The model Frankfurt was far ahead of its time, which becomes even more clear when you see it next to one of its contemporaries. It is quite low, has a small footprint and its clean design with dog and bone lay out reminds me of the plastic phones of 60s and 70s.
It has a compact, angular body, an ergonomic Bakelite handset, the hook switch mechanism rationalised down to 2 simple brackets instead of a large moving cradle.
It not only follows the modernist principle championed by the Bauhaus movement, “form follows function”, but also has some innovative design solutions that would later become common features on many other telephones.
It is clear this design was made by Fuld, later Telefonbau & Normalzeit. What remains unclear to me is when it was introduced. Several dates are quoted, from 1927 to 1929, as the year of introduction. I could not find an authoritative source or definite proof for one of these years.
The same goes for who designed it. Marcel Breuer and Richard Schadewell are mentioned; sometimes both, sometimes the one or the other and sometimes uncertainty about their involvement is voiced.
Neues Frankfurt (new Frankfurt) was an affordable public housing program in the late 20s. It was built according to the principles of the New Objectivity (New Building, neues Bauen).
This project was not limited to the building itself, but also several fittings were designed specifically for these houses, like one of the first modern kitchens, also called Frankfurt.
Also the well know font “Futura” was specifically designed for Neues Frankfurt. And, you probably guessed it by now, the Fuld model “Frankfurt” was designed for Neues Frankfurt as well.
Sometimes it is called the Bauhaus telephone, suggesting there was only one Bauhaus model. There is, however, another design attributed to the Bauhaus movement: the Mix & Genest Klimax.
Although designed along the principles of Bauhaus, purist do not consider the Frankfurt as Bauhaus as its design did not originate from the Bauhaus itself.
The first versions had a brass body shell, with small sounding holes in the side. Later version had a bakelite body shell, without the holes.
It was a compact design with all parts, including the dial, mounted on the base plate. It could be opened by undoing two small pivoting hooks.
It had 2 small metal plungers, so basically integrating the cradle in the body shell. This was very innovative for its time, as all phones had some kind of antler like structure for accommodating the handset.
It had a Bakelite handset, which was also very new. The curvy handset counterpointed the angular machine like design of the body somewhat. The first Bakelite handsets came out around 1926/27, so this is a very early one.
The original design for the handset had a kind of rounded spine where the cord was attached, with half ball transmitter cap, as was common on many German telephones of the 1930s. Later versions did not have that spine and had a pointed transmitter cap with slots for sounding holes.
The front sloped at an angle, for comfortable dialling.
The electronics had a speaking coil, double gonged ringer, and a capacitor. It must be noted that this model did not have a mechanical dial lock, which a lot of German phones at the time did have.
The Frankfurt started out a normal desk top telephone, as it was specifically designed for a housing project. There is no wall version, although some adaptations were made for the desk top model to be used as a wall model. As I know this only from pictures it is unclear if these versions were ever produced in numbers.
There are versions with an earthing button, 2-line versions with levers for selecting the desired telephone line, intercom versions with buttons, models with a blinker and more elaborate office versions with a kind of plinth with electronics, switches etc.
As I mentioned above later versions did not have a brass body shell, made of Bakelite.
The handset changed too, over time. The design for the inlet of the cord was changed, probably to make it less prone to damage. Also the mouth piece was changed. And as Fuld was a Jewish name, history caught up with the company and it was confiscated by the Nazi’s. In an attempt to prevent this the owners changed the name to NTT, „Nationale Telefon- und Telegraphenwerke”, in 1933 but to no avail.
The company after aryanisation was renamed again to „Telefonbau und Normalzeit Aktiengesellschaft” or T&N in 1935.
This renaming of course is evident on the telephone itself, as the name of the company usually is stamped in the dial center and in some cases written in a white lozenge on the back.
In the Netherlands and in my collection
The NHTM, Nederlandse Huistelefoon Maatschappij (Dutch House Telephone Company) used a lot of Fuld/T&N equipment and was one of the largest private suppliers in the Netherlands. So these models appear here to every once in a while. One of mine is indeed marked NHTM. Even my employer used them in the 1940s and 50s.
I have now (december 2018) 4 model Frankfurts in my collection. They are all different, the first being a 2-line version with levers, the second a normal desk version, the third a single row intercom version and the 4th a 2-row intercom.
The first one I bought was out of sheer curiosity and a bit of speculation, as it was not very expensive. It grew on me and as the years passed I appreciated more and more how extraordinary this model really is.
As 3 of my Frankfurters are stripped of their original black paint, I will need to have them resprayed after which I will restore them. I will make sure to write a restoration report about that.