Hitler’s telephone for sale!

Hitler's frankenphone
W38 red side
W38 red side

Oh wow! Imagine that, owning this red beauty. But it is very unlikely that much German was ever spoken through its mouth piece. It certainly looks as though it has been through the battle for Berlin with the flaking red paint and the fraying cords. And of course it has the eagle and swastika on it, with the name Adolf Hitler engraved on the back. Wow, a real piece of history with, at a first glance, bags of provenance. It should be in a museum! The auction house thinks it will fetch several 100.000s of dollars. But…………..is it what they claim it to be? Well, there are several big issues with this phone, that prove it is not what they say it is.

The news of this auction was published in several English newspapers on the February 1st 2017. They all were writing more or less the same of how Hitler used to bark orders to his subordinates about killing Jews and attacking enemies. But there was not much concrete information in these articles, other than that it was given to a British officer by the Soviets just after the German surrender. As these things go nowadays they were all more or less copying the same press release without doing any further investigation of their own. I was tipped off about this auction by several fellow collectors, me being a well-known collector of red telephones. To me, like to many of my telephone mates some details of this telephone looked very off. So I looked up the pictures on the site of the auction house here and got more details and additional information.
The auction at Alexander Historical Auctions will end at februari the 19th 2017 and I am curious for how much it will go.

What is it?

Fg Tist 182b
Fg Tist 182b

As the underside shows it is a Fg Tist 182b, otherwise known as a W38. It is a well-known model that was produced from 1938 to 1948 in this form. It is marked as such on the bottom together with the date stamp 31 V 4. Using my deciphering tables this indicates it was made by the Siemens plant Vereinigte Bayerische Telefonwerke (VBT) in the year V, 1940 in the month 4, april. In one of the sources I found it was described as a military issue, but I have found nothing military about it.

Provenance

Herald express 19 7 1977 Hitlers telephone
Herald express 19 7 1977 Hitlers telephone

The auction description talks about bags of provenance. The owners certainly did their best to amass some evidence of it being Adolf’s phone and it seems to have been in the family for years. There is even an article from 1977, published at the deceasing of brigadier Rayner, showing the telephone and although it looks black in the picture, it is described in the article as being red. The telephone is clearly recognisable by its distinctive handset.

There is a letter from 1945 written by brigadier Rayner, mentioning meeting the Russians in Berlin, a letter from his daughter declaring she remembers her father returning from Berlin with the telephone, photos from the bunker with a Russian soldier using a similar telephone and a faded fax from Rochus Misch, bodyguard to Hitler and one of the last people to leave the bunker, stating he remembers the red telephone, which accompanied the Führer on his travels, apparently.

But all in all it does not prove very much and is indirect. There is nothing conclusive connecting this telephone to the Führer. They are statements after the fact, done years after the war. I could not find any picture of this telephone from the time of the war, or a picture of Hitler using it. I had not heard of Hitler ever owning a red telephone, but then again I do not know everything. And there is a that fax from Rochus Misch allegedly, but it states him recognising the telephone from photographs, but which photographs they were is unclear. And there is the letter from Peter von Siemens, getting the production location and date completely wrong.

B&G W28
B&G W28

All this evidence, being indirect and inconclusive does not prove this was not Hitler’s telephone. However there is a common black W28 in the Highlands Museum and Discovery Centre in Kentucky of which is claimed it was at Hitler’s bedside table in the Führerbunker.

Issues

GPO 232 Pyramid
GPO 232 Pyramid

The phone itself looks like a complete phone. There appears to be nothing missing and although the paint is very worn, it seems  to be otherwise undamaged. That is: to the uninitiated.
The first thing most telephone collectors will spot is that it is a German telephone but it has a British handset, see picture to the right with the same handset, but with a different mouth piece.
Yes, a British handset. From the enemy.

On the back is written Modell Siemens and Adolf Hitler, together with an engraving of an eagle with a swastika. The engraving of the name is unevenly done, with the D particularly deformed. Certainly not the quality you would expect for the Führer.

W38 red dial
W38 red dial

Another oddity is the dial. Although the telephone itself is painted, the finger wheel is made of red bakelite. Even stranger is that the metal centre plate with the numbers was black with white numbers and has been over painted in red with black numbers. And the retaining bolt for the finger wheel is the strangest of all. Normally this type of dial would have an hexagonal bakelite

Heemaf 1955 dial
Heemaf 1955 dial

moulding. When this bakelite piece breaks off, the brass part is revealed, which is what we see on this telephone. And even though it is damaged, it is painted red! Please note, that without this bakelite part it is hard to fasten the bolt, especially if you do not want to damage the paint. Hardly a finish worthy of a fine instrument for the Führer. The picture on the left show the bolt as it should be on the same model dial.

Red W38 rear
Red W38 rear

The line cords is problem too. It is cloth covered and braided. That is wrong for this type and period. To use one of these as a line cord is typically British. Germans would have used straight cloth covered cords.

S&H Modell 36 rear
S&H Modell 36 rear

That that cord is not original is even more apparent where the line cords enters the housing. Instead of entering through the normal opening in the centre, it enters through one on the right, going under the rubber stopper that is supposed to completely cover the opening. Please see the picture on the left where the line cord is original and exits the housing as it should.

And then there is the paint. Badly crackling effect on the body, chipped away on the handset and number card window further indicates that the phone has been altered. The number card window seems the wrong shape and size for this model and there is no number card, despite stated efforts to preserve history.

And last but not least: the type designation on the bottom is for a normal, standard W38. There are others with the writing on the bottom. If it were a special version for the Führer it would have had a special designation.

The background story does not quite add up. Other articles, published in the past, tell a different story than the description of the auction. This article from Der Spiegel from 1963, which gives a short bio of brigadier Rayner, says he stole it from Hitler’s bedroom in the bunker and he tried to connect it to the British telephone network.

Other articles say he used it on a daily bases, whereas the article from the Herald express and other articles published this week say he kept it in a vault because of its value. In 1977 they said it was from his bedroom in the Führerbunker and now they say it travelled with him during the war. But mostly, other than the stories and articles about brigadier Rayner or his son, I could find nothing indicating Hitler ever had a red telephone.

Real or fake?

BASA Norm 51
BASA Norm 51

Well, it is a real phone. And it is from Germany, made in 1940. At least most of it is, because the handset and cords most certainly are not. So was it not Hitler’s telephone? I cannot definitely say. But there is no direct evidence that it was. In any case it is likely that brigadier Rayner did bring this red telephone from Germany after the war. Well, 80% of it, that is.

Is the seller lying? I cannot say that he is. Whoever assembled this telephone has probably been dead for a long time. It is definitely not in its original state. See for comparison this BASA Norm 51: this is what this red W38 should look like with the correct handset.
Perhaps it was Hitler’s traveling phone, but I do not thinks so. I think it was especially engraved for special occasion or department somewhere, perhaps together with some other W38s. Just after the war it came in brigadier Rayner’s possession, as a gift by the Russians like the story says or perhaps somebody traded it with him or he may have even liberated it himself from somewhere after which it was repaired in the UK. A look inside would maybe shed more light on the matter. Unfortunately I do not have 300.000 dollars to spare to buy access to the inside.

What do you think?

___________________________________________________________________

Postscript 16-2-2017

Hitlers telephone inside
Hitlers telephone inside

The auctioning of this telephone created a lot of buzz in the world of telephone collectors and of course among the WW2 memorabilia collectors too. My friend Vincent Valentine of The Telephone Museum Inc. (http://telephone-museum.org/) sent an email to the auction house with questions he had about this telephone. No doubt they received a lot of questions from others too. Vincent received an answer, along with additional photographs, to my great delight mostly of the inside. This apparently prompted the people of Alexander Historical Auctions to publish addenda to the items description. The make several additional claims:

  • the handset was made by Siemens Brothers in the UK and was supplied to Siemens Germany before the war, because these companies trade connections.
  • this handset was custom fitted to prevent it from bouncing off, as you cannot remove it from the cradle without twisting it
  • the heat blistering of the telephone matches that of the handset
  • the pictures of the interior show original electrical components
  • the interior shows the phone was painted red at the time of manufacture
  • damage to the bakelite on the left side of the telephone was repaired, after which the entire telephone was repainted.
  • the crackling and blackening of the red paint over the damaged part is evidence that the repair of the damaged body shell was done before fire in the Führerbunker

Whoever wrote this, seems to have failed to check basic facts and studying the pictures for themselves. Siemens Brothers was never a full part of the German Siemens company and ties between the 2 were severed in WW1, with the last remaing 15% stock owned by Siemens & Halske seized in WW2 and never returned (see http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Siemens_Brothers_and_Co).
Trade between the 2 is undocumented if there ever was such a thing, after WW1. This is all very thouroughly described in the Wikipedia article on Siemens Brothers.
German telephones with British components like complete handset do not exist, at least not as factory originals.
The claim that this was a custom made telephone by Siemens is contradicted by several clues on the telephone itself. Firstly it is marked W38. That is a designation used by the German post office. This indicates the telephone was originally supplied to them. So if it was supplied to anyone else, it was not by Siemens but by the post office. If it was a custom telephone made by Siemens & Halske it would not, by definition, conform to the W38 specifications.
Also, as I remarked earlier, it is marked Fg Tist 0182b. This is the type designation used by Siemens for a regular W38. There are other, common W38s known with the same designation. If there were any changes to the normal design, like the handset and cords, it would get another type number.

Ericsson 1951 handset bracket
Ericsson 1951 handset bracket

The claim that this handset design was specific to prevent bouncing off is rather silly. There are a lot of telephone designs with features that have the same function, all of them involving some kind of metal bracket. See 2 pictures of telephones with just such a feature. The handset on this phone is loose enough that when it receives a jolt, it will activate the hookswitch.

Siemens telephone handset bracket
Siemens telephone handset bracket

And preventing that is just what they claim is the purpose of this alleged design with the British handset!
So it is nothing more than British handset on a German cradle that does not quite fit.

And finally there is the red paint. Is it blistered? No. I do not see any blisters. Anywhere. It is crackled. But not everywhere. It is only crackled on the body shell of the telephone itself, apart from a patch on the right side, next to the dial. The paint on the handset is chipped and scratched, but clearly not crackled. The underside and inside are also not crackled. And especially not the number card window, which seems in very good condition and is made of soft plastic, and has miraculously survived the heat of the burning bunker.

Is the red paint original? No. You can clearly see the black paint under the red paint on the metal bottom plate. That the electronics are original does not prove that it was red originally. How does repainting it, lead to the need to change electronic parts? They are all screwed to the base plate and can easily be removed and put back.

Please also note the lettering on the bottom: the original orange stamp has peeled away, leaving the letters in black. But part of the lettering is still there, under the red paint. You can see the relief of the lettering under the red paint. And most revealing is the white or gold paint in the engraving on the back. That is painted over in red, showing clearly that the red paint is not original.

Before I saw these pictures of the inside of the telephone I wondered why it was painted red. At the time of manufacture red bakelite was not uncommon. Special or luxury telephones were usually white or gold and red telephones were more likely used for emergencies. So red is a bit of an odd colour. But now a very good reason to paint the telephone has presented itself: to cover up the damaged part.
Does this change my earlier conclusion? No, I still think, even more so now, that it was not Hitler’s telephone. Somebody found an interesting incomplete damaged phone, repaired it, painted it and cooked up a nice story to go with it.
Acknowledgements

The pictures of the red W38 shown here are by Alexander Historical Auctions and they kindly let me use them for my blog so a special thanks to them. Copyrights to the other pictures are of course by me.
I would also like to thank my friend Stefan Roth and my partner Héléne Briaire for reviewing this text checking it’s content.

Postscript 20 2 2017: Sold for 200.000 USD!

It actually was sold. And for a whopping 200.000 usd. Most media report 240.000 usd, but perhaps that includes the commission for the auction hause.

Here is what it said on the website. Please note that the winning bid is at the bottom right.

Hitlers telephone sold for 200 000 usd
Hitlers telephone sold for 200 000 usd

 

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30 Comments

  1. Hallo, my name is Hendrik I live in Holland and I was a long time very close friend of Rochus Misch whom I know sins 1974 and I visited more than 50 times but I also was a friend of Otto Günche how explained to me the last days of Hitler in his Bunker. Both men were a long time very close [and loyal] to there ,,Chef,, and I am very curious about that so called ,,faded fax,, that Roches supposedly has send about a ,,red phone,, as he had no fax machine. I once became a old Siemens telephone from a friend from Austria as present [I still have it] with the number; FG. Tist. 0166 W T II and once I took it with me to Rochus, as he looked upon it he said ,,that’s looks familiar to me as the Führer used this model in his headquarters,, Everywere on his desk in the Reichskanzlei, Wolfsschanse, his special train, the Berghof, his house in Munich and the Führerbunker black Siemens telephones were used as you can see on the pictures, and if the Russians had really found a red telephone on his Bunker desk engraved wit a swastika and his name there would be only one men to give to and that had been Joseph Stalin and not a relatively unknown Englishman visiting the bunker at mitt May 1945… Think about that! But besides that there is way too much wrong with that so called ,,red Hitler phone,, to be real. I also have met with Pietro Guido, Erhard Schreier and Geoff Walden as well as a lot of other resurges and In all my 48 years of resurge on the third Reich, seeing a ton load of films and footage, reading all the books of his personnel aids and secretaries, as specially the Fuehrer bunker I cannot remember that ever somewhere was mention of Hitler using a ,,red telephone,, but let a sucker pay 400.000 for it, there is so much Hitler fake sold already, who cares.

    • Hi Hendrik,

      Thank you very much for your additional information. I did have a look at that fax when writing my article. I could not find any mistake, although the picture of the original fax is very faded. Also it does not seem to show where the fax originated, as faxed often get stamped with the number it came from. The fax is not only faded, but vague and does not really mean anything. You do make a strong point with the information that mr Misch did not have a fax machine.
      And indeed as you say, it is not very likely that, if real, it would have been presented to a relatively inknown officer instead of donated to Stalin himself.
      I did not address all the questionmarks over this telephone, like why no advice was sought of telephone expert and why, as I read somewhere, it was offered to several museums but the turned it down. 🙂
      And in the end it is sold by auction and if it really goes for so much money remains to be seen. I wonder if it sells at all, because there is probably a reserve on it.

      The telephone you were given, an Fg Tist 166 is more commonly known as a Modell 36 (1936). W T 11 means it was made in Vienna, in November 1938. That makes it a nice and early specimen. You do not see these very often. Very nice.

    • Thanks, Doug. I heared about the extra photos. They also wrote an addendum to the description.
      Although the information in the addendum is absute nonsense, I found the pictures very revealing.
      I will add something to my blog later today.
      Regards,
      Arwin

  2. I like to be a devils advocate here.
    If you want to fake a nazi telephone, where would you put an eagle?
    On a visible place on the front, or down behind?

    2. note. Where is this thing about a fire inside the bunker? There exist american photo´s on the web from the bunker, taken may 1945, where the sofa AH and EB sat in, is shown. Same goes for other rooms. Floor is covered with water everywhere, but no signs of fire.
    Telephones are present, both post office and army desk models.

    3rd. If the Reich chancellery should need a telephone, I can easily imagine they would call the post office to get one. Who else would install a new telephone.
    In those days, a technician would show up, plug it in, and make sure the connection worked. Even for ordinary people.

    I believe it may have been painted red during WWII, and I think the engravings may be genuine. They are ecaxtly where you would place them if the telephone was on a desk in front of a senior party official. So a visitor could stare at them.
    That is what makes me believe the telephone may be original.

    The cord and handset is most likely the result of a postwar makeover in Britain. The story from 1963 claims the brigadeer tried to use it in the UK. That would explain why he had someone to work at it. And the only serious part is the base with the eagle. In 1963, it was still only an old german telephone with a odd marking. To repair it meant nothing. And a british handset could be explained this way. The locking function is an afterrationalisation.
    The value issue came much later.

    So, I would like to have such a red telephone, for fun, but if I wanted Hitlers telephone, I would much prefer the one in Kentucky. It may in fact even be seen on the american photo´s from the bunker.

    http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/01/16/article-2263418-16F98373000005DC-241_634x624.jpg
    Could be interesting if anything match with that one in kentucky.

    • Hi Mikkel, thank you for sharing you views on this matter.
      Putting logo’s on the back of telephones is quite normal for Germany in this period. You can find many other examples where there is some kind of printing or picture on the back.
      See this w28 http://www.matilo.eu/3-the-phones/1926-1945-bakeliet-ww2/borck-goldschmidt-w28/?lang=en
      And these S&H telephones with the Dutch coat of arms: http://www.matilo.eu/3-the-phones/1926-1945-bakeliet-ww2/siemen-halske-vsa-tist-66-l4-modell-27w28-rijkstelefoon/?lang=en
      And where else are you going to put it? There is not much room or a flat surface anywhere else.

      Note 2 the bunker was partially burned. It is well documenten. There are lots of pictures taken right after the Soviets captured it where soot covered rooms can be seen. The fire went out because they closed the doors and there was not enoug oxigen.

      Note 3 this red telephone was not from the chancelary. That phone, that was on Hitler’s desk, was a common W28. There are many pictures of it.

      The one in Kentucky is also a W28. The one in the picture to which your link goes is a W38. They are not the same model, I’m afraid.

      And that illustrates the problem with this telephone. You can find loads of pictures of Hitler’s telephones, but they are never of a W38. Almost always a W28.

  3. Hallo, I just saw the so called ,,fax,, that my friend Rochus supposedly in 1985 has send as ,,proof,, for this red Telephone. There is no name under the fax and the text sais that this Telephone was used by ,,my vater,, …(as he worshipped Hitler)!?… Folks to set matter straight, Rochus Misch NEVER worshipped Hitler, he was not even a member of the Nazi party and never was a Nazi but someone how was for 5 years doing his job as a telephonist at Hitler headquarters. He was a conservative nationalist married with a social democrat whom was befriended with the former German Chancellor and social democrat Willy Brand how visited them in his home in Rudow. Rochus Misch had (as you can read in his book) a positive neutral view about the Third Reich, Eva Braun and Hitler as he called him a very good and friendly boss for his servants but he never denied the horrendous crimes how were committed under his command. He also politely denied presents from people that showed Hitler and never ever would called him his ,,vater,, but just spoke of him respectfully as the chef and I can assure you that this fax and this red telephone most certainly is crab and that Hitler never ever used it.

  4. Interesting article – thank you.

    I wondered why, if the red paint was factory applied, they would have sprayed the inside too? Why would a manufacturer undertake a completely unnecessary procedure?

    • Good question. And why would a manufacturer, knowing it was for the great leader of your country, do such a bad job?

      But the type number at the bottom shows Siemens & Halske made a standard version of their telephone and W38 shows it was supplied to the post office. So it was niet Siemens & Halske who supplied it to the end user (being HH or not), but the Reichspost! So if anyone had it painted red, it was the Reichspost.
      Regards, Arwin

  5. Russia is a notorious center for fake Leica. They buy inexpensive screw mount Leica and paint and engrave them like military versions highly appreciated by collectors (the real ones are paid tens of thousand $$). The red phone is definitely a fake: the British handset say so.

    • Thanks, Gianfranco. This telephone in this condition has been in the family for decades, as several newspaper articles show. It was even mentioned in an article in der Spiegel in the 60s as being red. So it is not a modern forgery.

      • What about the handset microphone and receiver? Are them Siemens or just made in Germany? Or are missing. I think it is important to know it. It seems that nobody talked about it.

        • Hi Gianfranco, you mean the microphone and transmitter elements that go inside the handset? The were not photographed.
          But as it is a British handset, they have different sizes from German ones. So German ones will not fit, normally.

  6. Why does Hitler need a red telephone? He is Hitler! He does not care about such trivial details, to him any phone he picks up is “Hitler’s Phone”.

    So who needs a red telephone? Someone who has several telephones, That is why there is a red light on the front — to show which of the phones is ringing.

    Is that Hitler’s phone that is ringing? Have someone mark it and paint it red for us, so we know that the phone Hitler calls us on is the one that is ringing and blinking.

    So it very likely is Hitler’s telephone, the one a subordinate picks up and hears the orders over, not the one in Hitler’s hand that the orders are spoken into.

    • Thank you for sharing your ideas on this matter. But there was a large hole in the side of this telephone, as the pictures show. This was repaired, after which it was painted. This repair is the main reason it is red: to cover up the damage.

  7. If it was just the damage, the paint would have been black, and only on the base or portion of the base. There is a reason for the light, and for the color — to distinguish it from other, less important phones in the same area. We do that now. When the red phone rings, high command is calling to scramble the fighter planes, gun crews, etc. But the phone calling them might not be red.

    And if it really were such an important leader’s personal telephone, I should think time constraints would likely have the phone replaced, or if time were not important, prestige considerations would have had at least the casing replaced, not merely repaired. Was Hitler that sentimental? I don’t know.

    But one must admit that toward the last days of the war as the economy and everything else was grinding to a halt, such things might well have been done.

    As for the handset, one might consider that Romnel used a captured British Dorchester Armored Command Vehicle. Likewise, it is at least plausible that the handset could have been a gift of a war prize if indeed the phone were that of someone high enough in rank.

    Just my speculation…

  8. Even being a novice telephone collector, I knew immediately that there were extreme issues. No way the Fuhrer would have been issued a painted piece of crap, not with the ease of ordering a red bakelight to the Fuhrer specifications. Ridiculous to even consider those weak stories and a faded fax legitimate provenance. Not just a fake but a bad fake.

  9. Thanks for your article! I believe you make a strong & very well considered case for this phone to be fake. My suspicion before reading your post was that no Führer-fearing German, would dare to provide Hitler which this kind of crap. Although a lot has changed since WWII, a fact for which I’m eternally grateful, the culture of “Gründlichkeit” has always been enshrined in the German soul.

      • Thanks, Arwin. Looking forward to your further investigations. One should never discount that the provenance is indeed true, but I rather see the cold, hard facts. So far, I’m certainly not convinced it’s the real thing.

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