BRITISH POST OFFICE 300 SERIES TELEPHONE
Although this phone was not the first of its type, nor even the BPO's first bakelite phone, it is a classic telephone because its design was so substantially right that it stayed in production somewhere around the world for the best part of four decades.
Its British origins go back to the 162 telephone, the so-called "pyramid " phone, introduced in 1929. Although this telephone was adopted as the BPO's standard phone, some of the design philosophies were a little strange. The BPO seemed unsure if their customers would change readily from the separate transmitter / receiver "desk stand" (candlestick style) to a "handcombination" (handset) phone. This was in spite of handsets having almost universal preference in other countries. The phone needed a separate bellset, on the basis that a customer may want a bellset somewhere that covered the house better (the BPO suggested the hallway) but was not necessarily near the phone itself. This increased installation costs. The customers did not agree, either. Around half of them wanted a combination phone - bellset and handset in one unit.
If a bellset could be used at the same location as the phone, it could be attached to the base of the 162 phone in a rather clumsy manner that required a short external cable to be run from the bellset into the phone itself.
The "antlers" (the fingers of the cradle) were rather easily damaged. As bakelite technology progressed, the BPO issued replacement cradles in a newer less brittle compound. There was no wall version produced. A steel bracket shelf could be attached to the wall and the phone attached to this, but the BPO made no other allowance for wall mounting.
In the late 1920s the increasing demand for "handcombination" phones moved the BPO to clean up the design somewhat. The cord from the bellset to the phone was moved inside the case and other minor changes were made. This phone was issued as the 200 series (the most common is the 232) but the separate phone / bellset were still available. BPO papers of the time show they were investigating other designs, including American Telephone & Telegraph's new 300 bakelite telephone. In 1928 Siemens issued their Neophone, an attractive one-piece phone of similar pyramid styling to the 232. A lot of attention was paid to improving the electronics. It also marked a point at which the BPO finally decided that the separate transmitter and receiver phones like the candlestick models were no longer being accepted by the public. Handsets were what they wanted. The Neophone was developed in cooperation with the BPO but was never a big seller given the size of the prospective markets. Neither was its similar competitor from GEC, the Gecophone. The Neophone still had the weaknesses of restricted internal space and the fragile cradle. It was shortly overtaken by another telephone with a completely new design.
In 1932 L M Ericssons put a new telephone into production, their DBH1001. It was designed by Johan Christian Bjerknes of Elektrisk Bureau, LME's Norwegian company. Styling was by leading Norwegian designer Jean Heiberg. The phone successfully integrated the bellset into the phone, giving it a wedge-shape. At the top, the handset cradle was moulded into the case itself so it would not suffer from the breakages of other early bakelite phones. The phone was seen by the Prince of Wales at the Stockholm Exhibition in 1932 and he bought some for his home. This Royal approval moved the British Post Office to examine the design. They had been looking at a phone with an integral bell, and the Norwegian design fitted the bill better than the Gecophone or Neophone. They redeveloped the design into the 332 telephone in conjunction with Ericsson Telephones Ltd in Britain. They did not adopt the Norwegian handset, preferring to stay with their own 164 handset. The cable entry point was soon moved from the side to the back of the case.
By 1937 the phone was in full production in Britain. Although the BPO initially stayed with black, other colors were later made available with the introduction of Imperial Chemical Industries' methylmethacrylate, tradenamed Diakon. The colours decided on were Lacquer Red, Ivory, and Jade Green. Some factories produced other colors by spraying the cases to order, and a mottled brown "walnut" finish is also known on some phones from South Africa, probably produced by Siemens Bros. An extremely rare version was made in clear Perspex for display purposes. With the BPO's policy of encouraging major industry by sharing their contracts between manufacturers, the 332 was eventually issued by every major British producer.
Once again, a wall version was not initially planned but one was soon sourced from Ericssons. It was designated 333. It was not particularly common, as the BPO still had adequate supplies of the small wooden 121 wall telephone.
Strangely, the 332 was not seen as a replacement for the 127 and its later version, the 232. These older designs continued in production for some years. The BPO considered that a combination telephone would mainly be used in a business location, or similar (2). The 332's advantages were simplified installation by relatively unskilled staff (there was no need to take the telephone apart to attach the bellset) and simpler construction (apart from the handset the only bakelite parts were the case and the dial blanking plate).
The 162's fragile single-plunger switchhook design was replaced with two plungers that ran directly in holes moulded in the case. Electrically the new phone was similar to the old one, but used a new smaller condenser. All components except the dial were mounted on the internal chassis.
A new problem to be addressed was radio frequency interference to the now-popular wireless sets. Dialling impulses and power surges through the transmitter were blocked by a 0.1 microfarad condenser wired across the transmitter, and if necessary by a further filter mounted across the dial terminals.
The inbuilt bellset could be either a magneto or trembler version to allow the phone to be fitted to auto or CB exchanges.
For more elaborate installations the phone could be fitted with a bank of up to three switches which fitted neatly inside the case and came out just above the dial. The switches could be wired in various configurations, taking care of most customer needs.
Initially the 332 was issued with an Ericsson plaited three-conductor cotton covered cord, matched to the phone colour. The cord was durable and hard to tangle. Over the years it was replaced by a single thick rayon-sheathed cord, still colour-coded to the phone. As these gradually ran out of stock the plastic-sheathed "curly cord" was fitted as maintenance dictated. It is hard to assign a date to these changes since it depended on which country, which manufacturer, and when the old stock of the previous model ran out.
The baseplate was fairly standard between manufacturers. Some had a single row of holes along each side. The large dimple for the note tray was standard, even after it was dropped from the range. Stamps on the bottom are usually the only indicator of the manufacturer. The "H" on this one denotes ATM (used to be Helsby). The arrangement of the internal chassis is shown in the right picture.Note the two lugs at either side of the centre mounting it to the top part of the case.
Eventually a simpler design of wall phone was designed by Ericssons. The Tele 327 was produced, based on a new case and the standard components. It was not used widely in Britain, but was adopted by Australia and was even developed into a magneto version. Most of the wall phone parts were standard with the desk phone, reducing costs. The backplate was mounted directly to the wall and the bakelite case folded forward and down to reveal the insides. Access was by a single screw holding the case to the baseplate.
The BPO finally stopped ordering the 300 series in 1959, although it continued production in some other countries well into the 1960s (and reproductions into the 1980s - 1990s)..
306 CB or Auto telephone with trembler bell
308 As above with magneto bell
310 For "shared service" (duplex) lines in conjunction with a separate bellset.. Had a "Call Exchange" button as shown on the red example above
311 Wall equivalent of 310
312 Self contained desk phone with "Call Exchange" button for shared service
314 Desk phone as for 312, with three buttons for extension plan working
321 Wall equivalent of 312 (old case design)
327 Wall, new case style, 3 switches and trembler bell
328 Desk phone, magneto bell, 3 switches for extension working
329 Wall equivalent
330 Desk phone with single switch for recall
331 Wall equivalent
332 standard CB/auto telephone
333 standard CB/Auto wall phone
UK Manufactures of 300 series telephones
A special version was produced by TMC during World War 2, known generally as a "Scrambler Phone" . It was built into a black case with a distinctive green handset (either moulded in green, or sometimes painted green) , and came with a box of electronics to scramble the voice frequencies of a call at one end and unscramble them at the other end.
The Australian Post Office sourced most of its phones from Britain, so they been examining the 332 for some years. With the benefit of British experience they worked out some redesign features with Ericsson Telephones Ltd. In 1939, with the Second World War looming, they put the 332 into production as the 300ATH. It was mostly produced in Australia by AWA (Amalgamated Wireless of Australasia) although some were also made by TMC (Telephone Manufacturing Company, a British firm with a factory in Australia). There were some imports from the usual British makers. The bell gongs were provided in different thicknesses of steel to give a slightly different and more pleasing tone (labelled 2 and 2A).
In British phones a magneto telephone could be provided by adding a generator externally in a small enclosure. A small Alnico generator used by the APO was reworked to make it easier to turn, and fitted into the front of the 300 case to make a magneto phone, the 334. Australia still had many magneto exchanges in use so this was a major economy over the separate components approach. The 164 handset was replaced by the updated 184 model, with the BPO No. 13 Inset transmitter. The note drawer was done away with because of the problems in Britain with it sticking and breaking, and a blanking plate substituted. This also allowed components to be mounted on the base in Australian-made phones, although imported phones continued to use a chassis.
Left: Possibly the rarest phone in the worldwide 300 series. A transparent demonstrator 334 magneto telephone from the Australian Post Office.
Initially a wall model was not provided for, but this was added to the range (the British 327 model, designated 300AWH) as the phone proved its worth. Except for the dial and cords, the entire phone could be produced in Australia. This was a good move as World War 2 had started and supplies of imported phones would become erratic.
At this point the phone was produced in Australia in black only. Some green and red phones had been imported before the start of the War, but these purchases were suspended and not resumed, as experience showed that the colored models suffered badly from fading in strong sunlight. Some ivory ones also came into service after the war, mostly supplied by Ericssons, but they too suffered from fading to a dirty yellowish-cream colour. Some of the initial production was fitted with black-finished dials, but the chromed "StayBrite" dial was soon substituted.
One unforeseen requirement was for a portable version. Although the phone could be carried in one hand it was a heavy and awkward handful. Cases were drilled with a small hole in front of each cradle mount and a bent wire loop inserted into the holes and kept in place by internal nuts. Simple but effective. The weight distribution of the phone was nicely balanced around the handle, so there was little tendency for the handset to fall off the cradle while being carried.
The APO used a slightly different naming system. As well as the model number, the phone was also designated M (Magneto) or CB (Central Battery) or A (Automatic). The next letter, T or W, denoted Table or Wall. Finally, H denoted handset. Handset phones attracted an extra rental premium for some years. P was also added to the code if the phone was a Portable unit eg: 300APH.
The baseplate shown at left is from a typical imported British model. Australian-made phones from AWA usually had a flat baseplate with the components mounted directly onto it. On the imported phones, the stamps on the bottom usually followed a similar pattern to British markings. One exception was GEC, who usually included a small black and gold GEC sticker as well.
The 332 CB and 332 auto desk phones were the original models, numbered by the APO as 300CBTH and 300ATH. The original British 333 magneto phone with external generator was rare in Australia, but following the modifications suggested by the APO and development of the smaller internal generator, it was produced as the 334MTH.
300AWH, 300CBWH and 300MWH were wall versions of the phone.
330MTH was a WW2 Australian expedient telephone, using bells from STC, small generator from GEC, standard 300 case (now being produced in Australia by Standard Telephones & Cables as well), and the 164 handset from Siemens. The handset will usually be dated 1940.
312ATH was produced for duplex (shared) services. It had a pushbutton mounted in front of the handset and a nameplate reading "Call Exchange", as for the BPO model. A similar phone with a pushbutton marked "Ring" was used as an extension phone off a switchboard or intermediate telephone. A version with three pushbuttons marked "Main Extn , Extn Exch, Main Exch" was a replacement for the old Teleintermediate and JS&B intermediate telephones. These phones were issued under the APO's Serial / Item numbers, but do not appear to have been given a 300 model number.
The 332 "Tropical" is a GEC phone. It was brought in in small numbers around 1939, probably for evaluation. GEC made many standard design phones for the British and Australian Post Offices, but also produced their own customised models where they thought they could improve on the original. It is marked "PMG 38" underneath.
336CBTH was a CB model fitted with a generator as well. This was used as an extension phone off an extension switch. The magneto was used to signal back to the main station. It was a British Ericsson model N1326K.
338MTH (above) is another magneto model, produced by TMC in the 1950s as stocks of magneto phones ran low. Externally it is similar to the 334MTH but inside it has a different, bigger magneto generator and a smaller bellset. Note the unusual bell gong arrangement - one vertical, one horizontal. There is also a dimpled plate mounted over a hole in the baseplate to make room for the deeper generator.
In 1958 the Australian Post Office further upgraded the 300 to a new series, designated the 400. This version was based on a GEC 1000 telephone, itself based on a 1948 Ericsson model. Originally it was planned to issue the new phone with the more rounded GEC case, and this case is shown in some APO documents, but in the end the old 300 case was retained and only the newer handset used.
The new handset was rounded and did away with the "spitcup" of the164 / 184 handsets. Although the 400 should be regarded as a different model, the similarity of the case may cause confusion among collectors. I have already seen it advertised on the Internet as a "rare 332 version".
A Telecommunications Journal of Australia article on the Australian 300 series is available here
After World War 2 India was in the same position as so many other countries - short of funds, a huge catchup problem with their infrastructure, and an industrial system trying to meet peacetime demands. India needed telephones, but its traditional British suppliers had none to spare, so it was necessary to build their own. The Indian Government set up India Telephone Industries at Bangalore in 1948 in conjunction with ATM to meet the need. ITI was provided with used dies and moulds from ATM's British factory to build the 332 and dials. (4) The dies were already well worn, but ITI cleaned them up and produced a range of distinctly Indian 300s. The colours selected were peach, light blue, pink, light green, ivory, white, red and black.
Like Australia, ITI decided against the troublesome note drawer. Initially the phones were fitted with a blanking plate, but without the need to press the dish into the base to hold the note drawer rails, they were also able to greatly simplify the internal construction. A flat baseplate was used, and the bell gongs and other parts were attached directly to this. With the extra space inside, a large locally made cylindrical capacitor was used instead of the flattened BPO version.
The handset was re-marked with an ITI logo in stylised script inside the oval panel that previously held the British 164 marking or makers' initials. (3)
The ITI phones overall were a well-made, well finished design, with minor changes from their British predecessor to allow for India's needs and preferences. In the 1990s, however, some importers began selling the well-used ITI phones on world markets as British models. There was good money to be made, due to the high prices being paid by collectors in Britain. Some years later after ITI ceased production, someone used the old moulds (which were now in a very poor condition) to produce a short run of replicas of extremely poor quality. The parts were low quality and ill-fitting, including the cases. The colours were inaccurate and reliability was very poor. These fakes gave the whole ITI range an undeserved bad name.
Automatica Electrica Portuguesa was established in 1950/51 under similar conditions to ITI. In this case, however, it was owned by ATM. The local company gave ATM access to the country's markets under favourable conditions. Even if it would take many years to recoup the investment, the cost was fairly small and was helped by the Portuguese government. Particularly, though, it helped to keep out the International Telephone and Telegraph multinational companies who were powering out of the war period. ITT (its European companies were mainly named Standard Electric) had developed a bad reputation when it was found to have been supplying technology and equipment to both sides during the conflict.
The Strowger-based technology that ATM was selling the company was by now fairly old, but well refined, durable and cheap. It was just what many countries needed at this time. A side benefit was that it gave ATM a useful cashflow to develop into newer technologies like Crossbar. (4)
Little is known about the AEP telephones, but they appear to have been standard 332 models with the AEP logo embossed into the handle and with locally produced parts substituted as production picked up. Some have been noted with Aptophone moulded into the case. Again, AEP decided not to use the note drawer so their phones have a flat baseplate, but retain the internal chassis. An unusual model has been noted with dimples in the plastic fingerplate rather than the usual holes. This dial was made by ATM, but is uncommon.
The 332 was also produced by Telrad, an Israeli company formed in 1950, probably under similar arrangements to AEP in Portugal.
Siemens briefly produced the 332 at their factory in Johannesburg. The only notable difference is the company's name moulded into the handset.
Irish Post Office
The design was the standard 332, but they had a tendency to grind the 164 number off the handset moulds and substitute "P & T". The 332 telephones were used until around the late 1950s. Because of the rather low rate of telephone use in Ireland for many years, the Irish-branded phones are comparatively uncommon.
1. Grant R "British 300 Type Telephone Info"