Monday 18 May 2020

B is for ...

Print of the Capital B engraving from Libellus Novus Elementorum Latinorum by Jeremias Falck after Johann Christian Bierpfaf, c. 1650, Rijksmuseum Collection
... is for





Modern Age Modes of Telecommunication is yet another subject for which my personal prejudices -variously billed as stubborn, trenchant or just plain inconsistent - have dictated the step of progress in the Pipistrello household, Dear Reader.

Spanish engraving, Teléfono de cordel, 1882
The Pipistrellos Move With The Times

But the ever-accommodating Mr P. has ensured that in order to stave off much gnashing of my teeth over these subjects of utter inconsequence, with the installation of a natty gizmo, my heart is gladdened by the sight of our telephonic choices, working faithfully still, about the home in this era of the National Broadband Network*.

Behold, our twenty-year old Bell Belgique 1956 zinc alloy portable telephone with its bakelite handle, the RTT 56A, a.k.a. the Belgian Kettle Phone:

Photo of RTT 56A Bell Belgique telephone, the Belgian Kettle phone
We know this phone is Portable as,
despite weighing in at almost that of a newborn child,
it has a cunning brass handle and metres-long cord with which to cart it about.

These Kettle phones and their various rotary-dial kith & kin were once unremarkable when we still had our gloriously fabled "Copper Network" telephone system running up until January this year. The NBN has quite put paid to that and most people have had their vintage phones cut off completely.

Telephone Compact (1935) by Salvador Dali and Elsa Schiaparelli
Schiaparelli /Dali Compact (1935)
Rotarians Need Only Apply

But in our book, good industrial design should be both beautiful and functional and should never be consigned to the scrap heap simply because of spurious progress. If you cross your fingers determinedly enough, an enterprising person will always come to the rescue with an ingenious gadget to ensure your beautiful relic from another age to be gainfully employed in the next.

* If you are reading this from the Rest of the World, the NBN is Australia's quaint variation on fast and reliable internet and which now drives our telephone system as well.

Image credits: 1: Rijksmuseum; 2: Wikimedia Commons; 3: Flying With Hands; 4: via Pinterest



  2. That is a seriously beautiful phone! I also like the social distancing with string and cups; very 21st C.

  3. Contessa: Good Boy Scout planning by the Italian! Sadly, if the electricity was to go down here, even this trusty Kettle will be dead as a dodo since the phone lines now travel via the internet. No modem, no landline. Crazy!! ... The Princess, another classic! We also have a 1960s Ericsson Cobra but that stopped working when the NBN took over in January - well, we didn't buy another gizmo to make it work, I should say. xx

    Cro: Thank you, I love it to bits! It rings so charmingly, too. And if you have a long yak on it, the heat of your hand warms the bakelite and you can bathe in the classic formaldehyde aroma; another pleasure. It does need a bit of a polish, which I should have done before its portrait was taken, haha.

  4. It is indeed beautiful. My grandma had a similar rotary phone, whose center circle still had the phone number from when numbers were a combination of words and digits. She used it until she moved out of her home in the mid-1990s. The cord was similarly long, but she kept it on a "phone table" that was just the right size for the beast (and for the phone book that went on a shelf below), within reach of her arm chair, for talks with her "lady friends" until they all died off. Grandma lived to 99 1/2.
    What I hate about cordless options is the need for charging (and worries about the environmental impact of all those batteries). Also range. We have cordless phones for our "landline" but I can't go into the garden with them or they cut out.

  5. ToF: Wow! 99 1/2? You've some longevity in your family. She would have seen so much in the way of "progress". Two-steps forward, one-step back sometimes, no? I do quite like the idea that an accessory to our lives that is substantial enough to be a piece of furniture, needs its own piece of furniture.

  6. What a lovely phone. I remember those dial-up phones. I still miss the clicket-y noise they made when dialling. Oh those good old days. We still have a landline but it's a push-button one not a dial-up.

  7. I loved those type of dial phones - and I loved the days in time when we used them only - also loved walking to the end of the lane to the red telephone box when a teen!
    Still have a landline and a bulky kitchen wall phone along with cordless phones in other rooms, however, the iPhones are used more often!

  8. That is a mighty fine instrument. The trend here for some years now is to dispense with 'landline' service. Those who move house now can only expect to have internet phone service. I can't be arsed to hook up my old rotary (ca. 1970s) to any of that rot. We now only use mobile phones. Hey ho.

  9. Loree: Yes, it's such an interactive experience compared to the stealthy silence of a smart phone. Bells and clicking galore!

    Mary: We, too, had red phone boxes in the Antipodes. I can still conjure their particular smell! Of course, the old and the new cohabit here and we've assorted technologies in the telephone department, but at least the landlines are beautifully designed.

    Bea: Such is progress. Landlines seemed like such a sensible idea here, as backups to blackouts and whatnot, and to placate the intransigent like myself, but then the country went and adopted a flawed internet phone system. When the end-of-days comes, we'll need those tin cans and string again!

  10. I am IN LOVE with the Belgian Kettle telephone. Period. I would ADORE having this in my home, to gaze upon even if not talking into :) It is so handsome, old world, elegant etc. My middle name should be landline... I do not have a cell/mobile... my husband does, which works perfectly, so I can continue to be un-tethered from 'the world' and he can tend to the demands of our grown (but still demanding) children. Perfect : ) (And he is v. good at texting.) As you know, I am attempting to write a futuristic story w/ space travel ETC, so this is rather funny--that the author has little interest in using the latest gadgets! But I like thinking about how they are affecting our lives and how a more advanced human society might have achieved a balance between humanity and technology. My husband's childhood home had a telephone booth (tiny closet) inside of the house, so three sons and two parents could have privacy whilst conversing : ) They all wrote the tel. numbers of everyone in pencil on the walls...genius : ) Debbie

  11. Debbie: Oh, a telephone booth would have appealed enormously!! Particularly if it contained some sort of chaise upon which to recline while making that call. Comfort first! Well, I was a very late adopter of the mobile phone for the simple reason that they were all so plastic and ugly and my Kettle phone was not. I was only lured into owning one many years back by the gift of another "B" which didn't make the editorial sweep in the end - my gorgeous Bang & Olufsen clam phone - which eventually died after more than a dozen years when the technology evolved in another direction. I shed hot tears over that as it meant shopping around for something as pedestrian as a smartphone. I see no problem in being a Luddite but writing about the future - after all, I gained a Computer Science degree but refused to embrace the personal computer for decades. Again, their plasticity and ugliness was the principle offence among many. I was always waiting for the Next Big Thing, which has never come, so have made do with Mr P.'s hand-me-downs - he, being technology-mad and replete with discarded Fruit-products!

  12. Hello there; just found your blog and really enjoying it - this post in particular. I quite agree with you about the worrying creep of "progress", or the "assumption of technology" as I call it - the inexorable rise of the "smartphone", for instance (I still get by perfectly well with an old Nokia and in fact didn't have a mobile at all until a few years ago), and am with you on the idea of good design and functionality enduring over these frustrating (and unnecessary) "improvements". I'm glad your beautiful Kettle 'phone is still able to work on the NBN system - there are always people out there with the skills and desire to give these wonderful pieces of old technology a new lease of life and long may they continue to do so. We fortunately still have the option of a traditional landline here in the UK so I have a splendid rotary phone (reproduction, sadly) alongside a more modern (albeit still retro-inspired) cordless. I hope you can keep enjoying your Kettle 'phone for a long time to come despite NBN's best efforts!

  13. BPP: Hello Bruce and welcome, fellow Rotarian, to these pages! I fear we may be in the minority over looking askance at the "assumption of technology", or presumption more like it. Industrial designers don't help matters with their embrace of plastic and the ugly over the beautiful and designs for longevity. Three cheers for those who can come to the rescue of machinery otherwise consigned to obsolescence but good Repro designs are the next best thing!

  14. Who is GSL to quibble telly advancement plans with Bruce Partington? Nobody gave better early teen phone than GSL except when Mum decided her input was helpful which only froze little GSL solid and mistakenly encouraged my Estella that she called the shots...

  15. GSL: Your lines were being staged whispered from the wings by Mum? Not helpful!


Thank you for commenting, it is greatly appreciated.

It can be a challenge to persist in the matching up of street signs and other exciting pastimes this comment feature may send your way, so if it gets too annoying, feel free to email your comment to me at pipistrello (at) flyingwithhands (dot) com and I'll post it for you.

Bats In The Belfry