The Australian Post Office. They were originally the PostMaster General's Department, but the term APO came into use after World War 2 to signify the commercial operation, and PMG designated the government organisation which administered it. The APO was later split into Australia Post and Telecom Australia.



An early phenolic resin invented by a Belgian, Dr Baekland, in 1908. Marketed by the Bakelite Corporation, U.S.A. There were many similar products sold under different trade names but all seem to be generically called “bakelite”. It replaced the less stable VULCANITE, xylonite, celluloid and EBONITE.



The National Telephone Company (and later, Ericsson) factory in Britain. The name is often used interchangeably with British Ericsson to denote British phones.


Bridging Telephones

U.S. term for party line telephones which were "bridged" across a common wire or pair of wires.


British Ericsson

(1) A range of phones produced at the Beeston factory of L M Ericsson in Britain. Many of their telephones were branded British Ericsson.

(2) Many phones were produced by the Beeston factory but the name in Australia is used to designate the wooden wall model N2500 and its variations. This type was used in Australia extensively between about 1918 and the 1930s, and many of the phones continued in use until the 1990s.


Cathedral Top

A decorative arched top on many early U.S. phones, designed to make the boxy case a little more attractive. The line terminals and lightning arrestors were usually mounted on it.


Common or Central Battery. These phones had no generator or local batteries, relying on batteries at the exchange for the ringing signal and for speech. See also MAGNETO. CB exchanges started to come into wider use in the early 1900s. One of the main influences in their adoption was that the central batteries reduced the amount of battery replacement and maintenance needed at the customer's premises.


Central Office

The United States term for a telephone exchange. Historically it has precedence over "exchange", but does not seem to have been used widely outside the U.S.


Commonwealth Ericsson

A version of the ornate full size Ericsson handset wall phone Model AB530 that was ordered in large numbers as the standard APO / PMG telephone for Australia. It proved to be a high quality long lasting telephone, and some were still in service when the last manual exchanges in Australia were automated in the early 1990s.



The part at the top of a phone that holds the handset. On a desk phone it is supported on the PILLAR.


The handle on the generator of a magneto telephone. Mostly they are straight, but some early U.S. models had a curved "dogleg" crank.


The decorative carved or pressed woodwork at the top of a wall phone. This will often be missing as the crowns were small and easily broken. In some cases such as the Dutch telephone company it seems to have been regular practice to either leave the crown off or to not replace it when it was damaged.


Delville Transmitter

The Delville transmitter was an improved Hunnings model. The Hunnings transmitter, as patented, was filled with coarse coal dust to provide the variable resistance needed. It suffered badly from packing. Bell, Edison and others working on this problem found that carbon granules, rather than dust, reduced the packing problem. The Delville used coal granules, graded for size. The Bell Telephone Manufacturing Company called it a "long distance transmitter", since it was much more sensitive than their standard Blake-Berliner transmitter.


Drop, Drop Shutter

A signalling system used at the exchange to signal an incoming call by dropping a small metal shutter on the switchboard to reveal the calling number underneath. The shutter was manually restored at the end of the call. This rather clumsy system was replaced by lamp signalling.



A hardened rubber compound used for moulded components like handset grips. It used mercury as a hardening agent and often weathers to a faint red or pink colour, especially under heat. It preceded bakelite. See also VULCANITE


Eiffel Tower

Do you want to start an argument? Get a U.S. , European and Australian collector together and ask them what an Eiffel Tower is. In the U.S. it is the Ericsson AC110 skeletal model range. In Australia it is the Bell Telephone Manufacturing / British Western Electric desk phone from the 1890s. In Europe the Ericsson AC110 is variously known as the Dachshund, the Sewing Machine, the Coffee Grinder, and probably many other names. Realistically I think the legs on the Western Electric look more like the Eiffel Tower, and the Ericsson looks nothing like it, but the WE phone was not sold in the U.S..


The General Electric Company of Britain. They were a major maker and exporter of telephones , notably during the bakelite era.


Generator (also Magneto)

The generator built into phones to provide an AC ringing signal back to a manual exchange. They are usually described by the number of magnets used eg: three or four bar generator


Hunnings Transmitter

One of the first practical carbon multiple-contact transmitters. Invented by Henry Hunnings, a British clergyman, and patented in Britain in 1878. Its drawback was a tendency for the coal grain filling to pack down to the bottom of the transmitter with use, reducing its efficiency. It needed to be rotated every so often to loosen up the granules. Hunnings sold the rights to the transmitter to the United Telephone Company of Britain, who used it to replace their Blake transmitters. These only had a short range, but the Hunnings extended this.


Hunnings Cone Deckert Transmitter

An improvement to the Hunnings transmitter. Deckert machined the inside of the back carbon plate of a Hunnings transmitter into a series of criss cross grooves. This formed rows of cones that trapped the carbon granules and reduced packing. Tufts of silk glued to the tops of the cones damped the diaphragm and further reduced packing. The transmitter was widely adopted by British Western Electric until replaced by the White Solid Back transmitter.


Inset Transmitter

A bakelite or metal case with the transmitter mounted in a removable capsule. It was introduced in the 1920s and replaced the White Solid Back transmitter. The inset transmitter capsule simplified maintenance and needed no further adjustment once it left the factory.



An early black bitumen -like paint that was baked onto the steel or brass base metal. It gave a durable, slightly rubber-like finish.



Jutland Telephone Company (Jyllands Telefonselskaber). Many of their phones, although similar to Ericsson models, were made by Emil Mollers. Their logo is crossed Swedish flags in red and white with a gold shield.



Kjobenhavns Telefon Aktieselskab; Copenhagen Telephone Company (in Denmark, not Germany or Russia, for the geographically challenged). Their initials are often stamped into the base of their phones, or displayed in full on a plain transfer on the box. Their logo, where used, is crossed red, white and blue flags.


Magneto Ringing

Before automatic and CB were invented, a caller needed to be able to signal a telephone exchange (Central Office) that they wished to make a call. Each phone was fitted with a Magneto Generator to generate an AC current strong enough to ring the bells or drop a shutter and let the operator know a caller was waiting. The operator would connect the call, then crank her generator to ring the called party's bells. Eventually magneto exchanges were superseded by Central Battery exchanges, where lifting the handset off the switchhook would automatically flash a lamp at the exchange. When a call was connected, a Ringing Machine would generate the AC current from the exchange to ring the bells at the called party's phone.


Manchester Shot Transmitter

An improvement to the Hunnings coal grain transmitter, by Charles Mosely of Manchester. Small granules of carefully graded and rounded anthracite coal were used to fill the transmitter, reducing the packing problem. The back plate was slightly inclined , providing a sort of wedge shaped cavity with the point at the bottom so the granules were, in effect, "pre-packed". Instead of a full diaphragm making contact with the granules, a carbon button glued to the wooden diaphragm provided the front contact. Thus, the carbon granules used to generate the resistance were only a small part of the total contents of the receiver. Packing of granules at the bottom had less effect on the transmitter's efficiency, and the slightly bigger granules reduced packing anyway. The transmitter could only be used vertically, and was only marginally better than its competition. It was somewhat similar to a Western Electric Delville, but cost more to make.

Moller, Emil (Moeller)

A Danish manufacturer who produced close copies of some Ericsson models; whether this was under license is unclear. They also used many genuine but unbranded Ericsson parts in their phones. This was a widespread practice at a time when Ericssons had the manufacturing facilities that the small companies did not have, but it causes confusion when trying to identify a phone accurately. As a rough guide, if the Ericsson-looking phone has parts marked with Ericssons' name it is probably an Ericsson. They preferred to sell unbranded parts to other makers.


Outside Terminal Receiver. A bell-shaped earpiece with wiring terminals mounted externally at the top, instead of concealed in the shaft. Used in the very early models of U.S. phones.



In early carbon granule transmitters the granules tended to slowly settle down to the bottom of the transmitter. The transmitter relied on a loose contact between the granules to work, so packing gradually reduced the transmitter's efficiency. Early transmitters could be rotated 180 degrees to loosen up the packed granules. The packing problem was finally solved by the design of the Solid Back transmitter.


Peel Conner

The telephone manufacturing arm of Britain's General Electric Company from 1910 to 1921.


Picture Frame Front

A decorative rectangular routing on the front panel of many U.S. phones, designed to make the plain boxy shape a little more attractive. On earlier phones it was usually accompanied by the Cathedral Top.



Private Manual Branch Exchange. A switchboard that connects to the public network, as opposed to a PBX that is purely internal.



The Post Master Generals Department of Australia. Until Federation of the Australian colonies in 1901 into the Commonwealth of Australia, each colony had its own Posts and Telegraphs Department which handled all communications services in its colony. Phones were also supplied by the various State Railways. The PMG government department took on the responsibility for all mail, public phone and telegraph operations after Federation through its commercial arm, the Australian Post Office. The British also had a PMG, but for clarity I have tried to refer to its telephone department as the British Post Office.



The vertical part on top of a phone that holds the CRADLE. In most phones it extends into the case where it also presses on the SWITCHHOOK . Also known as the pedestal, although I prefer Pillar as Pedestal is also used to describe the shaft on candlestick phones..


Pulpit Phones

A style of wall phone where the transmitter was mounted at the top, above the writing slope. A receiver was usually mounted at the side. Once handsets came into wide use the pulpit style fell out of favor. Many were converted to handset operation.



An electrical measurement that is critical on telephone lines. In practical terms, it is a measure of how hard it is to push a telephone signal down a telephone line. The longer the line the higher the resistance, and so the higher the voltage needed for a call to go through. Ringers (bells) were designed to operate into a certain resistance - the higher the resistance they could operate into, the longer the telephone line they could ring on. Ericsson phones had a good reputation for their long distance capabilities.

RijksTelefon (or Rikstelefon)

The original telephone operating company in Stockholm.



The Government telephone company in Holland.


Stockholms Allamanna Telefon Aktiebolag. Stockholm telephone company formed from the amalgamation of various Government and private operating companies. Their logo is a clenched fist holding lightning bolts.



The sound generated in the receiver could be fed back to the microphone. This was not a great problem in the early and less sensitive phone handsets, but became a serious problem as the sensitivity of the components increased.


Societe Industrielle des Telefons. Originally the company made Ader's telephones for the French market. It was a major supplier to the French government telephone organisation.


Skeletal Ericsson

Unofficial name for the Ericsson AC100 model range. This phone is, however, known as the Eiffel Tower in the U.S.


Solid Back Transmitter

A new design of transmitter from the early 1900s that solved the packing problems in carbon granule transmitters. Designed by White of Western Electric.

Spur switchhook

A very early switchhook where the two end parts of the fork tapered to a point. In later switchhooks turned steel balls or rounded ends on the fork were used to avoid damage to the receiver (and probably to the user).


Sterling Telephone & Electric

A British company that supplied a wide range of early phones. Like many other manufacturers, they also bought and rebadged complete phones from other makers. A Sterling company with no connection to the British one still exists in the United States.



A bank of switches built into the phone and usually operated by picking up the handset. At rest, the switchhhook switches the bells into circuit so an incoming ring can be received. When the handset is picked up, a different set of switches is engaged to provide power to the phone for speech (and to feed power to the dial so dialling pulses can be sent).



The Swedish equivalent of the PMG Department. Originally a telegraph service, they moved (reluctantly) into telephones. They eventually took over or amalgamated with many of the small private telephone companies.


Three Box Telephone

Early wall telephones had the electronics mounted in a top box. A bottom box held the wet cell battery to power the system, and a small central box held the transmitter. This would typically be a Blake transmitter. With improved transmitters the centre box could be done away with. The transmitter was now mounted on the front pace of the top box, forming a Twin Box telephone.


Tin Box

A style of phone introduced around the 1910s - 1920s that enclosed the works in a steel rectangular case. Typically the pillar and cradle were mounted on top of this. It needed less finishing of the working parts at a time when demand was increasing and production was falling behind. The style was replaced by bakelite phones in the 1930s. Most tin box phones were originally built as magneto phones but were readily converted later to dial and CB models as these newer types of exchange came into common use.



Decorative detail printed on a transparent medium and applied to a phone by wetting it and sliding it off the backing paper and onto the phone. Known in the United States as a “decal”. They ranged from simple identification brands to quite elaborate pinstriping and decorative work , especially on the tin box phones. Over the years the transfer became brittle with age and tended to flake off. A phone with elaborate original transfers in good condition is quite uncommon and will command a higher price. Some of the logos on phones were silkscreened on.


Twin Box Telephone

See Three Box Telephone above.


A hardened rubber compound used for moulded components. It used sulphur as a hardening agent and weathers to a dull dark grey finish. Produced by the Goodyear Vulcanite Company. Predates bakelite, but is often confused with it. See also EBONITE.

Western Electric

The manufacturing arm of the Bell Telephone Company. Originally U.S. - based, they also took over the Bell Telephone Manufacturing Company's factory in Antwerp to supply the European market and also had ties with British firms who made parts to their design. They later opened a factory in Britain as well as many other countries. Like Ericssons, they did this to establish a local presence to gain further contracts in each country. Some of their components such as the early handsets proved less reliable than the Ericsson equivalent, so many WE phones will be found with Ericsson handsets and other parts . Similarly, though, some Ericsson phones were fitted with surplus WE handsets during times of shortage.