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From the November 1990 issue of Singing Wires Journal newsletter

The Western Electric Color Palette

by Paul McFadden

Collecting W/E colored telephones, unlike the scarce A/E sets, is complicated and full of variables. No two collectors will or can give you the same accounting. Needless to say, researching and writing about them is complicated. But like they say in the movies, "it's a dirty job and someone's got to do it." Here we go!

The AA-1

The first W/E handset telephone as we all know was the AA-l, The "chopped off dial candlestick with a cradle." But we know too that this elusive and valuable piece came only in black so it doesn't have a place in this report-Right?

Wrong! As proof we tell you that a number of years ago, someone who most certainly must have been a saintly gentleman, delivered a pair of manual AA-l's and some assorted parts to Karl Berger's doorstep in Arlington, VA. These phones were not black. One was a gaudy gold and the other a mint condition, sophisticated silver. Both had harmonizing cords and base covers.

Patent dates were identical. Handset handles carry an 8/15/22 date while transmitters are dated 5/4/26 and receiver components 7/23/18. The handset also carries the statement "Jan 9, 1922 design."

So it would appear that W/E had colored handset telephones from the outset. Granted the phones could have been painted at a later date but if that had happened wouldn't one think the handsets would have been upgraded at the same time. Possibly not but we all know the transmitter hiding behind the "Bullet M/P" wasn't the greatest thing to ever come out of W/E plants.

The Other Roundbase

W/E Catalog No.7 information on this phone is very brief and refers to the telephone as an ElB Handset on Bl Handset Mounting.

"This handset may be obtained in five standard colors; Ivory, Gray, Old Brass, Oxidized Silver or Statuary Bronze." "The mounting can be obtained in the same colors that are standard for the El-B handset." The B1 handset mounting was described as the equivalent of the No's. 40AL and 51AL deskstands used in manual and dial systems. A No. 2H Type Dial was required.

So far there has been no mention of "Spacesaver" phones or color coordinated cords.

Catalog No.9 lists ElB and E2B Type Handsets. These handsets are for use with the Dl Type Handset Mounting and form a part of the 202 Type Hand Telephone Set.

Handset mountings were available in IVORY, GRAY, OLD BRASS, STATUARY BRONZE, OXIDIZED SILVER, MEDIUM GOLD and DARK GOLD. Here we are given directions on how to order a colored phone. Each color is given a dash (-) number and are as follows:

Example: If a 202B (with dial) Hand Telephone Set with STATUARY BRONZE finish is desired, it should be ordered thusly: 1-202B-7 Hand Telephone Set. Remember the above colors, they will change.

Western Electric would do special orders too. Bill Elsasser, Huntington Station, NY, remembers a beautiful phone he installed in an upstairs hall. It had been color coordinated from a mailed in piece of wall paper.

Cl Type Handset mountings (Spacesavers) are now listed. They along with the ElB Type Handset form part of the 201 Type Hand Telephone Set. "Black finished Handset Mountings will be furnished unless otherwise specified." Colors if desired would be the same as the 202 colors.

No. 584 Subscriber sets (subsets) were available in color only when specified.

Now listed too are E4 Type Handset Mountings. That's the push button base 205 that everyone wants and so few of us have. It was for use in 750A Private Branch Exchange Systems. Again we are told "black will be furnished unless otherwise specified." Bob Wright's (Davenport, IA.) is STATUARY BRONZE. Jim Aita's (Geneva, IL.) is BLACK. Both of these collectors have fairly complete sets of colored W/E's. Jim's includes a clear 302 and Bob's includes just about all of the painted 202 sets except for an Oxidized Silver.

Catalog 9 enables the serviceman to order five colors in cordage. IVORY, GRAY, DARK BROWN or GOLD in silk and BROWN in cotton. Eight and nine conductor cords are included for the Type 205.

Dials are listed as 4H (replacements for 2H). Dial mountings for the Cl Type Handset Mounting as well as apparatus (dial blanks) are there in the seven colors plus black.

A New Phone

Number 10 catalog is the other catalog the color collector wants. It thoroughly covers the 302 sets but its too early for the late arriving, Ivory only, Type 354's.

The catalog deals with a "new phone" and gives us a new color lineup.

The telephones are described thusly: "The No.302 Type Telephone Sets are the new combined sets and represent the latest development of Western Electric Company in telephone station equipment." "The telephone set mounting consists of a housing and a base on which is mounted the induction coil, condenser, ringer and other apparatus so that the telephone set mounting and a handset form the complete telephone set."

Gone now are GRAY (-5) and MEDIUM GOLD (-11) colors. Still available are IVORY (-4), OLD BRASS (-6), STATUARY BRONZE (-7), OXIDIZED SILVER (-8), and DARK GOLD (-12).

An East Coast collector told me that an Aunt had a Gold 302 which apparently had a tendency to tarnish. The Telephone Company picked it up on a yearly basis for cleaning. Then one year a new serviceman picked it up and she never saw it again. She contacted the company but they hadn't seen it and no more were available.

Thermoplastic Colors

Now listed too are the magic colors: OLD ROSE (-16), DARK BLUE (-18), GRAY-GREEN (-19) and PEKIN RED (-20). No mention is made of the fact that the new colors are of the new thermoplastic material.

It does say though that when sets in -4, -16, -18, and -20 colors are specified, the No. 5J Type Dial will be furnished instead of the 5H. The 5H dial was painted the same color as the phone in which it was installed. The 5J dials are identical "except that the finger wheels, finger stops and card holder frames are stainless steel and the cases have a white enamel finish." This statement will probably distress the 302 collectors who feel that these phones should have a transparent fingerwheel. Read on!

Sets in -3, -6 or -7 colors are furnished with brown (-9) cords. Other sets have cords of corresponding colors. The "G" Type Hand Set Mountings (spacesavers), F-1 handsets and 684 subsets are indicated as being available in the nine colors or black.

Catalog No.11 lists 302's, 354's G-l (spacesavers) and the 1, 4 and 6 button 400 series key sets. Last catalog copyright date is 1950. Nowhere are colored phones or accessories mentioned. It differs from the No.10 in its description of the 5J Dials: "The No.5 has a combined card holder and finger wheel of transparent plastic and white enameled case."

That's all we could glean out of W/E catalogs. We couldn't locate a No. 8 which should have either 202s or 302's within its pages. Does such a catalog exist? Dozens of phone calls didn't turn one up.

Next we turned to Bell System Practices and learned that by Jan, 1941 the 5J Dials on the colored plastic 302's had the early version transparent finger wheel. Upgrading to the single piece improved version was underway in Dec., 1947. The 1941 Dials also had nickel silver finger stops replacing the stainless steel type.

The manufacture of colored 302 station sets and 5J Dials was discontinued by Aug 5, 1942 according to WR-C30-0ll. This, although not stated, was a result of Western Electric's involvement with the war effort.

Wisconsin Bell Telephone News, January, 1950, contains an article and photo showing that the plastic and painted colored sets were being promoted as extensions at that time.

Now back to the 202's. We didn't find any mention anywhere regarding the GOLD lacquered Imperial with its IVORY plastic F-1 handset. It is without doubt the handsomest of the decorated/painted Westerns. These phones were a favorite for lamp makers "chop shops." Paul Mirts of Odessa, TX has a mint pair done up in the usual fashion you know with a hole drilled right through the center of the Ivory handset. Oh my! Knowledgeable collectors know the Imperial to be a 75th anniversary issue.

A Systems Practice dated March, 1955, states that the 202 was available at that time in Black, Ivory, Gray-Green and Pekin Red. These sets had painted F-1 handsets and white lacquered dial cases with transparent plastic finger wheels. That's what Practices says, however all the Green 202's we've found have had the annodized aluminum finger wheel.

Bob Jelinski, Neenah, WI, carried these "Continentals" along with matching painted 584 and 684 subsets in his vehicle and "pushed" them as extensions. The big tin 684 subsets weren't real popular. He remembers unloading quite a few of the others. These were an AT&T promotion to use up a stockpile of used 202's. It apparently was more lucrative at the time to paint and refurbish these phones than to manufacture new 302's. The Company couldn't meet the demand for new 302's at the time anyway.

That fellow collectors is what we found. No one could come up with specific dates on these phones. Some say manufacture of the AA-l began as early as 1922, but a consensus seems to be 1925. Then 1926/27 for the 102, 1928 through late 30s for the 202 and 1937 through early 50's for 302's. The Ivory (and black) wall 354 came along shortly before introduction of the 500 sets.

Thanks to the following for their assistance:
Jim Aita, Karl Berger, Marty Brooks, Bill Elsasser, Jerry Gapa, Bob Jelinski, Cliff Sullivan, Ekkehart Wilms, and Bob Wright.