue ETACs model, and all it could really do was make phone calls. At or close to the top of the list is the LCD display; it’s a dot matrix type, which means it can display up to 10 alphanumeric characters, as well as a limited range of icons showing status, signal strength, battery level, menu options and so on. This was actually quite a leap forward from the first MicroTACs, which had basic 8-digit LED displays and indicator lights. There’s a few simple memory functions (last number redial, 8 number memory and fast dial), and there’s a call timer, which was essential, with some networks charging between £3.00 and £5.00 a minute for their services.

 

Motorola were one of the first to use Nickel Metal-Hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries to power their phones. They were not quite as powerful as nicads but didn’t suffer from the dreaded ‘memory’ effect that quickly reduced the capacity of nicads. The battery clips onto the back of the phone, in effect becoming part of the case and this proved useful to accessory manufacturers who were able produce slightly thicker, high-capacity types, you could also get them with belt clips and so on.

 

MicroTACs, like many phones of the day were mostly available in any colour that you wanted, as long as it was black, grey or grey-blue, but the cases were made from an incredibly durable plastic that could take a tremendous amount of punishment. This one I have had from new and was probably a review sample back when I was reviewing phones and accessories for a number of cellphone magazines. It is in near mint condition but sadly, without its original box, charger or a working battery, all of which I suspect I gave away.

 

What Happened To It?

I have no doubt that this phone still works, the only problem is there is no one to talk to as the last analogue mobile network in the UK was switched off in 2001, which makes it pretty well useless for anything, other than a paperweight. Nevertheless, over the last few years a growing collectors market has developed, and demand for vintage models, and prices, have shot up. Not so long ago you could pick up old mobile phones like this for a pound or two at car boot sales, there is still the odd one to be found, but they tend to be the less interesting types, but more memorable or influential models, like the MicroTAC routinely sell on ebay for £30 to £50, sometimes more if they are boxed and come with accessories, but you need to be careful. Collectors have become really choosy and although outwardly many MicroTACs look the same, they are looking for the handful of rare models. You can easily sort the wheat from the chaff and a good indication of age and therefore scarcity is an LED screen. The thickness of the flip cover is another sign of age as it got progressively thinner over the years and analogue is much more desirable, and valuable, than digital. Again it’s simple to check, just remove the battery, and if you see a slot or contacts for a SIM card it’s digital. It’s still worth having if it is cheap enough, though. It may still be useable, and you can cause quite a stir, if you get someone to give you a call when you’re in the office or down the pub.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen               1991

Original Price         £1200

Value Today           £30  (1114)

Features                 ETACs system (analogue), 10 digit dot matrix LCD, on screen menu, memory recall, 8 number store, flip cover, battery life 30 hours standby, 1.5 hours talk time

Power req.                    6 volt NiMH rechargeable

Dimensions:                  160 x 60 x 30

Weight:                         300g

Made (assembled) in:    USA

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


Astatic D-104 G Desktop Microphone1968

If the words ‘good buddy’ and ‘breaker-breaker’ ring any bells then there’s a fair chance that you were caught up in the short-lived craze for Citizen’s Band Radio, in the late 1970s and early 80s, and you may recognise this as the mighty Astatic D-104, one of the all-time classic desktop microphones. Even if you were a Ham radio operator – and they mostly hated CBers -- then you might have owned, or at the very least, wanted one

 

Desktop microphones like this were typically used with high-power, static ‘base station’ type Ham and CB transceivers or ‘rigs’, which is an application where light weight and portability are not big concerns. In fact the opposite is true and a heavy, stable, base is an advantage, however, the feature that sets this one apart from lesser desk mikes is that large and very grabbable PTT (press-to-talk) switch, or bar, running up the side of the microphone’s neck; there’s also the distinctive round microphone module perched on the top and thick, industrial-strength chrome plating. Other points of interest include a knurled nut at the top of the neck, which, when undone, allows the microphone module to be easily detached -- they're connected by a plug and socket -- and if you look closely at the base of the neck you can see a chrome plated collar. This slides up the stem and acts as a sort of hands-free switch, keeping the PTT bar pressed in for continuous transmission.

 

All of this gives the D-104 a real presence; you could almost believe it adds weight and importance to your words, even if mikes like these were mostly used for mindless prattle, and CBers were no better… (and I can say that both as an ex-CBer, and retired and disillusioned licensed radio amateur).

 

The D-104 had another life as a PA (public address) microphone and it also pops up now and again in old movies and TV shows. It’s usually in the hands of a breathless reporter commentating on some momentous event; it has even been seen in the hands of singers, but it was never designed for that kind of work, though it definitely looks the part. The microphone is not studio quality but deliberately configured to emphasise a relatively narrow band of frequencies, to give speech the best chance of remaining intelligible over noisy, weak, intermittent and often crowded radio communications channels.

 

Many two-way radio users, including me, wanted a D-104 but they were often hard to come by – here in the UK at least – always expensive, and difficult to justify if you were only interested in mobile operation. This one, almost certainly dating from the mid 60s, came my way a few years ago when I stumbled across it on ebay. The UK seller clearly didn’t know what it was for and listed it under tape recorders, as a vintage microphone, which explained the zero interest from bidders. It looked a bit rough in the photos but it appeared to be complete and as it turned out, it was. All it needed was a good rub down with Brasso and a thorough internal clean up, to remove some decayed foam rubber padding and a long-dead family of spiders. It worked too, though this wasn’t a huge surprise as they were really well made, and there’s not much to go wrong.

 

What Happened To It?

For once classic is not too strong a word; this mike was originally designed by a pair of American Ham radio enthusiasts back in the 1930s, and from the outside at least, it has changed little over the years. To be honest not much changed on the inside and it wasn’t until the mid 1970s that that a simple amplifier circuit was fitted into the base, essentially make it more compatible with transistorised communications equipment, like CB radios, which were starting to sell in very large numbers; up until then most Ham radio transceivers and PA amps had been valve-based.

 

At about the same time Astatic started to get a bit more adventurous with the cosmetics and in 1976 they launched Silver and Gold ‘Eagle’ versions, to commemorate the American Bicentennial. Again they were based on the standard design, but sported heavily embossed shield and eagle motifs on the microphone module’s rear cover plate. Further special editions appeared and a secondary PTT switch fitted to the base or later models but essentially this one design continued until the end, which came in 2001 when the last D-104s rolled off the production line. Astatic is still going strong but the amateur radio and CB brands were sold to DAS Companies Inc. in 2012, who now use the name in their Road Pro family of products

 

I do not recall exactly how much I paid for this one – it has a pre mid 70’s un-amplified ‘G’ type base -- but it probably wasn’t more than £10 or so. Even a few years ago that would have been a pretty good price. D-104s have remained consistently popular and have rarely sold for less than £20 to £30 second hand. I suspect that hundreds of thousands of them were made but owners tend to use them, and do not part with them willingly, which limits the number that come up for sale. Prices have crept up steadily; a good clean example will set you back at least £50, and determined collectors have been known to pay two or three times as much for a well cared for Silver or Gold Eagle editions.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen          1938

Original Price   £40

Value Today     £50 - £80 0914

Features           Crystal microphone element, detachable connector, heavy G-Stand with Grip-To-Talk PTT switch, sliding PPT lock

Power req.                    n/a

Dimensions:                   305 x 140mm (microphone module 75 x 28mm)

Weight:                         1kg

Made (assembled) in:    USA

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  5


Betacom PF1 Pianotel, 1984

Establishing the exact age of this cheesy Betacom BF1 novelty telephone proved to be surprisingly difficult and the 1984 date I've put on it is just a guesstimate so as always, if anyone out there knows better, or how much it originally cost, please let me know, but more about its beginnings and back story in a few moments.

 

As you can see it’s in the shape of a stylised miniature grand piano with the keyboard acting as the dial. The handset forms part of the top of the piano and there are connecting leads for the handset and phone line on the side and rear respectively. So far so good, but there’s an interesting extra, over and above fairly routine phone features like last number re-dial, mute and ringer on/off (it makes a high-pitched warble), and that is the keyboard, which actually works. You really can play tunes on it, albeit only one note at a time, but it's a proper musical scale, covering one and a bit octaves. You may be wondering why the keys don’t generate the standard DTMF (dual tone multi frequency, aka MF4 in the UK) tone dialling notes, which you can also use to play simple tunes. Instead of DTMF the BF1 uses the now virtually obsolete pulse dialling system, normally associated with mechanical rotary dials, and this provides some clues to its age.

 

British Telecom rolled out tone dialling in the UK in 1976 and to this day modern digital exchanges are backwards compatible with pulse dial phones. However, the Betacom BF1 couldn’t be that old as it was fitted with the now standard 431A BT phone plug, introduced in 1981, and it wasn’t until 1982 that companies other than BT were allowed to supply telephones, provided they were approved by BABT (British Approvals Board for Telecommunications). This one has the official stickers to prove it is BABT approved so it has to have been made after 1982. The newly established market for non-BT phones took a while to get going so I’ve added a couple of years, which takes us to my estimated manufacture date of 1984. That also tallies with the electronic components, the style of wiring and PCB construction. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it dates from a year or three later, though by then tone dialling phones had become much more widespread and from the mid-eighties to the early nineties phones that had tone dialling, usually had a switch for pulse dialling, to accommodate the parts of the UK (and other countries) where exchanges hadn’t been upgraded.

 

I came across this Pianotel looking a bit sorry for itself at a Surrey boot sale; I probably would have passed it by, but it came complete with its original box and polystyrene packaging. The asking price was £3.00 and despite some serious haggling the price was non negotiable, but it looked as though it was worth a punt so I coughed up. As it turned out it wasn’t in as bad a state as I feared and most of the encrusted grime came away fairly easily and with a bit of polishing the case came up like new. Unfortunately a couple of AA batteries in the holder had begun to leak. Luckily it looked as though it was fairly recent; corrosion hadn’t set in and the contacts and compartment cleaned up well. No damage had been done and with a fresh set of batteries installed it was playing tunes and making calls.    

 

What Happened To It?

Hong Kong-based Betacom dates back to 1966. From the start it produced a wide range of electronic gadgets and phones, both serious and novelty, until the early 90s. That was when Amstrad bought a controlling stake in the company as part of its move into telecommunications. After the Amstrad takeover the brand became less prominent and following a number of changes in the company’s structure, the brand was eventually sold to Alba in 1999, and the name now only appears on a small range of Powerline network adaptors.

 

It seems that Piano-themed phones never went away and in addition to countless keyboard patterned mobile phone cases there are modern Chinese-made piano-shaped phones on ebay that do all sorts of clever things with lights and sounds. There’s even the occasional Pianotel but they do not seem to attract much attention, or more than £10 - £15 in bids, even when they are in good condition and working order so clearly it hasn’t become a collectible just yet. Maybe not for much longer though, and there’s plenty of raw material out there with hundreds of weird, wacky and tacky novelty phones from the 80s and 90s going cheap on ebay and at car boot sales that will become increasingly rare and quite possibly worth a few bob as time goes by.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen               1984?

Original Price         £?

Value Today           £10 (0814)

Features           Piano keyboard dial with melody keys, last number redial, mute button, ringer switch, high-pitched warble ring tone

Power req.                    2 x 1.5v AA cells

Dimensions:                  200 x 80 x 160mm

Weight:                         800g

Made (assembled) in:    Hong Kong

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  5


W.E. Co. Ltd Folding Phone Handset. 1918?

This may well be the oldest object in dustygizmos, or the numbers 1917, stamped into the metal handle, is a part or model number. The only things I can be reasonably certain about is that it is a telephone handset, almost certainly intended for military applications and probably once connected to a field telephone or two-way radio of some sort. Portability is a key feature; it has a telescopic handgrip that, when collapsed, reduces the overall length from 220 to 150mm. There is also a hinged flap or cover on the microphone mouthpiece, possibly to protect it from dust and dirt or maybe to improve performance, when it is being used in a noisy environment, such as a moving vehicle, or in the midst of a battle. Set into the handle there’s a press bar or PTT (Push To Talk) switch. The only markings are what appears to be a maker’s name ‘WO Co Ltd’, a serial number (334495), the letters ‘DV’, and the aforementioned ‘1918’. On the opposite side of the handle there is a badly stamped War Department arrow. Behind the mouthpiece there’s a carbon granule microphone (you can hear them rattling if you shake it), it has no markings but it looks a lot like a GPO type 2 or 3 transmitter insert.

 

It’s all metal construction, apart from a Bakelite moulding on the earphone, and it is clearly designed to withstand an indirect direct hit from a small bomb. We are talking super-tough heavy-duty construction; at a pinch it could be used as a hammer, or even a weapon!

 

Unfortunately I cannot remember where it came from. It has been in my possession for a very long time and it may have been in one of the many boxes of electrical bits and pieces I have been given, or paid a few pounds for, over the years. All I can say for sure is that it has never been connected to anything, so if anyone can flesh out these meagre details I would be very grateful.

 

If, as seems likely, it was part of a military communication system then it would probably have been in service for a fairly long time. How it ended up in Civvy Street is a mystery but there are several well-trodden routes. A lot of stuff gets left behind following conflicts. The military is notoriously leaky and vast amounts of equipment and kit is lost or stolen, and it regularly disposes of surplus or obsolete equipment and spares through specialist sales and auctions, so take your pick. This one is in remarkably good condition though the paintwork is a bit battered. This suggests that it may have been in service at some point, rather than stored away as a spare part, but it is no more than normal wear and tear, so it probably wasn’t dug out of a wet trench or bomb site.

 

What Happened To It?

Up until comparatively recently military field communications hardware tended to remain in service for long periods, sometimes for decades, but this doesn’t look to me like anything from the post WW2 era, which leads me to suppose that 1918 could well be a date.  In short I haven’t the foggiest idea about its history and a web search of the manufacturer’s name drew a complete blank, so again, any additional details are most welcome.

 

As to its value, again we are into an unknown area. I suspect it could be worth a fair bit, or rather whatever piece of equipment it once belonged to would be, if this handset was still attached. On its own, who knows? My guess is anywhere from £20 to £50, especially if the purchaser has the original device and is looking for a missing handset… 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen               1918?

Original Price         £?

Value Today           £20?(0514)

Features:                Telescopic extending handgrip, with PTT switch, GPO No 2 carbon microphone, magnetic earpiece           

Power req.                    N/A

Dimensions:                   220/150 x 63 x 63mm 

Weight:                          600g

Made (assembled) in:    England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  8


Rabbit Telepoint Phone, 1992

I suspect that relatively few people will have heard of, let alone remember, the Hutchison Rabbit phone system, but for a short while it was being hailed as the next big thing in mobile communications. Rabbit was a compact cordless phone that you could use around the home, and take with you, when you were out and about, to make phone calls when you were within a couple of hundred metres of a Rabbit base station or Telepoint, installed in banks, railway stations, restaurants and shops. In retrospect it sounds like a daft idea but you have to remember this was the early 90s; cellphones had been around for a few years but apart from being fairly bulky, they were horribly expensive to buy, and use, and still some way from becoming an affordable mass-market product.

 

The main attractions of Rabbit were that you got a technically advanced cordless phone and a weird kind of telephonic mobility for fraction of the price and running costs of a proper cell phone. Hutchison pitched it at the home user and a basic setup comprising a handset and base station cost just under £200, not much more than a top of the range cordless phone. Calls made at home were at normal BT rates. Calls from Rabbit Telepoints required a £6.00 a month subscription and were charged at 10 pence a minute off peak, and 20p a minute at peak times, which was only a little more than calls made from public phone boxes. The obvious disadvantage was that you couldn’t take incoming calls; in any case most of the time you would be out of range of a Telepoint, but there was a workaround. For an additional £5.50 a month Rabbit’s operators offered a service that would warn you that a message was waiting when the handset was in range the home base station

 

As you can see from the photos the handset is a striking design with slanty, dual-coloured buttons, and a decent sized LCD display. It had battery running times of a day or more, rather than the few hours you might get -- if you were lucky -- on an early 90s cellphone. It was a lot smaller than the cellphones of the day and your mates would have been most impressed if you pulled one of these out of your pocket down the pub and proceeded to make a phone call. It might have happened too, if things had gone to plan, but more on that in a moment.

 

Rabbit uses the digitally based CT2 system (Cordless Telephone generation 2) and CAI (Common Air Interface) standards. This was meant to ensure compatibility and allow roaming with other public and private cordless and Telepoint services and it operates over 10 channels, to reduce the chance of interference from adjacent handsets and base stations. The handset has a fair assortment of features; it stores up to 10 phone numbers, it can be PIN protected to prevent unauthorised use, calls can be transferred between Rabbit handsets and there are redial, hold and paging functions, plus a keypad lock. The keypad and display can also be used as a sort of scratch memory, to jot down a phone number. It doesn’t take long to figure out how to use it; the home or private base station simply plugs into a mains adaptor and a standard BT phone socket, all it takes are a few button presses to pair the handset with the unit and it is ready to make and take calls. When you are on the move you simply have to be within spitting distance of a Telepoint; the handset logs on automatically and you can make phone calls as normal.

 

Apart from a brief encounter with a review sample, at or around the time of the launch in the Summer of 1992, I had very little to do with the Rabbit system during its short life. It must have been a fairly low-key affair as I can’t remember much about it, and looking back it seemed to have come and gone with comparatively little ceremony. I stumbled across this Rabbit handset, base station, charge cradle, mains adaptors and instruction booklets on ebay some time ago; I was the only bidder and it was mine for just £5.00, plus postage. They were pretty grubby and had obviously been stored for some time in a loft or garage. It cleaned up well, though, and with a pair of batteries installed the handset powered up, paired with the base station and during a short test, functioned perfectly well as a simple cordless phone. 

 

What Happened to It?

The rise and swift fall of the Rabbit system was, to an extent, predictable and it was pretty much doomed from the outset. Originally four operating licenses for Telepoint systems were granted in 1988 by the UK Government but after relatively short trial periods three of the four companies decided not to get involved, leaving the market to Hutchison. It would appear that they didn’t spend too much time wondering why their rivals pulled out but it was almost certainly down to the numbers simply not adding up, and the clear signs that cellular phones would become a mainstream technology, and probably sooner rather than later. Hutchinson had already invested heavily in the system and pressed ahead with bold plans to attract between 10,000 and 20,000 subscribers and set up around 12,000 base stations in the first year. The reality was rather different, though, and by end of the 20 months the system was up and running only around 2,000 subscribers were left. All that remains now are a few rusty Rabbit signs. The remaining subscribers were not left high and dry, though. They received a fairly generous severance package. They could continue to use their handsets and base station as cordless phones at home and there was the tempting offer of a mobile phone on the Orange network, which, by some strange coincidence, had been set up by Hutchison...

 

Complete and working Rabbit phones and base stations don’t turn up very often and the tiny handful that I have spotted on ebay over the past year or so typically sold for between £30 and £50, and they were all in excellent condition with all of the original documentation. Unlike many old gadgets they are still partially functional in that they can be used as a cordless phone, albeit a fairly basic and bulky one, but its comparative rarity and the unusual story that lies behind it could make it worth collecting and one day, possibly worth a few bob.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                    1992

Original Price              £200

Value Today                £30 (0114)

Features                       CT2/CAI compliant, 11 digit LCD display, 10 number memory, redial, call hold & transfer. PIN & keyboard lock

Power req.                    Handset : 2 x 1.5volt rechargeable AA cells. Base station: 230VAC mains adaptor adaptor/charger

Dimensions:                   Handset: 178 x 60 x 35mm; Base Station: 200 x 125 x 40mm

Weight:                          Handset: 257g; Base Station: 400g

Made (assembled) in:    UK?

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  8


Fep Russian Microphone & Earpiece, 1974

I like a good mystery as much as the next person, but this has me baffled. My best guess is that it is some sort of children’s toy or possibly a teaching aid, but rather than speculate, let’s look at what I do know for certain.

 

Firstly it was made in Russia, or rather the USSR, as was, and according to what I suspect is a packing slip, it dates from 1974. The two items are in near perfect condition, as is the box they came in and I doubt that they have ever been used. The device on the stand is a carbon microphone. It is one of the earliest types and similar to the sort that was widely used in telephone mouthpieces up until the nineteen seventies. The other item is a moving coil type earphone; again, this is old technology but it works and it remains a commonly used component in telephones to this day. Both items have screw terminals and if you connect two of the terminals together, and a battery between the other two and speak into the microphone, the sound can be clearly heard in the earphone. I have only tried it with a 9 volt battery, so it’s not very loud, but it really does work, and because the backs of the cases are open, you can see what is inside, which is what makes me think it is an educational toy.

 

The cases for both devices are made from a fairly heavy duty plastic, making them fairly robust and able to withstand the rigours of the classroom. I managed to translate most of the words on the box, which, as best I can make out are ‘Microphone Capsule Phone Tube’ (as always corrections and more authoritative information is very welcome). What may be the maker’s name ‘фЭП’ is moulded in the microphone base, and the back of the earphone. That roughly translates as ‘Fep’, though it might be an acronym for a photo electric cell or a dozen other things, but at that point I admitted defeat, due to my largely non-existent Russian language skills and the maze of websites the translated and original Cyrillic characters led me down.

 

I can’t tell you much about this item’s history. I happened upon it on ebay some time ago, it looked interesting but no one else seemed to want it and my opening, and as it turned out, the only bid of £6.00 sealed the deal.

 

What Happened To It?

If indeed it was some sort of teaching aid or educational toy it would have had a fairly limited lifespan. By the late seventies phone systems around the world, and that includes the former USSR, were moving towards more modern types of microphone, even so, it would still be of interest to students.

 

I can only say what it cost me, which was £9.00, with postage, whether or not there is anyone else would be prepared to pay as much is unknown. I suspect it is unusual enough to interest fellow gadget collectors and was genuinely surprised to be the only bidder, though to be fair I only stumbled across it by accident, and if and when I ever get around to selling it, describing it is going to be a bit of a problem…


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                        1974

Original Price                  £??

Value Today                    £10 (0813)

Features                          Carbon microphone and moving coil earphone demonstration set

Power req.                      9 – 12VDC

Dimensions:                    microphone with stand 75 x 40 x 155mm; earphone with handle80 x 35 x 125mm

Weight:                           microphone 170g, earphone 110g

Made in:                         USSR

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  8


Mystery Microphone, 1970?

All I can say for certain about this rather snazzy-looking desktop microphone is that it is a dynamic type, and it was made in Japan. The only reason I know that is because it is stamped into the chrome plated cable clamp on the back and printed on the heavy cast iron base.  Everything else is complete guesswork. Marks on the front suggest that there once was a maker’s name badge but that is long gone. At some point in its history someone has written ‘BBC’ on the top and on the stand, but I don’t believe that for a moment, it is simply not in that league, though I can’t rule it out as having had some minor role in the broadcasting industry. There are no clues inside. The encapsulated microphone element and transformer look as though they belong there, but without another reference I can’t say if they are original or not.

 

The date of 1970 is based mostly on the style and the fact that mid-range and high-end tape recorders of the 60s and 70s often came with half decent mikes; the microphones supplied with cheapie tape recorders tended to be nasty plasticky affairs. The lack of a push-to-talk (PTT) button on the base or body almost certainly rules out an association with Ham, CB, communications or public address equipment.

 

It has been well made, from good quality materials with heavy chrome plating on the stand components and case. It has the look and feel of a something that was designed for semi-pro use, able to withstand the kind of rough treatment that would quickly destroy a consumer product. The chap who sold it to me, and for the record it cost £1.00 at a Kent car boot sale, had no idea where it came from, probably a house clearance, he thought. He wasn’t even sure that it was a microphone, though to be fair he might have been confused by the fact that at some point someone had crudely fitted a coaxial aerial plug to the cable…

 

What Happened To It?

Clearly microphones, of all types and styles, are still with us, but as far as this one and its manufacturer are concerned, I have drawn a complete blank. In spite of extensive web searches and frequent scans of the many thousands of mikes selling on ebay I haven’t even come close to finding another one, or even one that looks similar. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who can enlighten me, even if it’s just to tell me that I have got it completely wrong.  I can’t even say what it is worth, it cost me a pound, and now it is all cleaned up it has to be worth a tenner; the scrap value alone must be close to that, but who is to say? For all I know it’s a rare one-off prototype, a custom built jobbie or it once belonged to someone famous. Somehow I doubt that, but it would be great to know at least something about its origins…


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                      1970?

Original Price                £?

Value Today                  £10 (0713)

Features                        Dynamic microphone element, adjustable desktop stand, heavy cast iron base

Power req.                     n/a

Dimensions:                   200 x 100 x 125mm

Weight:                          1.8g

Made in:                        Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  7


Sony CM-R111 Miniature Cellphone. 1993

Back in the early 1990s mobile phone design was going through some fairly radical changes. The majority of handsets were still fairly hefty lumps, barely pocket size, hampered by short running times and the functional limitations imposed by the analogue networks, but things were happening. Digital GSM technology was just getting off the ground and the likes of Mitsubishi, Motorola, Nokia and NEC were producing a steady stream of smaller, lighter and better-specified models, and then Sony got in on the act. In 1992 it created something of a storm with the revolutionary CM-H333 ‘Mars Bar’ phone, then a year later it dropped another bombshell, with the CM-R111.

 

It was around half the size and weight of what was then the smallest model, small enough to slip into a shirt pocket in fact. It had a nifty flip out microphone but the real surprise was the way it broke all of the rules by not having any form of display, other than three tiny LED status indicators.

 

If it had been made by anyone else it probably would have sunk without trace. Back then the mobile phone market was still a pretty conservative place and the established manufacturers tended not to take too many chances. But as was so often the case, Sony went their own way, and because it still had a reputation for innovation, quality and the sort of kudos that Apple products enjoy today, it got a lot of attention.

 

Sony actually got away with murder with the CM-R111 because it was a truly horrible little phone to use, and the lack of a proper display was a massive disadvantage. Without meaningful battery level and signal strength meters it was all too easy to get caught short, and no numerical display meant wrong numbers were a constant problem, especially if you had fat fingers. An optional remote control solved some of the problems and Sony rapidly bought out a step-up model with a display, but that’s another story for another day. The small buttons also made answering calls a fumbling nightmare, and it was virtually unusable wearing gloves. The flip down mike looked very swish, but again it was a hindrance when it came to answering a call, but there was no denying it looked great, and for a short while, quite a crowd puller. 

 

What Happened To It?

The CM-R111 was briefly popular but it wasn’t to last. The lack of a display was always going to be a problem and even the later model with a display wasn’t enough to keep phone users happy. In any case it was pretty much obsolete, even before it started appearing in the shops. The roll out of the digital GSM networks had begun and a new generation of phones was on the way, smaller, lighter, longer lasting and packed with shed-loads of features. It remained on sale for a couple of years but the phasing out of the analogue networks and arrival of fancy little mini flip phones, like the Motorola Star Tac range, meant that what was once the world’s smallest phone (possibly…) suddenly looked rather large and untidy.

 

I wrote several reviews of the phone when it was first launched and remember being largely underwhelmed by it; any samples I had must have been returned or given away and I forgot all about it until, for some reason or another, I came across several listings on ebay. What caught my eye was the ridiculous prices being asked, in some cases as much as a £200, which is a lot to ask, even for a pristine, boxed example. There didn’t seem to be much interest at that level but I kept an eye out for cheapie, and this one turned up a couple of weeks later. It was in reasonable shape, came with the optional long ‘rubber duck’ antenna and mains charger. It showed some signs of use but nothing serious and with no other bidders (it was late on a Wednesday night) my solo bid of a fiver sealed the deal. That’s about what it is worth. Apart from its curiosity value, and for surprising under 25s, that there were small phones back in the mobile stone age, it’s mostly ornamental, and the value, if it increases, will probably do so only very slowly. Nevertheless, the years have softened my impressions of it and it reminds me that once up on a time Sony used to be quite audacious.

0213


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                      1993

Original Price                £450

Value Today                  £5 - £50

Features                        Analogue ETACs system, flip-down microphone, In use, Roam, Service Level, indicators, 14 hours standby/60 minutes talk time, optional extendable ‘rubber duck’ antenna, optional earphone and remote control

Power req.                     4.8volt rechargeable battery pack

Dimensions:                    64 x 85 x 24 mm

Weight:                           194g

Made in:                         Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  5


GPO Ring Microphone No. 2, I’24/235, 1935?

This is a ‘ring mount’ suspension microphone and it is a good deal older than most of the gadgets featured in Dustygizmos, but I’ve decided to include it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, to my eyes it’s a object of great beauty and if I ever feel inclined to take up crooning, this will be my microphone of choice, Second, I’ve never seen one like it before, know little or nothing about it, and hope someone out there will recognise it and fill in the gaps.

 

I came across it in a box of rusty junk under a stall at one of the large antique fairs held at the South of England Showground. It was in a right old mess, basically a tangle of cotton-covered cable, bits of greasy chrome and brass, but something about it caught my eye. It had distinct 1930’s look to it and after a couple of minutes haggling ten pounds changed hands and it was all mine.

 

It really was in a state, the ring was crushed out of shape, the chrome base corroded, the microphone part tarnished and dangling, and most of the screws and fittings were covered in a film of rust. Fortunately none of the damage or neglect was permanent and liberal applications of my Dremel tool with a rotary wire brush, Brasso and a hammer bought it back to life. The conical Bakelite mouthpiece may or may not be original. It was held in place with a crudely fitted brass wire and some insulation tape. It was clearly a later repair job or customisation but without a reference it’s impossible to say if it belongs there or not. I made up a simple threaded fixing and will leave it in place for the time being. For the record I tried mouthpieces from GPO candlestick telephones but they did not fit.

 

The microphone is a carbon granule type; this was one of the first microphone technologies and widely used in telephones up until the 1950s. In this example it’s in the form of a sealed capsule, mounted inside the brass and chrome housing. It’s an elegantly simple design, attributed variously to Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner, who both filed patents between 1877 and 1899. Basically sound waves cause the thin diaphragm to vibrate, which in turn agitates carbon granules sealed in a container behind the diaphragm and between a pair of electrodes. As they vibrate, in sympathy with the sound waves, the resistance between the electrodes varies proportionately so by passing a current through the mike you have the makings of a very simple amplifier. Carbon mikes are not especially sensitive and the frequency response is limited but they are fine for speech, widely used by early broadcasters and for applications like public address etc. Suspending the microphone inside the ring minimises vibration. This one uses a tightly stretched rubber ring. This appears to be fairly unusual, probably because of rubber’s unfortunate habit of perishing so most ring microphones use springs. The original rubber ring had obviously long gone but I found that a modern 55mm silicon rubber O-ring fitted almost perfectly.

 

The microphone module connects to a large choke coil in the round base by a pair of cotton-covered wires, and this in turn connects to two pairs of screw terminals. I’m not exactly sure of the wiring configuration as the wires in the base were detached but I suspect that two terminals are used for a DC supply, and the other two for the audio output.

 

The only other clues to its history are some markings stamped into the front of the mike module. They are ‘G.P.O., I’24, 235, No 2’. The two sets of terminals on the base are stamped ‘O’ and ‘B’, which I’m guessing stand for output and battery, but that’s it, there’s nothing else inside or out, I haven’t been able to find anything from the usual GPO sources on the web though I did manage to find a picture of one used as a stage prop, modified with a modern microphone insert. If I had to guess I would say it might have been used for public address, and the GPO marking suggest that it was made for or used by the Post Office, maybe in mail sorting depots or offices, but I really have no idea, so it’s over to you.

 

What Happened To It?

Without knowing more about it’s original purpose it’s impossible to say how long it was in production. I doubt that it was around very long in broadcasting or PA, due to the carbon mike’s poor frequency response and the need to provide it with power. High quality microphones started to appear in the 1930’s so I reckon it would have been effectively obsolete by the late 1940’s or 50s and this one has probably spent the last 50 years or so mouldering away in dusty boxes.

 

In my (mostly fruitless) attempts to find out more about this mike it became clear that vintage microphones are far more collectible than I originally thought. Classic models, associated with famous artists, recording studios or broadcasters can change hands for hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. This one isn’t anywhere near that league but it’s rare and old enough to be worth a few bob, definitely more than the £10 I paid for it and I conservatively estimate it could be £50 or more, but until I see another one, or one comes up on ebay, its actual value, like its origins, remain a mystery.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                         1935?

Original Price                   £?

Value Today                     £50? (0912)

Features                           Carbon granule type microphone, high impedance choke/coil in base, screw terminals, rubber ring anti-vibration suspension

Power req.                       unknown

Weight:                            600g

Dimensions:                     base 225mm, height, 300mm, ring dia 113mm, mic housing 63mm

Made in:                           England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     8


Motorola 5000X Bag Phone, 1992

In the US the Motorola 5000X transportable mobile phone was known as the ‘Tough Talker’, and it’s not hard to see why. Not only is it built like a brick outhouse, and probably capable of surviving a small nuclear detonation, you need to be pretty fit to cart it around as it tipped the scales at a little over 4kg!

 

Something like 60 percent of the weight and around half the base unit is taken up by a rechargeable lead acid battery. Basically it is a small car battery, which you might think would give it formidable endurance but you would be sadly mistaken. Talk time was just a couple of hours, and that was when it was new, though you did get around 48 hours on standby. To be fair that sort of battery power would have kept the average early 1990s mobile phone handset running for a day or so but this one is designed for the great outdoors and in-car use, in areas where mobile phone coverage was patchy. The reason the battery had such a short life was the 5000X and its numerous variants put out around 3 watts of transmitter power, or around five times the output of the average handset.

 

To appreciate why size and power were selling points at a time when mobile handsets were getting smaller and lighter you have to remember that cellphones were still comparatively new, and eye-wateringly expensive back in 1992 when the 5000X first appeared. The first analogue (1G) mobile phone networks in the UK went live in 1985, and then only in London. Seven years later there were still vast swathes of the country with little or no coverage. It was the same in Europe and especially in the US, Motorola’s home market. Incidentally, there were several analogue systems in use throughout the world. The ETACS system used by this phone was limited to the UK and Ireland. The US used the AMPS system and there were numerous variations and sub-formats, so roaming, as we know it now, simply wasn’t an option.   

 

The 5000X can be effectively broken down into three main components. The handset fits onto a cradle, which doubles as a carry handle on the top and needs little explanation. It has a numeric keypad on the back – no text messages back then so no need for alpha characters. There’s a simple LCD display with various mode indicators, and a set of 6 operating buttons (power, function, send/call, redial, lock and end), and a volume control on the side. This connects via curly lead to the main body of the unit and the battery slides into a compartment that takes up the entire left side of the case. The transceiver module, which houses the bulk of the electronics, is detachable and occupies the right side of the case. This made it easy for Motorola to tailor the phones for different markets. The stubby ‘rubber duck’ antenna is mounted on the front of the module. Life was a lot simpler back then and there was no need to waste time reading an instruction manual; to make a call all you had to do was check the display to make sure you had a signal, detach the handset, enter the number and press the Send button.

 

I came across this one at a large antique fair in Sussex and it was in a pretty sorry looking state. The stallholder was optimistically asking £50.00 but it was a rainy day and didn’t take much haggling to get him down to £30.00. That was still a bit over the top and you can occasionally find them for less, but there was little else at the fair to interest me, so I took a punt. It scrubbed up really well and a quick wipe over with some Flash brought it back to near new condition.  

 

What Happened To It?

Sadly this one no longer has its custom carry bag or strap -- the shoulder strap was an absolute essential if you wanted to lug it around. The battery still had a little life left in it, enough to power it up for a couple of minutes but needless to say you can’t use it to make phone calls anymore. The last ETACS network in the UK was switched off in 2001; rumour has it there are a couple of networks still operating in far-flung places but to all intents and purposes phones like these are essentially only useful as ornaments.

 

Old analogue phones from the 80s and early 90s are becoming collectible; first generation hand-helds, like the classic ‘brick’, are already and can command very tidy prices on ebay. Several companies are also marketing refurbished 1G phones, with the old analogue guts stripped out and replaced by modern digital handset innards. Be careful, though, there are also plenty of modern fakes and repros out there masquerading as originals.

 

Vintage phones like this one probably won’t excite casual collectors for a few years, they’re just not that interesting, and there’s little cachet in modding them – it’s not the sort of thing you would want to drag down the pub to impress your mates. The flipside is that not that many were sold, so they are comparatively rare, but they are still fairly cheap so there’s potential as a long-term investment, providing you are not looking for a quick return… 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                         1992

Original Price                     n/a (supplied on contract)

Value Today?                    £30.00 (0712)

Features                            Analogue ETACS network connectivity, 3-watts operating power, detachable transceiver module, ‘rubber duck’ antenna

Power req.                         12-volt lead acid rechargeable battery pack

Weight:                              4.1kg

Dimensions:                       260 x 120mm x 175

Made in:                            UK

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):      8


General Electric 3-5805 AM CB Radio, 1981

It’s easy to mock the short-lived craze for Citizen’s Band radio in the late 70s and early 80s, but its eventual legalisation, bought about by widespread public disobedience and high profile campaigns, broke down barriers and produced big changes in attitude towards personal liberty, bureaucracy and long established institutions.

 

That probably sounds a bit grand for what now seems like a rather cheesy nine-day wonder but CB radio and the freedoms it bought paved the way for many gadgets and gizmos that we now take for granted, including mobile phones, Wi-Fi and a multitude of wireless devices, from cordless phones and garage door openers to car-alarms. The fact is, before CB radio was legalised it was virtually impossible for a UK citizen to own or operate any sort of radio transmitter, at least not without a licence, which either entailed passing an examination, being a member of the emergency services, armed forces, or having a damn good reason for needing one.    

 

The General Electric 3-5805 almost certainly played a small part in that minor revolution. This was one of the many thousands of illegal AM CB radios or ‘transceivers (transmitter-receiver) that set the ball rolling. Prior to the UK Government reluctantly legalising its own inferior FM CB system in 1981, it had been fighting a losing battle against an army of illicit CBers or ’breakers’. In spite of the best efforts of Post Office investigators or ‘Buzbies’ (Buzby was a cartoon character, used by the PO in its advertising campaigns), the number of users continued to grow throughout the late 1970s.  Models like this were widely available, and the authorities proved unable to stem the flow of CBs coming into the UK by the lorry load from the Continent – mostly Germany and the Netherlands -- where they were legally available.

 

This is a fairly basic model, though it has a 4-segment bargraph display below the channel number display. This shows relative signal strength in receive mode, and signal output when transmitting. Back then this was a relatively new innovation, replacing the more common moving coil meter. Otherwise it conforms to the standard US FCC (Federal Communications Committee) standard for CB radio, operating on a section of the 27MHz short wave band, covering 40 channels, with a maximum RF power output of 4 watts. This would have given it a range of between 2 and 10 miles, depending on the terrain and the efficiency of the antenna it was connected to. Incidentally, serious CBers often hooked standard units up to linear amplifiers or ‘burners’, sometimes rated at hundreds of watts. A burner could dramatically increase transmission range to a hundred miles or more. With a decent fixed directional antenna and with the right conditions (atmospheric ‘skip’) it could go as high as several thousand miles. Burners also had a bit of a reputation for TVI or television interference, which made them easy to track down and resulted in a good many CBers operating from home having their collars felt…

 

Super serious CBers invested in high-end SSB or Single Side Band transceivers, which used sophisticated modulation techniques to significantly increase range, though often at the expense of making the user sound a bit like Mickey Mouse… A fair number of dedicated CBers even ‘took the ticket’, studied for the Radio Amateur Examination (RAE) licence and migrated into legal amateur radio, where they could indulge in even more exotic forms of communication. (That included me, G8XED as was, good buddies…).

 

For ordinary breakers and novices the 5805 was a good place to start. It’s designed for in-car use and very easy to install and use. All it needs is a 12-volt supply from the battery and connection to an antenna. Most CBers opted for magnetic or ‘mag-mount’ aerials that could be positioned high up, on the car roof for increased range, and quickly removed if a Buzby’ was reported to be in the area. It had just three controls on the front panel: on/off volume, squelch (a variable mute control for the annoying background hiss), and a simple rotary channel change. The only other control is a PTT or push-to-talk switch on the microphone, on the end of a curly lead that plugs into the front of the unit.  

 

What Happened To It?

Back in the day I had several CBs, legal and illegal but apart from a couple of vintage walkie talkies they’ve all gone. This one is a very recent acquisition. I spotted it at the Brighton Marina Sunday flea market and after a half hearted haggle – on both sides – four pounds changed hands and it was mine. It was in a fairly sorry state but it was mostly garage grime and has cleaned up really well. I haven’t tried it out in anger, though I did power it up to see if the channel display lights up (it does). I wouldn’t mind betting that it still works. These were robust designs and usually the only thing to go wrong was the RF output transistor, which could be blown by a shorted or wrongly set up antenna connection.

 

This model is fairly common and really not worth a lot, or much use any more – though there are still a few die hard AM Cbers on the air, so I’m told. We’ve dealt with the rise and fall of UK CB before, and there’s little more to be said on the matter, except that for those of us who lived through it and worked for its legislation can look back with a certain amount of satisfaction and pride in people power, that can occasionally bring about a worthwhile change.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1981

Original Price                   £30.00? (original US price $59.99)

Value Today?                   £5.00 (0312)

Features:                          40-channel AM CB Radio, 4 watts RF output, built-in speaker, automatic noise limiter (ANL), bargraph signal strength meter, volume, squelch & channel change controls, SO238 antenna socket, external speaker (3.5mm jack), push to talk (PTT) microphone.

Power req.                        12 volt DC external supply

Weight:                             1.2kg

Dimensions:                      164 x 165 x 50 mm

Made in:                            Hong Kong

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     5


Sony CM-H333 ‘Mars Bar’ Phone, 1993

Mobile phones were must-have fashion statements long before the desperate drones and wannabees started drooling, queuing around the block and paying over the odds for Apple iPhones. Back in the early 1990s the Sony CM-H333 was the phone to own. Dubbed the ‘Mars Bar’, for fairly obvious reasons, it was the height of cool to have someone ring you on it. Rather than fiddle around with buttons, all it took to answer a call was a casual flip of the earpiece. Such was the kudos of having one that there were urban legends concerning owners who would persuade someone to call them while they were in the pub, just so they could impress their friends with a flourish and a flip, doubtless practised for hours in front of the mirror*.

 

To be fair it was an instantly likable little phone; back then I reviewed it for a couple of mobile phone and gadget magazines and as I recall my only criticism was that the extendible antenna wasn’t spring-loaded, now that that would have been impressive, though it would probably taken out a few eyes…

 

This was Sony’s first foray into the mobile phone market, which at the time was dominated by Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia. It was a well timed debut, the company had a much higher consumer profile than the traditional phone companies and was still riding high on the back of a well earned reputation for innovation, quality, performance and higher than average prices with its range of Walkmans, VCRs, camcorders, TVs and hi-fi systems. The flip up earpiece was only part of its attraction, though. Mobile phones were shrinking fast by the early 90s, but this model marked a big departure from the almost standard ‘lozenge’ shape. It wasn’t especially well endowed with features, though. At the top of the list was one-touch dialling with the facility to store just three numbers. There was a call timer, a near essential fitment with mobile phone calls typically costing £1.00 a minute, and it boasted longer then average battery life, almost a whole day on a single charge, which was a pretty big deal at the time. That was about it, but don’t forget this was the pre digital era, a much simpler time when mobile phones were mainly used for making phone calls…

 

I had all but forgotten the Mars Bar phone until I came across this one, still in its original box with the charger and a spare battery, at a car boot sale. It was priced at £15 but the owner happily accepted what I thought was a cheeky offer of £10.00. He wasn’t sure if it worked or not but since the UK’s analogue networks were switched off many years ago, it was hardly relevant. It is in superb condition, not quite mint but it shows only modest signs of wear and unbelievably, both batteries still hold a small charge, long enough to power up the phone, bleep and display ‘No Svc’ on the LCD…

 

What Happened To It?

Sony tried to maintain the momentum and a year later launched the CM-R111, for a time, the world’s smallest mobile. It lacked any sort of display but came with a separate remote control and the microphone was on a fold out stalk. It wasn’t a great success, though it has gone on to become a sought-after collectible. In the end Sony’s impact on the mobile phone market was relatively short lived; it never managed to recreate the buzz and excitement of the H333 and subsequent analogue and later digital models had little effect on the longer established mobile phone company’s market share. In 2001 Sony teamed up with Ericsson to go on to produce a series of worthy, but ultimately fairly uninteresting phones; the partnership finally came to an end in 2012.

 

The H333’s popularity means that there’s still quite a few of them around and there’s usually two or three of them on ebay, though for some reason owners often put unrealistically high reserves on them. A decent one, in its box, shouldn’t set you back more than £25 to £30, which rightly reflects the fact that it’s pretty much useless, essentially just a smart-looking paperweight, unless you are looking for props for a TV show or movie set in the early 90s...

(1211)

 

*What goes around, comes around and similar scenes were enacted with Nokia’s 8110 ‘Banana’ phone, with it’s spring loaded front cover, and legendary guest appearance in the 1999 movie The Matrix…)


Eagle T1-206 Handy Intercom, 1966?

Although intercoms come really low down on the gadget hierarchy I have a soft spot for them. Back in the 50s and 60s they were often the average kid’s first introduction to electronic two-way communication. Obviously it’s all a bit tame by current standards; nowadays some five-year olds have their own mobile phones for heaven’s sake, not to mention access to powerful walkie talkies and the Internet, but back then it was a way to talk, and listen to others over what seemed like enormous distances of a hundred feet or more. The listening part is especially important, as we’ll see in a moment.

 

Eagle was one of the best known of the ‘low end’ consumer electronics brands and this particular design was very popular, appearing under several different names. The manufacturers used the scattergun approach to describe its functions, and the box sums it up neatly, ‘for office, home nursery and factory’. Ignoring the fact that having only two stations would limit its usefulness in the average office or factory it’s application in the home and nursery are clearly what it is all about. In fact just calling it a baby monitor would have been enough, though that would have been quite off putting for youngsters like me who had much more interesting uses in mind.

 

The Handy Intercom made a brilliant listening device or bug. In its default state the speaker in the sub station operates as a microphone and is permanently on so you can hear whatever is going on in its immediate vicinity. Buttons on both boxes cause the simple two-transistor amplifier in the master unit to oscillate, producing a respectably loud tone at the opposite. The trick was to plant the sub station in the living room, or you bother or sister’s bedroom and see what you could hear. The trailing wire tended to be a bit of a give-away, and a frequent victim to vacuum cleaners and eventually, when the cable could no longer be repaired there was plenty of scope to experiment with the amplifier and speakers (or was that just me…)

 

What Happened To It?

Simple 2-station intercoms like this one gradually morphed into purpose-designed baby monitors; proper multi-station intercoms have never really went away, though for the most part they have been replaced by internal phone systems – wired and cordless  -- and for communications over any sort of distance most of us reach for the mobile phone or keyboard.

 

No prizes for guessing where this one came from? Yes, good old ebay, and it was all mine, with no competition, for a fiver, plus the same again for postage. It’s in excellent condition and as far as I can see, has only been out of its box once or twice. The 100-foot connecting cable is intact and still wound around its original cardboard former, and it works. The call buttons and volume thumbwheel are very noisy but a quick squirt of contact cleaner fixed that

 

I have no illusions and intercoms won’t become sought after collectables but I wouldn’t mind betting that clean, working ones, like this one, still in their original box, are rarer than rocking horse droppings. It’s never going to be worth much, though and in the end it’s all down to memories. Intercoms were fun and pulling gadgets like this apart were a valuable learning experience, and for me 50 years later, that’s priceless.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1966

Original Price                   £?

Value Today?                   £10 (1111) 

Features:                          2 transistor, 2-station intercom (master & sub), call button, volume control, 100 feet cable

Power req.                       1 x 9volt PP3 type

Weight:                             200g

Dimensions:                      98 x 48 x 75mm

Made in:                           Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):    7


Binatone Long Ranger 6 01/8686 CB Transceiver, 1981

Ah Binatone, a name that brings back a lot of mixed memories. The company, founded by brothers Gulu and Partap Lalvani, were responsible for selling some of the best and worst gadgets of the 70s and 80s. Binatone had an unerring knack for spotting trends and getting in quick with attractively priced, though often cheaply made and sometimes unreliable products. It had a number of notable successes, including affordable and very popular video games, personal stereos, hi-fi ‘Tower’ systems, portable TVs, phones and fax machines, but what I remember most clearly was its Citizens Band radios.

 

CB in the late 1970s was huge, but it was illegal and most of the equipment was smuggled in from the US and Far East. Following growing pressure to legalise CB, and unable to stamp out widespread public piracy the Government backed down, but it adopted a unique system, known as MPT1320. Like the US system it operated on the 27MHz band, but bowing to strong protests from a vocal anti-CB lobby it used FM rather than AM modulation, wide channel separation and output power was limited to just 4-watts. With hindsight it looks like a clever move because within a couple of years the CB craze had virtually died out. Whether it had simply run its course, legalisation had taken all the fun out of it, or the system was just no damn good, is open to debate.

 

Whatever the reason for FM CB’s eventual demise, once again Binatone was in at the very beginning. At the time I was editing one of the UK’s leading CB magazine (Citizens’ Band), and had been heavily involved in the legalisation movement from the beginning. A few weeks after the specs had been published and several months before the changes in the law were due to come into effect, Binatone sent me some review samples of its range of UK legal FM CB radios. It was an astonishing feat to have got products together so quickly and it led to speculation that Binatone had friends in high places...

 

I can’t be certain but I have a feeling that the Binatone Long Ranger 6, shown here, and which has lain forgotten in my loft for a couple of decades at least, may have been one of those early samples. It certainly has a pre-production feel about it. Inside there are signs of hasty modifications with ‘jumper’ wires all over the place and components tacked on to the underside of the PCB. The only slight doubt I have that it may be a production model concerns the circular CB 27/81 logo, which is printed on the front panel; on most other early samples it tended to be a sticker.

 

Either way it’s a fairly basic hand-held transceiver, not quite a toy but aimed squarely at the low-end of the market. It covers just 6 of the 40 available channels; controls are limited to volume, squelch, channel selector, press to talk (PTT) and a Hi/Lo power selector. Green and red LEDs indicate receive and transmit modes. The 13-section telescopic antenna extends to around 1.5 metres, its powered by 8 AA cells and it comes with a semi-rigid carry case. In spite of the mediocre spec it is quite well made and the back half of the case is metal, so it could withstand a fair amount of rough and tumble. Although this one hasn’t led a particularly arduous life I was still impressed to find that it worked first time. At least, it powered up and there was an authentic sounding hiss from all channels. Without another UK FM CB user in the immediate vicinity and on air at the same time, it was impossible to say if it was actually transmitting and receiving… 

 

What Happened To It?

Even without the change in the law I suspect the UKs dalliance with citizen’s band radio wouldn’t have lasted much beyond the mid 80s. It was fun, but also wince-making and English accents mangling American trucker slang, having tortured conversations about nothing in particular with strangers never sounded quite right. The CB 27/81 system finished off any hope it might have had as a serious mobile communications system. The combination of low power output and FM modulation meant that the range was poor, a mile or two was the best you could hope for, even with a well set up rig in your car. But in the end the system just became unusable, swamped by channel blockers, mouthy kids, music and a wall of noise. Die hard CBers went back to 27MHz AM – many of them never left – a good few remained loyal to the old ways to this day. Everyone else moved on to the next fad and novelty. What goes around comes around and nothing really changes, it’s just that nowadays we have pointless, slang-riddled conversations with friends and strangers online and on mobile phones.

 

I don’t expect to see CBs becoming collectable any time soon, but you never know. UK spec CBs reflect their popularity and can be found at boot sales and on ebay for a few pounds. Vintage AM CB rigs, especially classic and well-specified models can fetch a healthy price, though, but whatever way you go, make sure you get at least two of the same type, otherwise it could get very lonely.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1981

Original Price                   £30?

Value Today?                   £5.00 (1011) 

Features:                          MPT 1320 spec: 4-watts FM, 6-channel, Hi/Lo power, squelch, volume, press to talk, 13-section telescopic aerial, sockets for external speaker, antenna and DC supply, carry case included

Power req.                       8 x AA cell or 12 volts DC external power supply

Weight:                            800g

Dimensions:                     242 x 60 x 80mm

Made in:                           Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     7


Mini Com Walkie Talkies, 1981

I can’t say I’ve had much involvement with the movie industry, though I was once smuggled onto the set of Star Wars, after everyone had gone home, and took some photographs of the props, which got me into a great deal of trouble, but that’s another story. 

 

Anyway, my other, far more tenuous and rather sad connection with the silver screen, is collecting electronic gizmos that appeared in movies. My collection is mostly confined to miniature tape recorders or ‘spycorders, the sort that appeared in secret agent flicks and TV shows of the 60s and 70s, but occasionally I stray into other areas, which is where this pair of Mini Com walkie talkies comes in. I came across them at a recent car boot sale in South London and instantly recognised them as the ones used in Back to the Future, made in 1985.

 

These little walkie-talkies actually appeared in a number of guises and were also marketed by Radio Shack (the US parent company of Tandy here in the UK). I’m fairly sure they were sold on this side of the pond in the more exotic electronic shops in London’s Tottenham Court Road, and Edgware Road but they would have been illegal as they operated on the 49MHz band. Judging by the FCC label on the back panel this particular pair were probably bought in the US. In fact cheapie toy walkie-talkies had been around since the mid 60s but they mostly operated on the 27MHz band; from the mid 70s there was a steady flow of illicit 27MHz CB transceivers coming into the country, but the Mini Com model was a cut above the toy walkies and CBs around at the time. To begin with they are very small, just a little longer than a pack of 10 cigarettes, and they looked quite businesslike, with none of the flashy cosmetics of CBs and walkie-talkies. In spite of that they are quite basic. There’s no squelch control so they produce a loud hiss all of the time they’re on (you don’t hear that in the movie…), there’s no volume either but in their favour they did have a decent range -- several hundred metres in the open – and because of their small size they were easily concealed.

 

What Happened to It?

After a 10 year campaign Citizens Band radio was legalised in the UK in 1981 and the few people that were bringing in the illegal models into the UK simply stopped, it just wasn’t worth the bother any more. Later on, the requirement to have a licence was dropped and more powerful multi-channel VHF models became available so this end of the market just fizzled out.

 

It’s unlikely that walkie-talkies like this will ever become seriously collectable, but who knows? There are clearly still bargains to be had, this pair costs me £1.00, and the seller was a happy man. I had no expectations but was very pleasantly surprised to find that they still worked, at least a voice is just about audible over the hiss but if it was good enough Marty McFly and the Doc, and it’s good enough for me! 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1981

Original Price                   £25?

Value Today?                   £25 (0911)

Features:                          49MHz operation, single channel, push to talk & on/off switch, 4 transistors, 5-section telescopic antenna (52cm extended)

Power req.                        1 x 9v PP3

Weight:                             106g

Dimensions:                      123 x 44 x 21mm

Made in:                            Taiwan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):      7


Fairylite Space Station Morse Set, 1965?

Nowadays the only time you are likely to hear Morse Code is someone’s cheesy mobile phone ‘SOS’ ring tone. There’s still a few diehard radio amateurs using it but it’s basically a forgotten art. Fifty years ago it was a different matter, many kids had a crack at learning Morse, though few ever got beyond memorising the dots and dashes that made up their first name or a couple of swearwords.

 

The really keen ones built their own Morse Code buzzers; the lazy ones had something like this. It’s the Fairylite Space Station Morse Signalling set, and very futuristic it looks too. The link with space travel was a bit tenuous and probably due to the fact that a couple of early satellites broadcast telemetry signals in Morse.

 

Basically, though it’s a plastic box – actually you get two of them – each fitted with a Morse key, a light bulb, buzzer a couple of batteries, spring contacts and some wire.  The Morse code is helpfully printed on a panel on the front and once connected, you can send your messages to a willing friend several tens of metres away. Believe me it was fun – until the novelty wore off -- and at the time one of the only ways a couple of kids could exchange messages over such distances.

 

The date of 1965 is a complete guess and partially based on the price on the rather tatty box, which is 19 shillings and 11 pence. That’s the equivalent of 99p, though taking into account the effects of inflation in today’s prices that’s more like £9.99. I found this outfit at the Brighton Marina Sunday flea market; the fact that it was a cold drizzly day undoubtedly helped to keep the asking price down to a very reasonable £5.00.

 

There’s not much to go wrong, and the instructions, such as they are mostly deal with replacing the light bulb. They are really well made, though, which has clearly aided in their survival, and in such good condition. Even the battery holders – often a casualty to corrosion – are still intact. The only thing that’s missing is the connecting wire, which I am fairly sure, would have been swallowed up by a vacuum cleaner several decades ago.

 

What Happened To It?

Morse Code is essentially a digital technology, information is conveyed by a series of long and short pulses and it is a remarkably robust form of communication. Interestingly it is still being used in aviation (at least it was until very recently) as a means of identifying directional radio beacons, though these days most pilots use GPS or inertial navigation systems to get themselves lost...

 

But I digress; learning toys, with a semi-serious edge like this one went into a steep decline in the 70s as more diverting and complex playthings came along. To be honest a knowledge of Morse Code isn’t especially useful nowadays, though there’s always the chance that the Internet, phone and mobile networks could all fail simultaneously. Familiarity with Morse could prove very useful -- as it was in the movie Independence Day, following the alien invasion – so maybe we shouldn’t dismiss it so lightly. Now is the perfect time to learn the rudiments and get in a spot of practice, and if the communications networks we have come to depend upon all fail the value Morse sets like this could easily soar. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1965?

Original Price                  19s 11d (99p)

Value Today?                  £5.00 (0711)

Features:                         dual mode visual and audible signalling unit, switchable buzzer/light mode, spring contacts

Power req.                       2 x C cells (2 per unit)

Weight:                            12.5 x 11.5 x 4.5cm

Dimensions:                     156g

Made in:                          ‘Empire Made’ (almost certainly Hong Kong)

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):    8


NOA FN-1113S FM Wireless Intercom, 1975

Simple two-station intercoms were a really popular consumer item back in the 60’s and 70s. They were everywhere and allowed you to call, talk to and listen to someone else in another room or as far away as the supplied cable (normally around 100ft or 30 metres as I remember) allowed. I suppose some of them were used as baby minders and you could use them as a door entry phone, at a pinch, but I could never understand why there were so many different models available. Perhaps it was just the sheer novelty of being able to talk to someone at a distance; remember this was long before CB radio and walkie-talkies of the day had a range of about 10 feet. I certainly had one as a kid in the 60s. They made excellent eavesdropping devices, or for surprising elderly aunts by making your voice or scary noises come out of the back of the sofa.

 

The intercoms I had used really thin connecting cable and had a nasty habit of getting chewed by vacuum cleaners, so I clearly recall the excitement of seeing the first ‘wireless’ intercoms, which appeared in the early 70s. These were not wireless in the sense that we understand nowadays; the audio signal wasn’t sent through the air, but down the mains cable, on a frequency-modulated carrier. It’s a clever idea and it worked, sort of, in houses or a small office that used a ‘ring main’ circuit but it had some major limitations. The range was decided by the mains wiring, and it probably wouldn’t work if you wanted to talk to someone in a outside shed or garage, for example, as they would be on a separate circuit. Interference was a big problem if someone else tried to use one on a shared mains circuit and many cheaper models suffered from serious hum, buzz, clicks and whine from other mains devices.   

 

The pair of intercoms that I have here is made by NOA Electronics Corp, I can’t say I have ever heard of the company before and I can find no record of their existence so I guess they came and went fairly quickly. I found them at a local car boot sale and after a bit of haggling I got the price down to £1.50 (from a fiver). They are actually very well made and despite being in a sorry looking state, after a clean up and a bit of tinkering they still work. One of them had a faulty capacitor (actually it had disintegrated) and the switches were a bit noisy but nothing a quick squirt of Servisol couldn’t fix.

 

What Happened to It?

The market for proper multi-station office intercoms declined in the 70s and 80s as the cost of internal phone or PABX systems fell. Basic intercoms like the ones I had were essentially toys and had few real uses, but they live on and have morphed into dedicated baby alarms. Using mains wiring to transmit audio signal was an interesting idea but it proved too much of a challenge for analogue technology. Nevertheless it too has evolved and is rather more successful as a carrier for digital data. There are now a wide variety of gadgets that use mains wiring for communication, including local area network (LAN) and home automation systems. I doubt that FM wireless intercoms like this are ever going to be worth anything but it would be a shame if they were forgotten and deserves a brief mention in the history of communications. They also have a certain rarity value – why on earth would anyone bother keeping them – so if you see one for a fiver or less snap it up, just don’t expect it to contribute much to your retirement fund…


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1972?

Original Price                   £30?

Value Today?                   £5 (0511)

Features:                          Call tone, talk button, talk lock, volume

Power req.                       220 volts AC

Weight:                            198 x 170 x 70mm

Dimensions:                     750g

Made in:                          Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):    4


GPO Keysender No 5,  M05 LA FHR 71/1, 1935/71

Updated

I know what it is, I know what it does and I even know who it was made for, but apart from that this rather odd looking object is a bit of a mystery (not any longer, see below). 

 

The facts that I am sure of are that it is a mechanical push-button dialler, designed to be used in place of an old style rotary telephone dial. It has GPO markings on the underside so we can take it as read it’s meant for the British phone system, and that’s confirmed by the typewriter-style key labelling, which uses the same font and colouring as the printing on a standard rotary dial.

 

The date is pure conjecture and I’m plumping for the late 1950s to late 60s, mainly because of the transparent window on the top. I have every reason to suppose it’s original and it’s made of a thin flexible plastic that hasn’t coloured or become brittle with age. Older plastics of this type tend to yellow. It also has to be pre 1969 as that was when the word ‘General’ was dropped and the GPO became Post Office Telephones.

 

As you can see from the second photograph it is an amazingly complicated piece of kit, it’s built like a clock, a real piece of precision engineering. The base is cast iron; the keys and their mechanism look as though they came straight out of an old mechanical typewriter. The top cover is made from thin steel and the connections; via standard braided cotton covered cables are routed through a small Paxolin terminal block on the underside.

 

At first I thought it was an accessibility device, possibly designed for those who had problems using a rotary dial, but there’s more to it than that. It has what amounts to a simple mechanical memory, so you can enter a complete phone number by pressing the keys, which it then proceeds to dial in sequence. The memory device is the furthermost disc in the photograph. It’s peppered by tiny pins that rise up when a key is pressed. Pressing a key also winds a simple clockwork mechanism that spins the wheel, and the raised pins operate a small switch; when the dial has made one rotation the pins are reset. My best guess is that’s it was designed for exchange operators – to save wrist strain -- but I’m happy to be put right. I have scoured the usual GPO and telephone collector websites but drawn a complete blank.

 

Some other markings on the underside might provide a clue. There’s a small white label, about 2cm long, marked ’M05 LA FHR 71/1 GPO FD1 BS. The serial number stamped into the cast iron base is 51936, and what looks like a GPO Approval Stamp is also marked ‘Post Office FOI Appd 272. The label on the top says’ Important. To operate steadily depress keys to full extent of travel’.

 

What Happened To It?

Push button phones were first introduced in the UK in the early 1970s, but these used the now universal ‘tone dialling’ system, based on DTMF (Dual Tone Multi Frequency) tones. This is a purely mechanical ‘pulse’ dialling system and the complexity must have made it really expensive to manufacture, which adds to my suspicion it was not meant for general distribution. By the early 1980s DTMF push button phones had become the norm and gadgets like this would have become redundant.

 

In case you are wondering how I came by it, I found it at an antiques fair in early 2009. The guy who was selling it had found in a lot of junk form a house clearance. He was no expert but knew it was rare enough to be asking £50 for it, but it being a cold, wet day he seemed happy to haggle and finally accepted £35, but I like him I have absolutely no idea what it’s worth. 

 

Updates

My sincere thanks to Sam Hallas for filling me in on this unusual  device. It's called a  Keysender No 5 and was first introduced in 1935 and according to the  markings this one was refurbished 1971. If you are interested there's more information at http://www.britishtelephones.com//keysend5.htm

 

My thanks also to ex GPO phone fan Ian Jolly for some more info on the Keysender, which he says was introduced earlier than 1935. Ian goes on to say that it was also known as the 'Macadie Keycaller', after its inventor, a Mr Donald Macadie of the GPO Factories Dept


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                         1935

Original Price                   unknown but probably expensive

Value Today?                   £50, who knows? (0411)

Features:                          Mechanical typewriter style mechanical pulse dialler

Power req.                        Human powered

Weight:                             2.9kg

Dimensions:                      120 x 180 x 160mm (wdh)

Made in:                            England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     9


Candlestick Telephone, c1975

As you may know I collect old telephones and I have several genuine ‘candlestick’ models, the oldest dating from around 1920, so you may be wondering what this fine looking specimen is doing on a website devoted to late 20th century gadgets? Simple, it’s a late 20th century gadget.

 

As best I can make out, and judging by the markings on the base and inside it was made in the late 1970s, and neatly illustrates an interesting fact about this style of phone, namely that it has never been out of production since it first appeared in around 1911.

 

Candlestick phones were still in widespread use until the 1950s, though the GPO -- as was -- stopped issuing them to subscribers in the 1940s, replacing them with Bakelite models like the classic 162, and the familiar Series 300. Original candlesticks are easy to spot. They are very basic; no works to speak of, apart from the microphone (transmitter) and earpiece (receiver), dial and internal switch, everything else was contained in an external box or ‘bellset’. They were also very heavy – thanks to a cast-iron base -- and pretty austere, no exposed brass, and any colour you like as long as it’s black finish, and certainly no plastic. The other give-aways on a modern repro are the curly cord (the originals were braided cotton covered, and they usually have some sort of internal sounder, instead of a bell. And if the dial has push buttons instead of finger holes, that’s another good clue…

 

Most repros are actually pretty awful, and often really tacky, which is why I was drawn to this one. It’s a remarkably faithful copy; many of the parts look as though they are patterned on the original.  I believe there was a company in the north of England a few years ago making them from surplus components sold by the GPO, though I doubt if anything on this one is original. The build quality, internal circuitry and neatness of the wring of this one is definitely up to old GPO/BT standards, though, but without a maker’s name it’s difficult to be precise about its provenance.

 

What Happened to it?

I doubt that candlestick phones have ever been out of favour, apart from brief periods, like the late 1960s, when everything had to be modern and teccy. However, I suspect that most of those who ever bought one switched back to a more conventional design pretty quickly. The problem is they are not very convenient; you need two hands to use it, and because they are so heavy and difficult to carry phone calls made on them tend to be quite short… Nevertheless, they are a lot of fun, and very decorative, though I am occasionally appalled when I come across genuine candlesticks that have been converted into table lamps…

 

For the record I paid £12 for this one at a recent antiques fair. It was in pretty good shape and only needed a quick polish and rub down with Brasso to get it shining again, and being fitted with a standard BT plug and the requisite circuitry it works a treat on a modern line. As a matter of interest even genuine candlesticks can be converted to work on a BT line, though be warned, it is frowned up. Modern repros sell from around £25 though you can pay up to £150, for the more authentic versions. If you hanker after the real deal there’s quite a few of them around, on ebay, at antiques fairs and in shops. Expect to pay between £100 and  £150 for one in fair condition, substantially more if it comes with an original bellset.

 

Update: Thanks to Ian Jolly for letting me know that this particular candlestick was made by a now defunct company called Conversation Pieces, some time after 1976 and he has provided this link to one of its catalogues.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1911?

Original Price                   Originals rented, modern repros, £25 - £150

Value Today?                   Originals £100+ repros £25+ (0311)

Features:                          Rotary dial, sounder, adjustable transmitter, hand-held receiver

Power req.                        Powered by telephone line,

Weight:                             2.1kg

Dimensions:                      140 x 330 mm

Made in:                            England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):      4


Dictograph Telephone System Master Console 1950s?

This chunky-looking apparatus is the sort of thing you would have had on your desk if you were a middle-management office worker up until the mid 1960s. The American company Dictograph was one of the largest manufacturers of private automatic exchange (PAX) and internal telephone systems, or intercoms, from just before the First World War to the late sixties, when rivals Telephone Rentals bought out the company.  It’s sturdily built and the veneered and highly polished wooden case is surmounted by a stylish walnut-coloured Bakelite phone handset and cradle. This feature dates it to no earlier than 1946, and probably no later than 1960, when the cases and handsets were made from new-fangled plastic materials. 

 

Unlike today’s fancy phone systems there’s no need to read the instructions. If you want to talk to a department or someone in the company important enough to have one just flip their switch, press the Ring lever and wait for them to answer. The user of this particular one must have been fairly senior as he (or she) had lines to most major departments, from the Chief Accountant to the Board Room, and a mysterious Mr Jaye, who was obviously a big enough cheese to have his own name label on this phone.

 

Inside there is as you would expect, rows of tough looking mechanical switches and terminals and beautiful wiring that makes it clear that no expense was spared in its construction.

 

What Happened To It?

The obvious disadvantage to internal phone systems like this one was that they had no connection to the outside world. This meant that anyone who needed one would have to have this great lump, as well as an ordinary phone on their desk. Dictograph went on to produce integrated telephones and PAX systems but they were ugly beasts and by the time of Dictograph’s takeover in the 60s smaller, neater, more functional and almost certainly cheaper office phones were being produced by many rival companies.

 

I bought this one, along with a couple of others smaller and larger variants many, many years ago from one of my favourite haunts, a fantastic army surplus shop called Jobstocks, in Walthamstow; alas now long gone. I can’t remember how much I paid for them but it would have only been a few pounds. They were in a pretty dirty state but nothing a bit of furniture polish couldn’t fix. I have no doubt that it still works – there’s very little to go wrong – but without a wiring diagram it would be difficult (but not impossible) to get it up and running again. It’s hard to say what it is worth now, I’m guessing anywhere from £5 to £50. Sadly it’s not much use for anything these days but it looks great!


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1918

Original Price                   £?

Value Today?                   £25 (0211)

Features:                          Multi-station PAX internal phone system, Bakelite handset and cradle, indicator lights, internal buzzer

Power req.                        n/a

Weight:                             3.8kg

Dimensions:                      300 x 185 x 235 mm

Made in:                           England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     4


GPO Series 300 Telephone 1965?

Long before I became interested in

electronic widgets from the 1960s I built up a sizeable collection of old telephones and this one, a GPO Series 300 model was one of the very first. It’s doubly special for me because it’s the exact same model that we had at home when I were a lad.

 

The 300 Series is the classic black Bakelite home table phone of the 50s and 60s, though the design, by the Swedish company Ericsson, actually dates back to the 1930s. They were produced for the GPO in their millions by the likes of ATC, Ericsson, GEC and Siemens and other companies around the world. Many survive but beware of modern repros and fakes. The real thing is easy to spot. They weigh a ton and if you unscrew the earpiece cover on the heavy handset there should be a metal diaphragm, held in place by a pair of magnets, (rather than a removable insert).

 

There are plenty of other signs to look out for; the base should be metal, the rotary dial has a very distinctive ‘growl’ (later repros usually sound a bit tinny). Ideally this will have an ABC123 fingerplate though later models only had numerals following the switch to all digit phone numbers in the early 70s. Braided cotton covered cables are another good sign but not essential as they wore out and were replaced with plastic covered curly leads. Given their age chips and scuff marks on the Bakelite body and chips on the mouthpiece are not unusual, so immaculate examples should be treated with some suspicion. Give it a shake and you should hear a tinkle from the bell. This one is actually a 314 variant as it has Bell On and Bell Off buttons, a Call Exchange button (sadly blanked off), plus a slide out drawer with a transparent sleeve for phone numbers.

 

Old phones like these can be more than just ornaments though. I have converted many of them to operate on a modern phone line, it’s actually quite simple and the sound of a proper ringing bell and the heavily clipped sound from the earpiece bring the memories flooding back but it behoves me to point out that plugging one in to a BT line is almost certainly frowned upon..  

 

What Happened To It?

300 series phones were still being used in homes up and down the country well into the 1970s but they were killed off by the smoother, plastic-cased 700 series. This was available in a range of colours and fitted in better with the décor of the time. I bought this one in the late 1970s from an old junk shop and it only cost a pound or two. The shopkeeper had dozens of them and I kick myself for not snapping up the lot, they would be worth a small fortune now. I still hear stories of dumps and landfills full of old phones like these, but do not despair, there’s lots of them around and they often turn up at boot sales for a few pounds and a lot have been imported from places like India and Australia where they are still quite common.

 

Plenty of companies are selling refurbished models, sometimes for silly prices, so beware. A decent fixer-upper shouldn’t cost you more than £20 to £30. Coloured models are quite rare; though, and rightly command much higher prices. Red, white (ivory) and green models are highly prized but beware of black models that have been given a blow over with a can of spray paint. Removing the earpiece cover will usually show if it’s a fake.

 

Don’t worry too much about the dull faded look of old Bakelite, it is really easy to restore to a mirror finish using Brasso metal polish. For best results I suggest that you dismantle the phone and remove the dial, otherwise you won’t be able to get into all of the nooks and crannies. The dials are sometimes gummed up and sluggish but a touch of 3-in-One oil usually gets them going again. If you want to have a go at a fully working restoration job there are plenty of collector’s sites on the web with circuit diagrams, conversion plans and even spare parts.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                          1938

Original Price                   Rented from GPO

Value Today?                   £25 to £100  (0211)

Features:                          Rotary dial, mechanical bell, bell on/off and Call Exchange buttons

Power req.                       Powered by phone line

Weight:                            2.5kg

Dimensions:                     230 x 190 x 135mm

Made in:                           Britain

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):    4


GPO Telephone Type 746F, 1978

The Type 700 telephone is a true classic and for those who grew up in the sixties and seventies it was probably the only phone you would ever see, thanks to the GPO’s near monopoly on the supply and rental of telephones in the UK.

 

The design dates back to the late 1950s; it was known as the ‘Modern Phone’ as it replaced what was considered then the rather dowdy (but now highly sought after) black Bakelite phones. Collecting 700’s can be a real geek-feast as there were so many different types and variations. This one is almost certainly a type 746F (the F suffix denotes an all-number or ‘figure’ dial). If you want to know more about this and other phones from the 60s, 70s and 80s pop along to the Telephonesuk website .

 

I can’t remember exactly where this one came from, it was almost certainly more than twenty years ago and it would have been found in a skip or on a rubbish pile. I suspect that the only reason I picked it up was because it was red, which was slightly unusual as most type 700 phones at the time were cream or brown coloured. I definitely wouldn’t have paid any money for it; phones like this were literally thrown away in their millions when the GPO became BT and people were allowed to choose their phones.

 

Like all phones of this era it was built to last and this particular one still works. The tough plastic case usually scrubs up well – picking off paint spots is usually the most difficult part of the clean up job -- and they can be easily adapted to work on the BT network, though I’m fairly sure this is frowned upon.   

 

What Happened to It?

Thousands of 700s are still kicking around in flea markets and car boot sales. They’re not as common as they used to be but I still see one every now and again selling for just a quid or two. If you see one in good condition, especially a green or red model, grab it quick. The retro styling never goes out of fashion and they are becoming increasingly collectable so their value can only go up..


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                         1959

Original Price                   £n/a

Value Today?                   £25 (0111)

Features:                          rotary dial, twin bells

Power req.                       n/a line powered

Weight:                            1.25kg

Dimensions:                     215 x 140 x 120mm

Made in:                           UK

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):    3


RAC 'ET' Emergency Telephone, 1990

Back in the late 80s and early 1990's cellular mobile phones were still expensive luxury items and mostly used for business communications. However, throughout their relatively short history they have proven their worth as a means of summoning help in an emergency and this clearly struck a chord with the UK's second largest roadside assistance organisation, the Royal Automobile Club or RAC. In collaboration with Motorola they came up with the 'ET' or Emergency Telephone, a mobile, or rather portable phone package that sold for the then astonishingly cheap price of £100.

 

The idea was it would only be used for emergencies, to call the RAC, police fire or ambulance services -- it even has its own dedicated RAC and 999 'speed dial' buttons on the handset. It could also be used for making regular phone calls but extortionate call charges meant that most of them spent short and uneventful lives in the boots of cars.

 

As you can see it comes in three parts, the main transceiver unit, with its hinged 'rubber duck' aerial housed in a black anodised extruded aluminium case, a chunky rechargeable NiCad battery pack, and the handset. The whole caboodle fits inside a snazzy padded blue shoulder bag. In case the battery was flat, which would probably be the case if it had been stored in the boot for any length of time, it could be powered up instantly using the supplied cigar lighter socket adaptor.

 

What Happened to it?

It is unlikely that many ETs were sold as by the early 1990s the analogue ETACs cellphone system, which it uses, was being phased out and replaced by cheaper, smaller and smarter digital mobile phones. The first GSM networks came on stream in 1993 and within a couple of years the cost of mobile phones, and call charges had fallen to the point where it had become a mass market product, so there was no longer any need for specialised cellphones like this one.

 

Since most ETs led undemanding lives I'm guessing that those that survived will be in pretty good condition. I found this one on a Brighton market stall and it cost me £10. It does power up but it's totally useless for anything other than a doorstop as the analogue cellphone networks closed down years ago, but if you see one going cheap grab it, it has all the hallmarks of a future collectible.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1990

Original Price                   £100

Value Today?                   £10 (0111)

Features:                          Analogue ETACS portable mobile phone with LCD display, RAC and 999 speed dial buttons, rubber dick antenna 

Power req.                        12 volt rechargeable nicad battery or car battery

Weight:                             2.5kg

Dimensions:                      (carry case) 285 x 180 x 80mm

Made in:                            UK

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):      7


 

Shira WT106 Walkie Talkies 1970

Back in the 1960s the closest most kids ever got to interpersonal two-way communications was a pair of baked bean tins and a length of string (ask your Granddad for details...), so when cheap walkie-talkies like these first appeared they quickly became the must-have gadget for a generation of boys (girls tended not to be interested in such things).

 

However, what made these little gadgets so enticing was the fact that they were illegal and it wasn't until the mid 1980s that the UK Government deemed it acceptable for the British public to own radio transmitters without having to sit an examination.

 

In truth 'toy' walkie talkies like these put out just a few milliwatts of RF power, barely enough power to interfere with anything more than a metre or two away, and the range was typically about 25 metres, or about as far s you could shout, but that did nothing to diminish the magic of being able to talk to your mates, some distance away, without wires (or string).  

 

Walkie-talkies, like this pair of Shiras, which almost certainly date from the 1970s, all followed a fairly similar pattern with a simple 3 or 4 transistor circuit that cleverly combined the functions of a short wave (27Mhz) transmitter and receiver, audio amplifier and Morse-code buzzer. Later models operated on the 49MHz VHF band, which had been vacated by 405-line TV.

 

Despite the phone-like appearance the loudspeaker also doubled up as the microphone and since they used a single channel only one person could speak at a time, using the large PTT (press to talk) button on the side. The only other controls are an on/off volume knob and the Morse code button, which appears to work by putting the AF circuitry into a feedback mode. A 9-section telescopic aerial that extends to a little under 1 metre aerial emerges from the top of the case and these tended to last about five minutes, and there's a wrist strap on the side. As you can see there's a useful Morse Code crib-sheet on the front and a wacky fake screen showing a waveform; the designers definitely knew which buttons to push to excite their target market... 

What Happened to it?

By the late 1970s proper 27MHz Citizens Band (CB) ‘transceivers’ started appearing in the shops and some of the more powerful ones were capable of communicating over several miles. Later, when CB was finally legalised in the UK more upmarket models became available and within the past 5 years the market has been flooded with powerful little PMRS/GMRS two-way radios, so walkie-talkies have never gone away but as good as they are nowadays we just take the technology for granted and the magic simply isn’t there any more.

 

Back in their heyday hundreds, possibly thousands of cheapie designs like these were produced, many of them themed or tied into popular TV shows of the day (Mission Impossible, Thunderbirds, The Man Form U.N.C.L.E) and I’m guessing these are very collectible, especially if they’re still in their original box. I paid a fiver for these Shiras, and there’s certainly no shortage of them on ebay but probably not for much longer. Shortlist ones that still work, with complete aerials, and if they’re boxed and come with the original instructions, so much the better.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                         1970?

Original Price                   £5 (is)

Value Today?                   £5 (1210)

Features:                          Press to talk, on/off volume, Code button, telescopic aerial, wrist strap
Power req.                        1 x 9volt PP3

Weight:                             0.3kg

Dimensions:                     195 x 63 x 50mm

Made in:                            Hong Kong

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):   3


 

Maxcom MCP-200 Cordless Telephone 1979

First generation cordless phones were a lot of fun and I well remember spending my lunch hours walking up and down London’s Tottenham Court Road, seeing if I could log onto the many demo models in the shops, to make expensive phone calls.

 

These devices used analogue technology and were little more than fancy walkie-talkies. There was no security and if two or more people had one in a street it would be forever warbling as it intercepted the calls from the neighbour’s cordless phone. They were also pretty big, as you can see from this example, made by Maxcom, who incidentally were one of the first Korean companies to market electronic goods in the UK. It’s also worth noting that at the time these phones were illegal because they worked on the 1.7MHz and 49MHz frequency bands, which had been approved in the US, but were allocated to other users in the UK. I can’t recall who or what they were but a loophole in the law allowed these phones to be sold, but not used.

 

The Maxcom was fairly typical of the breed; the hefty handset contained a set of rechargeable batteries, that gave you a walk/talk time of around 10 minutes (well, maybe a little longer). There were no frills, just a last number recall, and an interesting ‘call’ facility. This somewhat questionable feature consisted of a button on the base station, which when pressed made the handset bleep. The box proudly proclaims it employs full duplex operation, which basically means both parties can talk at the same time. Range was typically about 50 metres or a little further than you could shout, so it wasn’t all bad. This particular example is showing its age, and the years spent on a sunny windowsill, with the once cream-coloured plastic having turned an interesting two-tone yellow and brown.

 

What Happened To It?

It wasn’t until cordless phones went digital, and were legalised, in the late 1980s, that they started to make any sort of sense. Early models like this one were great, so long as no-one else living nearby had one. I doubt that many had survived, they weren’t very popular because of the interference and legality issues, moreover they were unreliable and easily damaged when they fell out of your pocket – which they tended to do with monotonous regularity because they were so large. It’s the sort of thing you’ll see now and again at a boot sale, and if you see a good one, particularly if it still has its box, grab it, definitely a future collectible.


GIZMO GUIDE

First Seen:                        1979

Original Price                   £80

Value Today?                   £5 (1110)

Features:                          full duplex operation, tone/pulse dialling, automatic last number redial, remote call function, belt clip

Power req.                       mains/rechargeable

Weight:                            (handset) 400g

Dimensions:                     (base unit) 230 x 180 x 80 mm, (handset) 210 x 60 x 50 mm

Made in:                           Korea

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):     7


Motorola 8500X ‘Brick’ Mobile Phone, 1986

Incredible as it may seem now this mighty phone was once at the cutting edge of mobile telecommunications and you had to be filthy rich (or a builder) to own one. The 8500 was a second-generation analogue phone, following hard on the heels of the first ‘transportable’ models, built inside a small attaché case, introduced in the early 1980s. It was nothing sort of revolutionary and the small (by 80s standards) detachable battery pack gave an unheard of 1-hour talk time.

 

No fancy gadgets or colour displays here, just a simple red LED readout showing the number and battery state. The controls are also very straightforward, though ironically there’s more buttons that you would find on a modern mobile. For those concerned about the health hazards or using a cellphone you might be interested to know that the 8500 and it’s ilk had a pretty poor reputation and were responsible for numerous injuries, including several rather nasty accidents to user’s eyes, caused by a sharp poke with the rubber duck aerial…

 

What Happened To It?

You had to be there to appreciate just how potent a symbol of wealth and power a mobile phone could be. Early adopters often drew small crowds when they were used in public but it quickly became a joke. Phone owner’s image also suffered at the hands of Delboy ‘Only Fools and Horses’ Trotter, who favoured this particular model.

 

Eventually prices fell and smaller pocket sized models started to appear and now everyone has one but the high price meant that old phones like this one were produced in relatively small numbers. The 8500 was discontinued in 1987 and many were returned for replacement and they would have been scrapped. Survivors are rare, examples in good condition, with the original box, case and charger can easily fetch several hundred pounds in ebay. This one has been fairly well used and is probably only worth £30 or so, but prices are rising steadily.

 

The analogue networks were switched off five years ago so they are practically useless, though a couple of specialist companies can strip out the old analogue guts and replace them with the innards of a modern phone, even s, it’s not the sort of thing you would want to carry around with you for very long. If you want to go for the retro look then one of the first generation digital phones, like the classic Motorola flip-lid Micro TAC might be a better bet.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                  1986

Original Price             £1200

Value Today?             £20 - £50 (1110)

Features:                    Analogue operation, last number recall and store, address book, 1-hour talk time

Power req.                  Proprietary 7.5 volt nicad pack

Weight:                       800g

Dimensions:               200 x 80 x 45 (very approx)

Made in:                      USA

Rarity:                         5 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)


Telephone 280, the 'Buttinski' or 'Butts', 1960

This weird and wacky looking telephone is definitely not the sort of thing you would have found in the average home or office in the sixties and seventies. It's a Telephone 280 or GPO lineman’s test phone, sometimes known as the Buttinski or Butts*.

 

The two most obvious features are the fact that it’s encased in thick rubber, and the small dial, set into the back of the mouthpiece. The small red button on the side works like a handset switch. Press it to pick up the line, and give it a twist to keep the line open. These phones were mostly made by Plessey and went into service in the late 1950s, this one is thought to date from the early 1960s, it came from a car boot sale a few years ago and cost 50 pence. Judging by the condition of the rubber case it has led a hard life, nevertheless, it does still work.

 

What happened to it?

Telephone 280 was phased out in the early 1980s and replaced by more compact, mostly yellow coloured electronic test phones. Obviously the new phones are designed for use with newer digital exchanges and clearly do a much better job, but if you want a phone, that can double up as a rubber mallet, survive a drop from the top of a telegraph pole and like as not, still be working in another 100 years time, look no further than the 280. Quite a few of them were made and since they are almost indestructible they do turn up on ebay from time to time. Prices vary but if you are very lucky you might pick up a good one for less than a tenner. 


First seen:                   1962

Original Price              £ probably quite a bit...

Value Today?              £10 - £20 (1010)

Features:                     Mechanical numbered dial, push to talk and lock switch

Power req.                  n/a

Weight:                       700g

Dimensions:                270 x 100 x 80 (very approx)

Made in:                      England

Rarity:                         5 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)

 

* The 280 had several affectionate nicknames including 'Buttinski' and 'Butts' and depending who you talk to this refers to the way it was used by engineers to track and trace calls, or 'butt' into phone calls. 'Butts' is also used in the US and is a reference to the way (or area) it hangs from the lineman's tool holster or  'butt' belt.


GPO Trimphone 1965

The Trimphone or Telephone No. 722, to give it its official name is a real sixties icon. It first appeared in 1965 and was the brainchild of GPO designer Martyn Rowlands. ‘Trim’ is actually an acronym for Tone Ringer Illuminated Model, two features which make this still very stylish phone stand out.

 

The ringer or ‘warbler’ is really distinctive and you can hear a sample by clicking HERE. The sound was produced by a simple transistorised oscillator, one of the first ‘electronic’ ringers and a major technical leap as up until that time virtually all phones used electromechanical bells. The illuminated dial is the subject of some controversy because it relies on a thin almost circular glass tube, filled with radioactive Tritium gas, which reacts with a phosphor coating to produce a constant greenish blue glow. The actual amount of radioactivity is very low – less than the background radiation in some areas -- but the phone was eventually withdrawn following safety concerns. Several colour variants were produced and later a push-button version was introduced; both types were produced in very large numbers – more than 1.6 million were made, before it was withdrawn in 1981, and in spite of them being recalled by BT you can still find them selling in antique shops and car boot sales for between £10 to £20. Refurbished ‘as new’ models, fitted with BT sockets sell for around £50.

 

What Happened to it?

The Trimphone never really went away, though obviously by today’s standards it is incredibly basic. Although it will work on a modern phone line it is obviously very limited in what it can do, but don’t let that worry you, it is a working example of British 1960s technology and design at its very best, a great conversation piece – in all senses of the word – and as time goes by a functional collectable that can only appreciate in value.  There’s lots more about the Trimphone Here


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                   1965

Original Price              n/a, supplied as part of phone rental contract

Value Today?              £50 (1010)

Features:                     ‘Warbler’ ringer, ringer volume control, radioactive glowing dial, rotary or push-button dial

Power req.                   powered by phone line

Weight:                        800g

Dimensions:                210 x 100 x 115 (very approx)

Made in:                      UK

Rarity:                          6 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)


Realistic TRC-209 1979

This Realistic TRC-209 has the unusual distinction of being an illegal gadget... If you haven’t already guessed it’s a Citizen’s Band radio. However, It’s not one of those namby-pamby FM jobbies begrudgingly legalised by the UK Government in 1981, but a genuine hairy-chested 27MHz AM hand-portable from the US with 40-channels and a healthy 5-watts of output power.

 

This one is a 1979 vintage model, one of a pair smuggled in from the US. They were purchased from Realistic -- Tandy in the UK -- for around £60, a fair sum back then! It’s very sturdily built and has a tough leather carry case. It’s a real handful, with top-mounted controls for channel change, on/off volume and Squelch. There’s also a power/battery meter and sockets for an external mike and speaker. The PTT (push-to-talk) switch is on the left and sockets on the right for external antenna, power and charger. The bulge in the 1.5 metre long telescopic antenna is a ‘centre load’, a small coil that improves the aerial’s efficiency.

 

What happened to it?

Those who can remember back to the early days of CB will tell you that it died the day it was legalised; quite simply all the fun went out of it. The UK’s FM system was a poor alternative, the range was little further than you could shout and the equipment was bland and expensive. AM CB went further underground and lived on for a few years, indeed there are still a few die-hards out there but what really killed CB was the idiots and kids who jammed the airwaves and by the late 1980s the mobile phone had arrived. Still, it was a good laugh while it lasted. 10-10 good buddy…


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                  1979

Original Price              £30

Value Today?              £50 (0910)

Features:                     27MHz AM, 40 channels, 5-watt RF output, battery/power meter, centre load antenna, volume, Squelch, Hi/Lo output, external mike, antenna speaker sockets, leather carry case

Power req.                   9 x AA rechargeable/alkaline, 7 x AA zinc carbon (2 dummy batteries supplied)

Weight:                       1kg (ex batteries)

Dimensions:                 260 x 65 x 80mm (very approx)

Made in:                       Japan

Rarity:                          8 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)

 

 

 

 

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