Obsolete Phones

The official current models were the 800 series of plastic phones, but at the formation of Telecom Australia these phones were still in short supply. A brief rundown of the pre-Telecom PMG models still in wide use is therefore appropriate. Some of these phones had to be retained in service until their replacements could be designed and produced. There were also phones still in use which had been obsolete for many years, but had not been recovered because of their reliability. This is especially true of the 300 and 400 series of bakelite phones. They were generally replaced only when they failed in service. These phones are listed here as they existed in large enough numbers to form a significant group.

There are also many minor groups such as the candlestick phones which still turned up occasionally although they had been obsolete for around
fifty years. It is interesting to look through Technicians Handbooks from the 1960s and see how many of these phones were still listed.

I have used the rule of thumb that a phone was obsolete if there was a designated replacement model for it. Some very old models such as the Teleintermediate should perhaps have been listed as Current Models because, for rural use at least, there was no satisfactory replacement available yet. Although Telecom gave some priority to designing new models to replace this old equipment many of the replacements proved unsatisfactory in service and needed further modification and redesign. An example is the 1/3 Intercom system which should have replaced the Teleintermediate. Although adequate for internal use, it proved to be easily damaged in lightning strikes if an external extension was connected. The “obsolete” Teleinter continued in service for some further years until this problem could be fixed.

Fig. 1: COMMONWEALTH ERICSSON. Dating from the 1890s, a large number were still in use in the 1970s. This was a testament to their quality. Although this is not confirmed, the last one in official use was rumoured to have been taken out of service at Pilliga in north western NSW in the early 1990s. All magneto wall phones, including the bakelite models, were generically known as "MWH" for "Magneto Wall Handset". The table phone equivalent was MTH. Automatic versions were AWH or ATH respectively.

Fig. 2 and Fig 3: BRITISH ERICSSON : This phone in its many variations was a standard PMG wall phone from shortly after World War 1 until the bakelite phones appeared in sufficient numbers in the 1930s. Again, it was extremely reliable and continued in use until the 1980s. During its long life it was produced with separate transmitter and receiver, and later upgraded to handset operation. Some were converted to dial working for use on party lines connected to automatic exchanges. The two versions shown above are typical of the range. The handset model is the PMG conversion to update the earlier models.

Fig 4 and Fig 5: PMG Type 37 / 137 / 237 Series. These small wooden wall phones from the 1920s were made obsolete by the bakelite 300 series. They were generally quite reliable, though, and continued in service until they finally failed. Some were still being recovered in the 1980s.


Fig 6: TELE 162 / 232 . A bakelite model from 1932 which proved quite reliable. Mostly black, but some were issued in Ivory, Red and Green. These colours faded badly and a good genuine example is rare. Replaced by the 300 series.

Fig 7: TELE 300 SERIES WALL PHONE: These replaced the 232 models in 1937. They were issued in the same colour range and modifications, and suffered the same fading problem. For the purposes of abbreviating installation orders, these and all other bakelite phones were later designated ATH (Automatic Table Handset) , with CB or M (Central Battery or Magneto) substituted as appropriate, or AWH (Automatic Wall Handset).

Fig 8: Table version of the 300, in Ivory.

Fig 9: 400 Series. The last of the bakelite phones, introduced in the 1950s. They were still available in black or ivory (which still yellowed in the strong sun) . Their lifespan was limited - in the United States, Western Electric was experimenting with new thermoplastics which were lighter, cheaper, and easier to provide in colors. In spite of this the phones were still built to the highest quality standards and many still work today as novelty phones.

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To 800 Series

To Other 800s

To Ericofon

To WallFone

To TouchFone

To Multicom

To Decorator Phones

To Feature Phones

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To T200

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