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Widget Of The Week

Tohphonic HP-2T 2-Station Intercom, 1962

You wait for ages then four of them appear at the same time. No, not London busses -- and to be fair they do seem to be a little more evenly spaced these days – we’re talking about cheap 2-station intercoms/baby alarms from the early 1960s. Quite how I came to acquire four of them in the space of as many weeks is a bit of a mystery. It’s not as if I go looking for them; they just seem to catch my attention at antiques fairs, car boot sales and on ebay. In truth they were probably always there but the increasing scarcity of interesting sixties electronic gadgets is starting to make them stand out.

 

This weeks offering is the Tohphonic HP-2T and it’s a familiar concept. It comprises two small boxes, each about the size of a pocket transistor radio. The Master and Sub-station or ‘Sub’ are connected together by a thin 36metre (120 foot) 2-core cable. The Master contains a simple 2-transistor amplifier, a small loudspeaker that also acts as a microphone, a push-button ‘call’ switch and a rotary on/off volume switch. The Sub is mostly full of air, apart from a second small dual-purpose speaker, a call button and a single capacitor, which we’ll come to shortly. It is powered by a single 9v PP3 type battery that lives in the Master unit. At switch-on the Master station is connected to the sub and picks up any sounds in the vicinity of the Sub’s speaker (at this point acting as a microphone). This and the many similar 2-station intercoms around at the time were sold and used as baby alarms but they function equally well as intercoms. When the Master is switched off pressing the Call button on either unit generates a loud tone at the other station. If the Sub calls the Master it has to be switched on and the caller simply has to speak close to the Sub’s speaker/microphone, whilst the Master user has to press the Call/Talk button when they want to reply. By the way, call tones are produced by making the amplifier oscillate, and that is where the capacitor in the sub station (and another one in the Master unit) comes in. The Call switches in both units simply short out the capacitor, which is in series with one of the speaker connections.

 

The rest of the circuitry is equally straightforward. The designers managed to keep the transistor count down to just two – they were still comparatively expensive in the early 1960s – by using miniature transformers. There are three of them in all; they do not act as amplifiers, as such, but they can do some of the work that transistors would normally do in an amplifier, matching high and low impedances at the input and output stages. Both units are solidly built, and there are a couple of fairly unusual design points. First, the shiny panel covering the top third of the case is a reverse-painted clear panel moulding. This involves quite a tricky manufacturing process and it means that the logos and labelling do not wear off, as they are on the inside. It might not sound very interesting but this is a prized feature on very early transistor radios and often adds to the value. The other one is the folding wire stand/carry handle/hanging loop. It’s a simple but clever idea and means the two units can be conveniently used on a desk or table, or hung up, out of the reach of a child. The only weak point is the thin, and very fragile cable that comes with the outfit. If it is not carefully suspended, or covered it’s very easy to snagged and snapped, and it acts like a magnet to carelessly manoeuvred vacuum cleaners.

 

Ebay was the source of this one, and with no other bidders in contention it was mine for the starting price of £4.50. The condition of the two units was very good indeed with only minimal signs of use, suggesting it was only ever used as a baby alarm before ending up in long-term storage. The cable hadn’t been so lucky, though, and after its brief career it had been loosely wound, kinks and all. Over the years the plastic in the kinked sections became brittle and split. In short it was unsalvageable. The amplifier circuit showed some signs of life when powered up but it was horribly noisy and unstable, pointing to the failure of at least one, and probably more electrolytic capacitors. Rather than try to find the ones responsible I elected to replace the lot as any that were still working were well past their use by date and would eventually go short or open circuit. There are only five of them and they’re all common values so it didn’t take too long and at the end of it, it was working as well as the day it was made. A few squirts of switch cleaner sorted out the dirty contacts on the call switches and the crackly volume control.

 

What Happened To It?

The Tohphonic brand doesn’t seem to have lasted very long and web searches suggest that the HP-2T may have been its only product. Apart from anything else the name doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, nor is it memorable, and wouldn’t have sat easily with Western consumers. My guess is that like many other similarly afflicted Asian concerns, by the end of the 1960s it had either disappeared or been absorbed by another company.  An ad in the excellent May 1962 edition of the US magazine ‘Boy’s Life’ (thanks Google Books) shows that when new it cost $14.95, an astonishing $122 or around £87.00 in today’s money. Time and inflation plays tricks on this sort of calculation and the fact it was advertised in a kids magazine means that it was essentially a (American) pocket money price. It is also obvious that there is no way it’s worth anything like that today but it would be nice to think that its comparative rarity puts its current value into at least double digits. Sadly the collecting world has yet to appreciate what vintage intercoms have to offer so what I ended up paying for it was about right. But mark my words well; now that sixties widgets are becoming so thin on the ground it probably won’t be long before cheapie intercoms are the next big thing and my personal stash will be worth a small fortune! 


First seen:                      1962

Original Price:               $14.95

Value Today:                 £5.00 (0218)

Features:                        2 transistor amplifier, 2-way (simplex), remote tone call, on/off volume control, 3.5mm mono jack connection, 36 metre connecting cable

Power req.                     1 x 9v PP3 battery

Dimensions:                   100 x 65 x 30mm

Weight:                          150g (sub 100g)

Made (assembled) in:     Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest)    8



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