"The phone is a remarkably complex, simple device,
and very rarely ever needs repairs, once you fix them." - Dan/Panther

Main Menu

Bell System Sign Types

Started by Sargeguy, April 14, 2014, 10:21:08 AM

Previous topic - Next topic


Early Bell Signs

The 1889 Bell was the earliest logo used.  It was available in a flange or as a a square that hung from a bracket.  Brackets of the time were quite ornate, but probably not as fancy as the one above, which came from the cover of an 1893 date book. 

The first Bell System sign was introduced in 1889.  Because there was no enamel sign production in the United States at the time, it was manufactured in England.  The example above had been repainted with sparkly blue paint and listed on eBay with a $150 Buy-it-Now. An interesting feature of this sign is that the LD logo was stamped into the steel.  This would seem to indicate that the enamel was painted on by hand.  Later signs were screen printed.

Around 1895 "LOCAL AND" was added to the logo.  These appear in a great number of types, with New England Telephone & Telegraph and Southern Bell Telephone being the most common local operating companies. 

This is a very early N.E.T.&T sign made in England by Imperial Enamel.  Imperial was based in England and imported signs into the United States. ($250 on eBay)

New England Telephone flat one-sided ($300 eBay)

Here is an extremely rare etched glass sign from N.E.T.&T. Co.  in it's original frame. 

N.E.T.&T. Co. had a number of subsidiary operating companies that had their own signs.  This is one of the earlier ones-note the curled "C". (court. Fabius)

An example advertising a "Public Station"

Once companies such as Ingram & Richards, established themselves in the United States in the 1890s, production of porcelain signs took off.

Ingram & Richards was not the only company to manufacture porcelain signs, as this example from the Baltimore Enamel & Novelty Co."BALTO. EML. & NOY. CO." shows.  Balto was another major sign producer.

Here is an example from the Burdick Sign Company (B.S.Co. 52 State Street Chgo and Harvey ILL) of Chicago.

This example was produced by the F.E. Marsland Co. of West Broadway NY

Another example from Samuel Buckley & Co., another English manufacturer.

An interesting 18"x17" flange, maker unknown.  $260 on eBay

Here is another generic sign, this one with a blue border.  Note the "block" style lettering ($400).

A similar sign to the one above, except for the lettering.  This example is from the Brilliant Manufacturing Co Philadelphia, PA

Bell Telephone Co of Philadelphia was organized in 1908, and Bell System began being used on signs in 1909.  This dates the sign to around 1908-09.  Note the fancy lettering.

They also were made in glass and as bell-shaped signs like the example above ($1125)

A New England Telephone and Telegraph Co. version of the same sign ($1,525)

A very small sign, probably the predecessor of the hubcap.  Note the use of "Public Telephone" (restored)

These Pay Station flanges are fairly common and are often faked.  Note the unusual maker's mark.

More examples:

Hybrid Bell Telephone/Independent Telephone Sign (court. Signguy)

Cumberland Telephone & telegraph Co. was a predecessor of Southern Bell (court. Fabius)

Unusual curved sign for mounting on poles

A very rare booth topper from PTT (Did not sell $199 on eBay)

Unusual Pay Station booth sign, these are usually found with blue backgrounds.
Greg Sargeant
Providence, RI
TCI /ATCA #4409


1908 Bells

The American Bell Telephone Company was re-organized and became a subsidiary of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company in 1908. 

Around that time "Bell System" was added and American Telephone and Telegraph Co. and Associated Companies" appeared in a circle around the bell.  Most had a white border along the outer edge.

It is much less common to see signs that do not have the border. 

Even less common is finding one with the manufacturers name spelled out in white porcelain ($300 Etsy)

The style was more common on the signs of smaller telcos

Some smaller telcos used the AT&T logo with their name in a white band underneath (court. Signguy)

Other telcos used a blue background.  Southern Massachusetts Telephone Co. sign.  So.Mass.Tel.Co. was partially controlled by N.E.T.&T. and was eventually absorbed by them.  While most subsidiaries of N.E.T.&T. used their logo, this telco did not. (court Signguy)
***If you have any items from So. Mass. Tel. Co. to trade or sell please let me know

An example from NET&T that uses the AT&T logo.  ($455 eBay)

Interestingly, although many N.E.T.&T. signs feature the A.T.&T. logo, many of the subsidiatries feature the N.E.T.&T. logo.
hese signs can be found with the names of smaller subsidiary telcos on them, usually in northern New England.  Most are very rare

Another example using the AT&T logo, with the Southern Bell name below.

Three variations of a sign with the Southern Bell logo, note the absence of "Bell System" and AT&T.  Is this even an 08' bell or is it earlier?

Pacific Telephone Pay Station sign in white (court. Fabius) by BALTO.  BEWARE OF FAKES The fake version measures 12"x16" while the real version is 16"x20".  Also the blue border on the real version touches the edge of the sign.

A Telephone Company of Nevada sign.  Nevada was a subsidiary of PTT, note the similarities to it's parent company's sign above.  Signs from this telco are extremely rare.

New England Telephone used their own name instead of AT&T.  There are versions of this sign with left pointing, right pointing, and no arrow

The 11" versions are the harder to find (court. Signguy)

The following three signs are technically 1895 pattern L&LD Bells but I included them here because of similarity to the N.E.T.&T sign

A similar design was used on the much harder to find Hudson Valley sign... (court. Signguy)

...and on this East Tennessee version (court. Signguy)

Nice early Wisconsin L&LD sign. Made in England (court. Fabius)

A true 1908 Version (says "Bell System").  My version was made by the Lafayette Steel & Enamel Co.

More examples of the '08 Bell:

Chicago Telephone Co.

"Universal Service" was the motto introduced by Theodore Vail in 1909 to promote the government sanctioning of the Bell System as a regulated monopoly.  This sign is very rare apparently, this is the only version of this sign that I have ever seen

Another rare sign, a hubcap with the "Universal Service" logo

Not as rare as the one above, but hard to find AT&T/Bell System generic

Note that it says "Public Pay Station"

Another odd variant from Southwestern Tel & Tel

reproductions of the sign above were sold through PHONECO and are frequently sold on eBay as the real thing, they are almost always fake.  Look for perfect blue paint on the flange, a dead giveaway!

Many early signs cannot be easily categorized, as the "Bell System" was a much more diverse entity in the early years as the variety of types from that era shows. While not technically an '08 Bell this rare sign from Mutual most closely resembles the '08 pattern. The picture above is Photoshopped from two sides of the same sign.  The original is badly corroded.

Another one that is similar to an '08 Bell but lacks the words "Bell System" (court Signguy)

Highly sought after Western Electric Western Union sign (court Fabius)

These small hubcaps were made for a few different telcos (court. Fabius)

This logo was used by the Bell Telephone Company of Canada after the Bell System had adopted the "1921 Bell. 

English version

French version

This is an earlier version (court. Fabius)

Greg Sargeant
Providence, RI
TCI /ATCA #4409


1921 Bell

New England Telephone 11x11 ($200)

The 1921 re-design saw a smaller, slightly more stylized bell.  "Local and Long Distance" was eliminated and replaced with "Bell System".  American Telephone & Telegraph Company was added to the circle around the bell, either at the top or the bottom.  The signs of this era lack the diversity of logos seen in earlier Bell Telephone signs.  Still there are variations.  Some collectors identify "early" bells and "later" bells from this era.  Others attribute the variations to different manufacturers-if one company underbid another for a particular batch of signs, that company would get the contract, and there would likely be variation in the final product.  Both BALTO and ING-RICH are known to have made signs in this era.  Sign makers no longer stamped their names on the signs and they are undated, so it is difficult to say with any certainty.  Another factor to consider is that larger telcos would have been more likely to wear out the stencils used to make their signs quicker than smaller telcos due to the volume produced, so a newer pattern may have been in use for one company while an older stencil was still used for another. All major and many smaller Bell operating companies had their own signs, available in 11x11" or 16x16" single sided flat or double-sided flanged:

Southern New England Telephone Companty 11x11 ($255)

One of the rarest (and most sought after) of the 11" flanges is from the Bell Telephone Company of Nevada (court. Signguy) The lettering on this sign is thinner than the typical sign of this type.  This is possibly an indication that a different manufacturer was used other than the ING-RICH or BALTO. 

The same style of lettering can be found on some signs from PTT, Nevada's parent company.

Even rarer than the SNET sign above is this odd sign that features Southern New England Telephone Co. on one side and Southern California Telephone Co on the other.  It is speculated that this was a factory error resulting from confusing the two similar names.  (BIN $235)

There were a wide variety of signs that used the 21 Bell, from several different operating companies as well as AT&T.  "Incorporated" on a 21' pattern sign indicates that the sign is later.

Southern Bell Telephone Company 16x16 ($207)

While the white signs of previous years had largely disappeared by there are some examples such sa this one from Illinois Bell

"Connections" on a sign meant that the company was able to connect to the Bell System, although the telco was not owned by AT&T.

The Sharon Telephone Company ($104)

Southern Bell "Telephone Office" sign ($222)

Mountain States sign 6 ft x 21 in.  (eBay $170)

More examples of "21 Bells:

Bell Telephone Co. of Pennsylvania "lollipop" sign.  This would have been mounted on a stand.  These large signs were used by a few telcos and are very rare.  Smaller reproductions of this sign turn up on eBay frequently.

This generic lollipop is apparently very rare

Later versions of this hubcap are very common, versions with the '21 Bell are uncommon

Most hubcaps of the era followed a similar pattern as the 11" signs (court Signguy)

While later versions of this sign are abundant, the version with the '21 Bell is relatively hard to find

This type of sign was used by a number of telcos.  New England Telephone ($125) versions of this sign are the most common versions.

Here is an example of one of the few Bell Telephone signs that uses a color other than dark blue (or deep purple) and white. (court. Signguy)

1931 Bell

In 1931 the first steps were taken to produce a universal sign that could be used throughout the Bell System, an idea which would be adopted on a larger scale with the 1939 re-design.  The Northwestern Telephone Company designed the signs and used them in it's territories.   The 1921 Bell continued to be used in the rest of the Bell System until the introduction of the '39 Bell.  There is evidence that some of these signs may have been used outside Northwestern's region, but the extent is unknown.

These are more often seen as flanged signs like the one above. It is possible they were used beyond Northwestern territory. 

11"  flat 1-sided sign ($250 eBay)

Public Telephone Sign from Mason City, Iowa (eBay)

Greg Sargeant
Providence, RI
TCI /ATCA #4409


1939 Bell

The 1939 re-design saw a more stylized bell that eliminated the the name of the local operating company and AT&T and just used the term "Bell System".  These are available in 11' and 16" flanges.  A recent discovery of an 16" version with "24" stenciled on the flange suggests that the 11' was a #23 and the 16" was designated #24.  For #21 and #22 see hubcaps below. The 20" Booth sign is #26.

A slightly different version used by independents that connected to the Bell System.

These are commonly found as 7-inch "hubcaps" that would appear on phone booths:

The #21 has no grommet holes

The #22 has grommet holes

The back side of these are usually white with the model # stamped on the back, although sometimes they are dark blue.

The "Connections" version of the sign was used when a smaller telco had an arrangement with the Bell System for long distance service.  These signs were marked with a "C"

Signs that are 9" across, have olive green or dark gray backs, or are not stamped are reproductions.

More examples of the '39 Bell:

Odd giant sign seen on eBay

Wisconsin Office Sign (court. Fabius)

Generic Office Sign (eBay)

Greg Sargeant
Providence, RI
TCI /ATCA #4409



A single design was used throughout the Bell System featuring a modified version of the 1939 logo:

Greg Sargeant
Providence, RI
TCI /ATCA #4409



1969 saw the use a highly stylized bell that marked the end of an era.  Signs were no longer porcelain, they were now generally made of plastic or painted aluminum. 
Greg Sargeant
Providence, RI
TCI /ATCA #4409



Bob Alexander Antique Porcelain Enamel Telephone Signs vol. 3

Ron Knappen Payphone History

Telephone Archive-Signs

Birth of the Blue Bell Telephone Sign
Greg Sargeant
Providence, RI
TCI /ATCA #4409