Towards the end of the 19th century, L M Ericssons were one of the leaders in the rapidly growing telephone industry. With the Scandinavian market approaching saturation it was necessary to branch out into other areas. Britain was particularly attractive because of their rapid growth and colonial interests. Their colonies relied on the mother country for technology. Britain's telephone system was growing in a similar style to that of Sweden. Individual towns and cities were setting up their own exchanges and systems, and the hardware was being supplied by a range of small companies who were still developing their expertise. Ericssons , through their London agents, were supplying telephones and parts to the National Telephone Company. Some National branded phones of the time are Ericsson models, which causes confusion among collectors.
The Swedish factory was having trouble supplying enough parts to keep up with the demand. With an eye to the future, LME decided to set up a factory in Britain and to establish it as a joint venture with National . This gave the company a British flavour which stood it well in the future. The factory mass-produced telephones and components, switchboards, and even racecourse totalizers. One particular phone from British Ericsson was used in Australia in large numbers, their N2500 model. It gave reliable service from the end of the First World War until the last ones were taken out of service in the late 1980s, and many have since been refurbished and given a new life as working antiques.
The phone is based on the Swedish-built model AB232. This model had a side-mounted handset, but the British-built models had a separate transmitter and receiver. This is unusual for Ericssons, who had been producing handsets on their phones since the 1890s. It was made necessary by the National Telephone Company, who were using Western Electric switchboards. Their Chief Engineer maintained that Ericsson phones would not work correctly with the WE boards. Ericsson's response was to produce phones with the White solid-back transmitter made under license from WE. This gave it a somewhat American style. The Beeston factory soon became the main supplier to the U.K. and the British Empire. When the telephone companies were consolidated under the British Post Office, it assigned contracts to the existing manufacturers for standardised telephone equipment . Beeston received nearly twenty percent of the contracts, far more than any other company obtained.
The Australian Post Office was in the market for a new standard magneto wall phone to replace the ageing Commonwealth Ericsson, and they selected the Ericcson model. It was introduced after the war, and supplies began to arrive in quantity in 1919-1920. It became known as the British Ericsson. The phone went through many minor variations in its life.
The case is a plain oak box, 240mmm X 400mm X 150mm deep. The backboard has no outside screwholes or terminals. A pair of bells is mounted at the top of the front panel rather than on top of the case, and a writing slope is at the bottom. Timber is walnut or "matt polished oak" which appears to be a cellulose lacquer. The metalwork is finished in "antique bronze", which is an oxidised brass finish. The finish is also listed in the catalogues under other names. Transmitters came in three models. The first was the small brass "barrel" transmitter on a short pressed steel swivel mount (PMG type 35MW, 1916) shown at left. Phones of this model in original condition are still surprisingly easy to find.
This was soon upgraded to the bigger solid back transmitter (PMG type 135MW, Ericsson model N2500). The mount was changed to a simpler stamped and folded metal mount. The change of transmitter does not appear to have been for any serious technical reason, but more because the Solid Back transmitter was now the standard production model. Note also the "Ericsson England" transfer. This and a Beeston "sunburst" transfer were used for some time, but they suffered from flaking and were usually replaced with a "Commonwealth of Australia" nameplate whenever the phones were refurbished.
A later upgrade saw the Solid Back transmitter replaced with the new bakelite Inset transmitter. The phone shown at left, although it has the new transmitter, has obviously been refurbished from an older model as it still has the decorative Ericsson mount. Note also that it is in the rarer oak timber, and has a wooden plug fitted over a dial cutout. The dial cutouts seem to have appeared early in the range, but they were rarely used for conversions. The Australian Post Office policy was that when a phone was replaced as part of an Automatic upgrade to the exchange, the phones should be replaced with the current standard model. In practice this meant a bakelite phone was usually installed. There were some conversions where the phone was upgraded to auto and the generator retained for party line signalling. Most phones fitted with a dial , however, are later conversions for the antique market. The genuine conversions were given the model number 765AW.
By this point most phones were being delivered or refurbished in a dark varnish. The oxidised brass parts were simply repainted in black enamel.
In a final PMG conversion, Type 235MWH, a 300-series handset was fitted on a modified
switchhook at the side. This meant that the transmitter holes on the front panel
had to be covered with a "How to Use" notice. This example is missing
the note clip that was fitted to the writing slope.
Similar styled phones have been noted from US makers, and from Sterling in the UK. The US phones usually differ in size, being a few centimetres taller, but the Sterling is a very close copy. Its main difference is in the shape of the corners, and its electrical fittings. The door has more squared-off corners than the Ericsson, and the sides are 118mm deep against the Ericsson's 113mm. The generator is a 3-bar model with cast end plates. For further details, see ATCS Newsletter January 1998.
British Ericsson phones were of a simple construction, reflecting the styles of the times. They lacked the ornate, sometimes flamboyant European styling. They were, however, solid and reliable. An Ericsson catalogue sets their place in the market by stating "These instruments, although cheaper and not so elaborate ... as the AB230 or AB535 types, are thoroughly reliable and efficient in service". The numbers that have survived are proof of this.