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Book Review - "Old-Time Telephones!...."

Started by Phonesrfun, July 15, 2009, 01:23:59 AM

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I have been wanting to do this for some time now, but like many other things, have never gotten around to it.  I have a book that I refer to quite often.  It's title is Old-Time Telephones! Design, History and Restoration.  (2nd Edition) It's author is Ralph Meyer and was published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd in 2005.

262 pages and contains a lot of information.  Meyer starts literally at the beginning.  Way back in 1875 and tells a somewhat abbreviated story about the early discovery and development of the telephone.  He also goes into some very basic explanations of the basic components of a telephone, such as the receiver, transmitter, induction coils, ringers and magnetos.  He starts with devices that were used in 1875 and shows the progression through countless improvements and refinements.

Ralph delves into the development of the phone both electrically and its design, although he spends most of his time explaining different basic telephone circuits, and then relates them to the major US manufacturers of phones.  Primarily Western Electric, but he aslo covers Automatic Electric Kellogg and Stromberg-Carlson.  Western is usually shown as the "standard", then the other manufacturers are compared to Western Electric's phones.

He explains the local battery "farm" phones, common battery phones, and he also goes into the sidetone versus anti-sidetone induction coil phones, then on to the later network type phones such as the WE 500 and AE 80.

He aslo has re-drawn most of the telephone schematics in a way that to me makes a lot of sense.  This is the part I really like.  Have you ever tried to make sense out of a schematic drawn by a phone manufacturer?  They were not originally drawn to be at all instructive.  Dr. Meyer has gone to great lengths to help with that.

Most of the book centers around basic and elementary electronics, but it may not be for everyone, since he does get into the way a tone oscillator works when describing the touch-tone dial, and he also talks about the things AC circuits can do with speech circuits.

In my opinion, the book is very well written and is written for an extremely wide range of readers.  It is more complicated than a real beginner may be able to comprehend towards the end, but would probably put the Electronics Engineer - degreed person to sleep.  That being said, it is also a way for a beginner to learn and to understand, and would serve as a good review for the engineer.

Like I mentioned before, I use it almost daily for one reason or another.

He also has photos that show the progression of the telephone through its various stages since 1875 and has a price guide as well.  

The photos are all black and white, and are not the best if you are looking for a book that nicely shows phones in nostalgic settings.  These photos are intended mostly for identifying and comparing the progression of the phone instruments through the ages.

He limits the subject to the single line home-type telephone instrument.  He does not delve into transmission lines, central offices, switching, key systems, or anything other than the insrument we are all familiar with and like to collect.

He does have a small section in the back on converting a local battery magneto set to operate on a modern telephone system.  

I think Ralph Meyer gets an A for this book.

See the attached picture.

-Bill Geurts
-Bill G


Thanks for the good review Bill! It is a good book and I also highly recommend it, tho' I'm just a phone newbie.


excellant review &excellant book. i too, refer to my copy often. like hobiesport, mine is a humble "newbie" opinion. :)

Dennis Markham

Bill, nice job on the book review.  I bought the book a while ago and find that I learn more about telephones in stages.  When I first bought the book I focused on things I was learning at that particular stage.  So I agree that there's something for everyone.  As one becomes more deeply involved in the hobby the book is a good accompaniment, giving good insight into which ever phase one has turned his/her interest.  And it's great for going back and looking at things again, with a different perspective.

There are 1st edition copies out there.  I think maybe even Amazon has them now and then as it may be out of print.  But the fist edition is quite pricey.  I don't know if the 2nd edition was an updated version of the 1st or if it contained different information.


I have heard of that book before. I hadn't gotten it because I thought it catered to Western Electric and I see that I am correct. However, I after reading this review there is other information in there that I find interesting and helpful. I've put it on my list of stuff I need to get. Thank you Phonesrfun for the write up!
"Ain't Worryin' 'Bout Nothin"