Eric Knowles Eric Knowles, Antiquarian


On a recent recording of the about to be transmitted new BBC series "The 20th Century Roadshow attention was focussed on the telephone. The programme looked at the development of the technology over the passage of more than a century and makes for fascinating viewing. Most of the early examples that date from the late 19th century are only to be found in museums but a few still manage to surface at auction.

Although the invention is usually credited to Alexander Graham Bell, a German inventor by the name of Reis is known to have displayed a form of telephone as early as 1861. It was in 1878 that Bell first transmitted the spoken word in Boston Massachusetts, two years later he demonstrated his invention before Queen Victoria. The demonstration took place at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight and it is more than likely that at least on this one occasion her majesty was amused.

3So what is out there ? and is it still possible to put together a comprehensive collection ? The answer it would appear is a definite yes ! Despite the most important and documentary machines being found in public museums there are still a fair number of both Late Victorian and Edwardian phones on the market. One model in particular appears to be a must for any collector and that is the Ericsson skeleton magneto telephone made between 1895 till 1930 and priced in the region of £500.

No collection would be complete without an example of a candlestick telephone where the mouthpiece is supported on a side bracket. This style proved popular up until the 1930's. An American example by Stromberg Carlson dating from 1905 will set you back about £300. Later British examples from the inter war years tend to be more affordable with GPO models incorporating a Bakelite mouthpiece selling for about £200.

It was the introduction of Bakelite and other related early plastics that helped to revolutionise the shape and availability of the telephone. In 1927 the GPO introduced their 200 series that made use of an Art Deco pyramidal base unit setting the standard in design. Prices today are governed by rarity of colour with black the least expensive at £150 followed by cream £350, red £800 and green the most sought after at £1,200.

It's important to remember that it was'nt until relatively recent times and the formation of BT that all telephones in the UK were rented and remained the property of the GPO. The 200 series was followed by the slightly more streamline 300 series which was the first British telephone to incorporate a built in bell and popular well into the 1960's. Prices start at £150. A useful tip when trying to date a pre war phone is to remember that the earliest examples did not incorporate a pull out directory tray in the base.

As the pace of present say mobile telephone technology has hurtled forward at a staggering speed what is worth hanging on to ? In a word probably everything especially as the market is in its infancy with no definite reference book or price guide. Early mobiles dating from the 1980s that come close in size to the average house brick appear ludicrously outmoded yet are known to be changing hands for £100 plus amongst collectors.

Sharon Golding from Middlesex has been in touch to ask about her Sony CM-R111 ETACS Mobile phone. Dating to 1993 the CM-R111 incorporated a flip arm microphone and was very much the state of the art phone of its time as well as a great example of industrial design. It's also high on the shopping list of present day collectors prepared to part with up to £100 as long as you kept the charger and more if in its original cardboard box.


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