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Dumb question: did the French really use "French" telephones?

Started by elmwood, October 26, 2010, 12:03:26 AM

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You've likely seen reproduction "French" telephones before; bases resembling box-like pedestals, steampunk-ish handsets with a ceramic handle and generous amounts of brass, and often adorned with floral patterns.

My dumb question: were such ornate, feminine phones like this really standard issue in France at some time in the past?


I don't know about the modern tacky phones, but the 202 was once referred to as a French-style phone.  That came about because the E1 handset was a nearly direct copy of a French handset.  As for the modern ones, though, I've never seen an old French phone like them.  Of course that doesn't mean they didn't exist, just that I've yet to see one.  The Danish KTAS D-08 is roughly similar, though. Very roughly.


In 25 years of restoring telephones and 36 years collecting, I have never seen an actual telephone from France that resembles the "French"  sets.I agree that the handset and some of the sets look more Danish but without the frills. I do wonder about the French 1924 cradle set with the E1 like handset. I have seen prototype handsets on A1 WE cradle sets in the Smithsonian. They  looked like the French handsets right down to the Brass WE nameplate on the Rec end instead of a French one. The handset is shown in a photograph in one of the history of science and engineering in the Bell System books.


I have always understood, as this thread has been indicating, that the term "French" phone got its start back in the 1920's based on the handset.  At the time, the Bell System was totally unwilling to create a handset and used the two-piece transmitter and receiver combo.  There was a perfectly good reason for this.

The earlier transmitters, like the solid-backed that is used on most magneto wall phones and candlestick phones were highly positional in how they worked.  They just absolutely needed to be relatively perpendicular to the user's mouth and the face of the transmitter had to be vertical.  A very profound drop in response occurred when the transmitter was positioned horizontally, as the carbon granuals in the carbon button changed how they were packed in the carbon button chamber.  Obviously, with that type of transmitter connected to a handset, the results would not be good.  There was a lot of pressure for Western Electric to develop a non-positional transmitter, because many of the independants were developing a "French" style handset.

"French" was apparently coined because the Europeans had been using a handset for years.  (Whether they were positional or not, I haven't heard).  Anyway, at that time, the term "French" only referred to a phone with a handset, and had nothing to do with the ornate phones.

Eventually, Western developed the 395 Barrier Button, a.k.a. the "Bullet" transmitter.   With that, they came out with the E1 handset, and now Ma Bell had a "French" phone.

Meanwhile, the Danish and other Scandanavian phone companies were long noted for some rather ornate phones that were still pretty basic metal phones, but with nice painted and sometiemes colorful scroll work on them.  You see these on e-Bay every once in a while.

In the late 1970's the world was changing, and the phone companies began offerring many more choices of phones.  Eventually, people were able to actually buy phones outright.  What a concept.  These overly gaudy, things that have been called "French" phones are, to a large degree, a result of that time.  Those certainly are not French, nor are they patterned after anything French.

I think the most beautiful old-style American handset phone is the Kellogg F111 Grabaphone from 1905.  Probably the closest thing to what people once called a "French"  phone.

So, I think the term "French" phone has probably morphed over the ages.

-Bill G


There's this nice little "petite" site here with French phones over the ages:

Nothing as ostentatious as you would expect, this homme must be a serious collector if these are all pictures of his.
"now this should take five minutes, where's me screwdriver went now..?"

Russ Kirk

Quote from: gpo706 on October 26, 2010, 11:26:44 AM
There's this nice little "petite" site here with French phones over the ages:

Nothing as ostentatious as you would expect, this homme must be a serious collector if these are all pictures of his.

Now those are the classy french phones!  Over here in the states we rarely see those sets.   

- Russ Kirk


Well said Bill!

I agree with you in that the term "French Phone" to most people means a fancy (gaudy) decorated up cradle handset type phone with most of them being the 1970's type stuff.

Now lets discuss "Princess Phones" !



Here's another site with some French phones and some from other European countries. Some models of the Berliner, Charron-Ballanger, Ericsson and S.I.T phones all have handsets similar to what is called a French phone (like a Design-Line) but none of the bases look like what was sold in the 1970s and 80s as French Phones. This man has a very impressive collection of some very old phones.

Now about the Princess, it is a direct descendent of the 202, right down to its external ringer when first introduced, though the network was located in the phone itself. In the 50s they remarketed the 202 as the Imperial and Continental and it was touted as a bedroom phone small enough to fit on a night table. That was right around the time when the Princess was being designed to do the same thing, and in the same general shape (oval), plus it had a lighted dial like the 500P/U.

But the name "Princess" has come to describe everything from an Exeter to a Trimline to all manner of small phones. They did too good a job with that marketing.


That garcon cest ne pas un collectuer, he's a museum!

Nice link, thanks.
"now this should take five minutes, where's me screwdriver went now..?"