Gray/WE 50A

Published: 3/23/2014

Mike’s Vintage Payphone by Mike Davis In this article we are looking at the early version of the Gray/Western Electric 50A. Unlike the second version depicted in my article Gray/WE 50A #2 which has an early steel bottom this one has a completely made of cast iron body which includes the lower housing assembly. The steel bottoms on the later models were stamped with the Gray and Western Electric names. The cast iron bottom on this early model only has an indent above the door where a bronze tag is fastened on with 2 rivets. The tag is cast with the two companies names. These cast iron lower housings were very easily vandalized! A good whack with a hammer would break it apart. This model came out around 1912 and was produced for only a few years.

I'm sure no one back then would have thought that the 50A would have been the great granddad to so many models that came out and were produced up until around 1970. Over the years after Gray made the 50A for Western Electric they went on to make many other models. Based on that phone more models with many easily interchangeable parts were made by the Automatic Electric, Western Electric and Northern Electric companies.

The 50A is a manual telephone which means the operator made the connection. This model came out almost a decade before the dial was put into use, many 50As were converted for dial use later on in life and renamed 50G. The phone is a pre-pay model. This means that before a user could get an operator a coin had to be deposited. A Western Electric coin relay assembly attached to a hopper carried out this function.

The receiver hook arm on the 50A is nickel plated, it is thinner than what was used on later models. The one used later one was much thicker to prevent bending and breaking from vandalism and rough use. The backboard is thin with no extra support at the mounting holes that are accessed through the vault area which could lead to cracking of the backboard. These holes were beefed up in later models. The transmitter is mounted by use of a Western Electric 8A mount screwed to the front of the phone, later models used a 10A mount attached from the inside which is much stronger and can not be removed from the outside. The instruction card holder on the front of the phone is just the frame, it is nickel plated. Unlike later models that have a dial cup in them the metal here is solid and flat, so no metal back plate is needed to cover a hole. The 4 #2 screws that hold the frame on are thread right into the upper housing.

The 50A is a very rare and desirable model. I am very happy that I am able to own both variations of this antique telephone.