Familiar and yet different, this model is heavily insprired by two classic European telephones, thus resulting in this distinctive model. Although later versions of this telephone were produced in large numbers in the 1950s and 60s, it originated in the late 1930s. The people who have heard of this model, often think it is a soviet telephone. But it’s origins certainly are not.
It was originally designed by VEF in Riga, Lavia, and introduced in 1936 when Latvia was an independent state. But violent historical events would leave their marks on this model and transform it from a high quality consumer item to a rough and sturdy soviet product a decade later.
BAGTA stands for “Bakelīta Automātiskais Galda Telefona Aparāts”, meaning bakelite automatic table telephone apparatus. This model was introduced in 1936 and produced by VEF. The VEF company (Valsts elektrotechniskā fabrika, National Electrotechnical Factory) in Riga, Latvia made a series of telephones called BAGTA, starting in the late 30s. Although at the time Latvia was an independant state, this model later became the standard soviet telephone for the 1950s and early 1960s.
The telephone housing is made of a bakelite upper part with a pressed steel metal lower part. The body shell contains all electronic parts and a diagram. The inside is devided in two compartments by the top of the pressed steel lower half of the housing, the components mounted on boths sides of it.
The handset is made of bakelite with the microphone as a seperate part but with the receiver fixted inside the handset, the membrane being detachable.
The first thing that struck me when I saw this model for the first time, was how much in resembled the Ericsson model 1931 telephone. Both the handset and the body shell have a similar shape. The way that the inside is devided into 2 parts is very similar to the Siemens & Halske VSa Tist 66 (W28) together with the face of the dial and the cap for the transmitter, which is looks again like the one on the W28 and the stamped out opening for the number card at the front. The result is a telephone that looks like the Ericsson has melded with the Siemens & Halske telephone.
Tides of war
In june 1940 Latvia was occupied by soviet forces, as per the agreements in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. This occupation would not last very long, as the Germans occupied Latvia in june 1941. In juli 1944 the red army retook most of Latvia, while the Germans in Kurland would hold out untill the very end of the war. These changing occupations led to much destruction and great loss of human life, ending in the annexation of Latvia by the USSR. And so the VEF ended up being in the Soviet Union.
In the USSR, from fine quality to rough and sturdy
After the war VEF resumed production, this time for the soviet market. Their modern electronic equipment was very popular in the Soviet union and in 1949 a new verion of the BAGTA was intruduced, the BAGTA 1949, with revised electronics. In 1950 yet another version was introduced, with a dail with a bigger diameter, the BAGTA 50. It was this model that would remain in production until well into the 1960s.
When this model was introduced in 1936 it was a modern telephone, made of good quality. The parts were finely finished giving it the appearance of luxurious modernity. After the war it was adapted several times, with different electronics, but also production methods were changed to conform to soviet methods and meet the demands of the soviet state. This and the different views on quality control lead to a total turn around of the appearance of this telephone, the finals versions being roughly finished and looking like a crudely manufactured somewhat outdated design.
The original prewar model was the BAGTA model 24000. There was also a wall model, introduced in 1938, called the BASITA model 24050. The first post war version was the BAGTA 49, which had different electrical components and a different dial. Also some minor changes were made to other components such as the thread of the caps. Also the diagram was in Cyrillic writing.
The final version was the BAGTA 50, which was basically the 49 with a larger diameter dial.
In my collection
Like I said, my interest in this phone was sparked because it looked so much like the Ericsson 1931. As most of the BAGTAs you see today are from the Soviet era I did not realise that it’s origins lay outside the Soviet union. So after learning more about its Latvian origins and what to look for, especially from Latvian collector Olafs Bāliņš, I saw this telephone for sale on Ebay, by a German seller. I noticed some interesting details, especially the diagram in Alphabet and the old style dial.
I managed to buy it for a reasonable price and with not too much shipping costs and when it arrived and started to do some research I learned that, as I had hoped, that I had found a prewar version. So I was very happy with that. Perhaps in the future I will try to find a BAGTA 50 too. I think it would be interesting to compare the two in more detail and to be able to better illustrate their different details.