Gray/Western Electric 50A
by Mike Davis
In this article I am writing about what is not the oldest but probably the rarest payphone in my collection. It is what I call the second version of the Gray/Western Electric 50A. Unlike the first version with a body totally made of “brittle” cast iron this version has a steel lower housing. The steel housing was a stronger, more secure place to store the telephone companies money. The first version came out around 1912 and this version came out in the mid teens. (Both versions can be seen on my website.) The 50G and all later models have steel lower housings. The lower housing on this particular version of the 50A is unique. On the front above the vault door it is marked “The Gray Telephone Paystation Company and Western Electric Company Makers”, on all later lower housings the word Inc. is added “The Gray Telephone Paystation Company and Western Electric Company Inc. Makers”.
The 50A is the first of this type of paystation, it was the predecessor to all the models from the 50G through the 1234G (for Western Electric, not to mention all the models made by Automatic Electric and Northern Electric). One of my main interests in collection payphones is being able to observe the progression from the beginning to the end of the 3 slot! One thing that makes the 50A unique is the fact that the upper housing has no dial cup. If you remove the frame and card the front of the phone is just flat. The 50A came out almost a decade before the common dial was in use. It is a manual, prepay machine. The user would have dropped a coin into the proper slot to get a connection to the operator who would have connected the call. All that was needed to make the connection was 5 cents. The operator had control over the coin held in escrow by the relay, she could collect or return the coin.
This phone has a very early version of the 2 coil relay installed. I am not aware of any others like it being in collections. The vault door is flat steel, the lock is an early Corbin 11A with a grooved key. The upper housing as well as the backboard are cast iron, the upper housing lock is a E-10-E with a flat key. Unlike models setup for a dial there are only 2 contacts (for the transmitter) between the upper housing and the backboard that make contact when it is all together and locked. The coin box is a 1A with a 1C self locking lid. The 1A coin box is an early version with flat sides. The receiver hook is thinner than the one used on later models and is nickel plated. The instruction card holder or frame on the front is screwed right into the upper housing, there is no back plate since there is no dial opening to cover up. The frame is nickel plated, the card in the frame is original to the phone. It came from Mount Vernon NY. The transmitter is mounted by use of a Western Electric mount screwed to the front of the phone, later models used a 10A mount attached from the inside.