Vintage Phones Australia retro rotary dial phones

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Coin Telephones

Known more commonly now as Payphones, these were a part of the telephone range from the earliest days. Although Ericssons had a coin attachment for their phones and a purpose-built payphone as early as the 1890s, these do not appear to have been used in Australia. Early payphones were simply a standard phone in a cubicle next to the telephone exchange. Payment for the call would be made at a window and the operator would place the call then switch it to the cubicle phone.

The need for a more efficient system was recognised , and in about 1912 the first dedicated public phone was introduced. It was an Automatic Electric unit similar to Tele No. 31 but with the dial blanked out. Service was still operator-controlled. Each coin hit a gong as it dropped into the coin tin, sending a tone back to the operator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Automatic Fixed Unit Fee PT

This fixed-transmitter unit dates from the early 1930s. It was for local calls only. Originally designed to take two pennies, this one has been refurbished at some time in the late 1950s when the cost of a call was raised. The phone was usually painted dark green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public Telephone Unit Fee Long Breech

Fixed Transmitter Model

The same mechanism could be mounted on a barrel-type receiver, and this style was widely used. It was nicknamed the "Long Tom". A short-barrel version was also available for lower-use locations. 1920s to 1970s.

A version was available where the transmitter and receiver were blanked out and a standard 162 or 232 desk phone attached, as shown below. Although this practise began in the 1930s, it became almost the standard policy in the 1960s when supplies of bell receivers ran low.

 

 

 

Shelf Handset Type

This unit was an emergency measure to cope with the post-World War 2 expansion and in this it seems to have been an adequate performer. It was reintroduced in 1955.

Although in its initial form it took two pennies for a local call, it was designed to be adjustable to take up to four pennies to allow for later fee rises. The coins were loaded onto the sloping ramp at the top, then released when required by pressing the button.

Unfortunately the phone was increasingly vandalised and the need for a redesign was soon realised. Another common problem was that if a Linesman or Technician accidentally reversed the wires going into the phone, it would stop working.

In a final modification, the phone was fitted with a side handset

From Telephone Engineering Instruction, Substation E3102, Issue 1, February 1955, Australian Post Office

 

 

 

This Sydney Workshops PT from the 1920s was based on an Automatic Electric mechanism.

It was intended to reduce the operator load by allowing customers to dial their own local calls now that automatic exchanges were becoming more common. It did not last long in service due to excessively high maintenance costs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Automatic Public Telephone With Multicoin Attachment

In 1935 the A.B. Multicoin public telephone was introduced. Still a British model, from Hall Telephone Accessories Ltd, it had a number of useful features. It was much more strongly built, the telephone was a standard wall phone to keep maintenance costs down, and it could take a range of coins to allow for the cost of calls increasing. This was becoming important with the steady growth of the trunk network. More long-distance calls were being made and it was becoming impractical to pay for these calls with a large number of pennies.

Although it required a fair amount of maintenance the AB unit proved fairly solid and reliable in service and many remained in use until well into the 1970s and 1980s when they were replaced by the CT3.

The example here is shown mounted on a perforated metal backboard . The earlier versions were usually mounted on a dappled green backboard that also included a frame for a "How To Call" notice.

In 1966 an interim upgrade was made to some phones to allow them to handle 20 cent coins and so make short STD calls. The conversion was inexpensive as it only required minor changes to the phone coin head. A new relay handled the exchange end and fed a tone to the caller to warn that the time was nearly up. The phones were always located alongside other standard operator-assisted multicoin phones, and usually in busy locations or holiday areas where STD traffic could be expected to be high. They were painted a bright orange to make them stand out.

They were superseded within a few years by the CT1, then by the CT3.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left: This photo shows an alternative version with a shelf-mounted handset from the 1930s, although the notices appear to be from the 1970s - an example of how long the units were in service. The odd arrangement was made necessary by a shortage of wall phones during and after the Second World War. The table phone and wall bracket arrangement was not really successful in a public telephone - the breakage rate was high.

Right: The more conventional post-War installation, with the unit mounted through a shelf . (From APO Manual "Technicians Handbook - Maintenance and Circuits " 1969)

 

No. 1 Auto Wall PT

In 1939 - 1940 this somewhat more attractively-styled PT was introduced. It does not appear to have been particularly successful, as the AB units outlasted it. It also seems to have had a poor record for security. In an attempt to reduce vandalism, it had a flexible metal cord to the handset and some other design improvements. It was intended to be corner-mounted in a new style of PT cabinet.

Unfortunately, the sheet steel cabinet was a disaster and both phone and cabinet were abandoned in 1945.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Automatic Public Telephone, Variable Tariff, Unit Fee, Wall Type. 1955

The handset version shown at left is a later upgrade, but the phone was originally made available with either a 300-type handset or a fixed transmitter, as shown above. Local calls could be dialled direct , but trunk calls still had to go through the operator. The whole unit was now in one piece, and was starting to be redesigned with vandal-proofing in mind. The original unit could take two pennies, but it was now redesigned to take up to four pennies standing on edge in the sloping ramp at the top.

In the 1960s the phones were converted to take a sixpence coin as call costs rose. Later still, they were converted to take a ten cent coin.

Increasing vandalism and the cost of upgrading took its toll , and most had been retired from use by the early 1980s.

 

 

 

Unit Fee Public Telephone

In the early 1960s this phone was introduced to provide a local-call-only service and to provide a more reliable and theft-proof upgrade to the old barrel types.The phones were also upgraded to handset operation. The reinforced phones were painted in a grey metallic finish. It seems to have been a robust and useful phone, and it coexisted with the AB units for a decade or more until replaced by the Victa Red phone, the Easiphone, and finally the CT3.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easiphone

The need for public telephones grew steadily after World War 2. The Post Office was far behind in meeting demand for domestic and business phones, and could not even keep up with the demand for public phones as a substitute. It was decided to allow two firms to introduce privately-supplied and leased payphones to try to fill the gap. In 1963 Elliott Automation introduced the Easiphone. It was mostly used in city areas, where it proved reasonably popular. Although it was not particularly vandal proof, it was meant to be used in supervised locations (inside a shop for instance) and this seemed to work fairly well. When mounted to the stand as shown, it could be conveniently wheeled in and out of a shop and was not easy to steal.

The Easiphone continued in service until 1974, when the newly formed Telecom Australia bought the company out. They were then gradually phased out of service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RedPhone

The Red Phone, supplied by the Victa Telecommunications Company and built by Tamura in Japan, was the other entrant in the leased payphone market. In most respects it followed the pattern of the Easiphone. It was a popular target for theft because of its compact shape when not mounted on the stand as shown. It was soon provided with a chain and lock at the rear so it could be bolted down. Apart from this, it proved reasonably popular and fairly reliable in service.

Victa was also bought out by Telecom Australia in 1964. Until then, both the Easiphone and the Red Phone did a lot to fill the market gap. Unlike the Easiphone, the Redphone continued in service for some time and was actively sold by the new Telecom.

There was also a half-height version, intended for low-use areas such as boarding houses. The full-size phone was known as the Commercial Unit, and the half height model was the Domestic Unit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coin Telephone No. 1

The variety of ageing payphones was becoming an embarrassment, and the level of maintenance and vandalism was rising. The Australian Post Office had to allow private companies into the market to fill the gap, but meanwhile they were arranging the redesign and supply of a new British model. This was the Coin Telephone No. 1. It was introduced in 1965 and trialled in Sydney. An STD version was trialled in 1968.

The phone was made by Associated Automation. Although maybe not as vandal proof as it could have been , it was intended for use in supervised locations - in fact, the same locations as the Red Phone and Easiphone. Its advantage was that it could also handle trunk calls under operator supervision. The simple front lock was soon replaced with a reinforced door and Chubb lock for better security, and a heavier steel diaphragm to protect the works.

The original color scheme is shown at left. The CT1 went through a number of minor improvements in its life, one of which was a color change to the model shown below. The reason for this is unknown.

 

 

 

 

CT1 Reinforced

Although the CT1 filled its design needs well, many were installed in locations that were not supervised sufficiently, and vandalism and theft of the coins became a major problem. In a caravan park in a town in my area, for instance, the CT1 would be forced open at least once every two weeks or so. Since there was still no alternative stronger phone available for lease, the Post Office engineers decided to remodel the CT1.

The Sydney Workshops produced the Coin Telephone No. 1 Reinforced. It was more widely known as the "Armoured CT1". The 18-gauge steel case was upgraded, the front panel which opened with a key was changed to a wrap-around model with heavy steel reinforcing, and the coin tin safe was fitted with a heavy-gauge steel lid. The phone was painted in grey or dull green hammer-finish paint to resist scratching. It looked ugly, but it worked. In an attempt to make them a little more attractive, some were refurbished in the gold color shown below in the late 1960s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coin Telephone No. 2

In the early 1970s an attempt was made to produce a more vandal proof local call phone. It was issued as the Coin Telephone No. 2. Its recessed dial and front panel and all-metal contruction were a step in the right direction, but it never found much official favor and was soon dropped in favor of a new model which had been under development in cooperation with a Japanese company for some years. The CT2 was mainly used in Melbourne, and is fairly rare.

 

 

 

 

 

Coin Telephone No. 3

Up to now, Australia did not have a public telephone capable of handling multiple-coin STD calls. In 1972 the Coin Telephone No 3 was released. It incorporated the latest electronics, courtesy of Anritsu in Japan, and an incredibly heavy armoured steel case, courtesy of the Post Office Workshops in Melbourne.

A story I heard goes that the Japanese sales people were demonstrating their latest pride and joy at the Melbourne Workshops, and boasted that it was entirely vandalproof. A Workshops technician proceeded to show them that it wasn't. He had it open in under a minute.They must have wondered what sort of vandals Australia had, but they sat down and redesigned the phone from the ground up. They used many of the vandal-proofing techniques developed in the CT1 and CT2. The result was not only a success in Australia, but Anritsu sold it worldwide.

From the start it could handle local calls, STD, and International dialling. I once talked to a lady from the United States who was looking for an International public phone. She found it hard to believe that she could pick up any one of these standard street phones and dial direct to her home in the U.S.A. Apparently in the U.S. there are special phones for International calls. Perhaps there is something to be said for having one controlling body like the APO.

The phone was based on a model produced for Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Public Corporation, and was initially made in Japan until Australian manufacturers could be organized.

When the CT3 finally hit the streets, it was so heavy (over 100 pounds) that it needed a specially-designed winch to lift it into place in the Public Telephone cabinets. As well as the armoured case and reinforced front door hinges, it featured a steel cord inside the handset cord (to stop people pinching the handset), a rather short handset cord (to stop people using the handset to break the glass in the PT cabinets), an epoxy-glued handset (to stop theft of the handset internals), a teflon-lined coin chute (to stop Superglue-covered coins being used to jam open the coin slot for free calls), a small guillotine in the coin chute (to stop the coin-on-a-string method of getting free calls), a recessed stainless steel dial (to stop the dial being broken) and a coin tin that could hold $120 of small change. Apart from the handset and cord, all fittings, even the pushbutton, were metal. As coins were deposited they were checked for diameter, thickness and magnetic properties. Bent and thin coins were rejected. It was not particularly attractive, but it worked.

 

Even so, further improvements were made over the years. The amount of cash in the coin tins attracted a more up-market type of professional thief, They could tap into the phone cabinet's power supply and use commercial power drills to drill out the locks from the coin safe. This was solved by mounting a transformer in the PT cabinet and dropping the available voltage. The bar that held the coin safe in place could be drilled out or dislodged by firing a bolt gun into the side of the case at the strategic spot. This was fixed by mounting a ball bearing at the end of the retaining bar, to send the drill off course.

The CT3 became the mainstay of the the Post Office's payphone system. Later, under Telecom Australia, it would be upgraded further to provide a range of new models that would keep it in use well into the twentyfirst century.

 

 

 

Most images where not otherwise attributed are fromTelecom Australia 1989 Payphone Services review.

Most of the information is from Post Office Engineering Instructions, and from Jim Bateman's book "History of the Telephone in New South Wales" (1980)

The information given here is compiled from Telecom documentation, but some of the details conflict with other information available. Telecom was not particularly interested in telephone history. If any collectors can shed light on the details, either to confirm or refute it, please contact me.

 

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