A Discussion of Party-Line Ringers

This is a transcript of correspondence between a new collector and John Novack, regarding party-line ringers.

Q: I'm new to collecting, but I have numerous AE Automatic Electric) Monophone and NE (North Electric) telephones dating between 1935 and the 1950's. I have tested every one of them and receive a dial tone, and can dial-in and receive calls. However, NONE of them have a ringer that works when the incoming call comes!

Now, after considerable research, I realize I may have 23 "party line (frequency?) ringers." But, I find that extremely odd.

John: Not really. These phones were used by the independent telephone companies, who most often had lots of party lines, and used one of 3 frequency ringing systems, for up to 10 party lines using 5 frequencies ringing from each line to ground. Most of these companies served areas that the Bell System didn't consider profitable. The Bell System didn't use frequency ringing, except for areas already established that they bought.

I would guess the majority of AE 40's, 50's, 80's, and 90's, the North 7H6, and most Stromberg-Carlson 1243, 1250, 1443, 1450, 1543, and 1550's were equipped with frequency ringers. certainly not all, though.

Q; So, here are the questions:

1. Is there any way to identify these harmonic ringers (such as model numbers, markings, pictures)?

John: The set may be marked with the frequency on the base, but that is no guarantee that it wasn't changed later in its life. 20, 20, 40, 50, 60 HZ is one series, others used were 16 2/3, 66 2/3, 42, 33 1/3 and other odd frequencies. Sometimes, 20 or even 30 HZ will work on modern lines, as 20 HZ is the most-common used in the US.

Q: Or, inversely, is there any way to identify the Straight-Line ringers?

John: Straight Line Ringers have a free-moving bell clapper, one can usually rap the set the the palm of the hand and hear a bell tinkle, or by opening the set, see that the clapper moves freely, biased to one bell with a spring.

Frequency ringers usually have a rather stiff clapper, and an extra capacitor across the ringer coil to tune it to a given frequency. Also, they usually have a weighted clapper. As the size of the weight increases, the lower the frequency.

2: Is there any way to test these ringers other than directly to my telephone line? (I have tested the impedance of each one already!!).

John: If you have an (older) telephone test station, such as made by Seiscor, you can set the frequency on the test set and ring the phone. Unless you have a way to generate the proper frequency and voltage, there really isn't a way.

I suppose you could take an audio frequency generator, build an amplifier and drive a step-up output transformer to generate 100 VAC at the proper frequency, but why?

3: Assuming these are ALL frequency ringers, is there a way to convert/modify them to become workable.

Steve's Note: I am going to step in at this point.

A: There are means whereby to change the armature on some frequency ringers, to convert them to Straight-Line, but it is generally better to simply discard the old frequency ringer and install one of the more-common single gong ("mini") ringers, such as were used in Trimline and other similar sets. If you do this, be sure to change the series capacitor to one that is .47 microfarad or more.

When I originally responded to this string, I also suggested that the novice collector send me the specific name and model of the phone he was having trouble with. As you may note elsewhere on this site, ringers were usually grounded, and it very well may have been that all the person had to do was connect the ringer wire from the ground post to either Line One or Line Two inside of the phone.

Provided As A Service Of VTS Industrial Company

With Special Thanks to John Novack


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