|I don't know what it is about Morse telegraph keys that
appeals to me so much, unless it is the endless variety in form for what
is such an elemental function. A Morse key is nothing more than an electrical
switch, capable of defining two states-- on and off! But within that simplicity
lies a lot of scope for artistry, and some Morse keys are truly works of
art. I never intended to become a collector, but one thing has led to another
and here I am.
All of these keys are in working condition, and most of
them have been used "on air" for at least one amateur radio contact. Apart
from proving that they work, this "laying on of hands" makes them truly
mine and establishes what I feel to be some sort of mystical bond between
myself and all the other operators who used them over the years.
Most of these devices were at one time the "tools of the trade" for professional
telegraphers. As an amateur radio operator I use telegraphy extensively,
in fact almost exclusively, but I still find it difficult to imagine what
it must have been like to pound brass for 8 hours a day, every day, as
one's means of putting bread on the table!
For the most part, I've listed everything I know about these keys, except their value-- to me they are all priceless!
is the star of my collection, a K.P. Thomas Automorse key made my
Hitchcox Bros. in Adelaide, SA, Australia, circa 1920. The device sold
for five Pounds, or about a week's wages for a journeyman "telegraphist."
It is distinguished by three paddles-- automatic dots, automatic
dashes, and manual dashes. The metal parts are nickel-plated brass, and
the finger-pieces are some sort of fiberboard. I added a base for
it made from maple, and it is in working condition with all original parts.
Thanks to Larry, VK6CP, I can show
you an image of a contemporary ad for the Automorse.
The ad says it is "guaranteed forever against wear," and so far it is living
up to the guarantee!
more recent device from the former Soviet Union, this is the ElectroInstrument
Key-8 paddle/keyer. Manufactured by a former Soviet military instrument
factory specifically for amateur radio operators, the device has dual paddles,
but the built-in electronic keyer is not iambic! Base is a thick machined
brass plate, body appears to be brass with a thick chromium plating, and
it weighs a whopping 3 Lbs 7 Oz. A 5 pin DIN connector on the back
provides for dit, dah, common, power, and audio lines, but I've converted
it to use the paddles without using the keyer. Morse Express has recently
acquired stocks of this paddle
Below is a US Army Signal Corp "FLAMEPROOF KEY J-5-A" from L.S. Brach Mfg. Co, Newark, NJ. Contact tension can be adjusted with a screw which protrudes through the cover (behind the knob). The key is painted a dark "GI green" over brass-- with a bit of paint missing from the top cover.
This is a key I picked up at an Australian hamfest. On the top rear surface of the bakelite base it is inscribed "P.M.G. 1941." On the front edge of the base it says "WT 8AMP No. 2." Wire connections are made to the cross members (the front and rear carry contacts, connection. Provision is made for contact on all three-- the front one is in contact when the key is not depressed, normal Morse make/break connection is through the contacts on top of the lever, at the rear cross piece. The WT 8AMP keys were very common on British made equipment during WWII and can still be found all over the "Commonwealth."
The J45 key is fairly common-- it's actually a J37 key
mounted on a spring steel leg clamp for use on aircraft, in tanks, etc.
This one is marked J45 on the leg band, stamped J37 on the base of the
key, and carries the inscription "SC480A" in red on the back of the leg
clamp. The key is black, with a brass finish. Shown here, the key is hinged
for use on a desk-- it flips over for use when clamped on the operator's
An interesting feature of this key is that electrical connection is by means of the two "mounting holes" to the left and right of the knob. On the base of the key they are flared, as if to facilitate mounting on two pins built into a transmitter. The other two mounting holes just go through the bearing blocks at the rear of the key. The bearing blocks are strapped to the key lever, and also common to the left flared mounting hole at the front. There are two sets of contacts. One set grounds the presumed "hot" connection to the right of the knob, the other pair of contacts grounds the other connection. As found, the hot side is grounded slightly after the other side when the key is depressed.
Neil, K5RW, reports that the key is designed to clip onto
a Canadian field set. The transceiver was made for Canadian
armed forces and is of WWII and Korean War vintage. Herman Willemsen, ex
Marine R/O Dutch Merchant Navy, says he has such a key, removed from a
Mark V Fullerphone, and that it was used primarily for testing and calling.
Dick Pascoe, G0BPS had given me early warning that he was bringing some keys to the FDIM vendors' hospitality suite. I wasn't able to attend, but managed to convince a friend to take along a few discretionary dollars, and these three devices are now in the N1FN collection.
This is an "Apell" key, made by Johnny Apell (SM7UCZ)
himself as a "display model" and brought to Dayton by Dick Pascoe, G0BPS.
The key itself is made from circuit board material, on which is.... a half-watt
80M transmitter! It's a 2N2222 circuit on the colorburst frequency.
The schematic circuit diagram was taped to the underside of the base; you
can click here to view a scan of it. The
Apell key was available from Kanga
US as a kit.
Another Czechoslovakian key, this one is "made of wood"
but cute as it is, it is not a toy. The adjustment screws and contacts
are brass, and the pivot arm rotates in ball bearings! The underside
of the base is routed out to make the wiring accessible, and the opening
is covered with some sort of wood-grained tape. This particular key
shows signs of use, with visible wear on the knob.
This is a single paddle in chromed brass on a heavy
steel base, reportedly from Bulgaria although there are no maker's marks
visible. An interesting feature of this paddle is that the gold plated
contacts are at the front, with a wishbone spring at the back (tension
is adjustable with the two screws shown). The parts are attached
with screws which are recessed in the base, and the wiring travels to the
screw recess through "tunnels." It has a really beautiful feel to
it, and I hope someday to find that there is a dual paddle version.
And... found it! This little honey turned up in the fleamarket at Ham Radio (Friedrichshafen) in 2004. Personally I would probably prefer flat fingerpieces for long-term use but I can do surprisingly well with the wooden ones. This one has what appears to be a serial number on the lower left lever-yoke, 0049, but no other apparent markings.
A friend of mine, Wayne (N0POH) was doing a shack clearance to fund a tower when he came across his late father's old bug. He sold it to me because he wanted it to go to a good home, and it has turned out to be quite a nice find. It's a 1937 model Mac, and the '37s are a bit scarce. Mac originally made the bases for a US Navy contract and the words "Property of US Navy" were cast into the iron base. He used those bases for what he called a new and improved model, and ground off the words "US Navy," leaving a blank space where in theory the owner could engrave his name or callsign. This one was bought new by Wayne's father, Bill Heinen, in 1938 or 1939. At the time Bill was living in Buffalo, NY, and operating as W8SIC (W2SIC after the war when the call districts got adjusted and "8-land" went west). The bug was in working condition when I got it, with all original parts, but in need of a serious cleaning and adjustment. The pictures (click to enlarge) show the key as I got it, after cleaning, and a close-up of the detail. On air it has a surprisingly nice feel. For those of you unfamiliar with the "T-Bar" frame, the T served three purposes. It holds the pivot bearings, it serves as a handle when carrying the bug, and it allows the bug to be turned on its side so it can be used as a straight key. When used this way the pendulum can be clipped at the back so it doesn't move.
Before Cleaning After Cleaning Detail
This is the Hi-Mound BK-200 "Magnetic
Bug." The eponymous president of Hi-Mound, Mr. Takatsuka, produced
a short run of these bugs in 1999 as a commemoration of amateur radio in
Japan. We had a few for sale through Morse Express, and were disappointed
to learn that they had been discontinued. The BK-200 uses what Hi-Mound
calls "magnetic driving" to generate dots. There is a magnetic switch assembly
at the end of the bug, actuated by a small magnet on the pendulum arm.
The result is a longer pendulum with very smooth operation, and virtually
no need to adjust anything but the pendulum weight position when you change
speeds. With the supplied accessory weight you can slow it down to 12 WPM,
without adjusting anything else. Most bugs can't be slowed down below around
22 WPM without adding additional weight, and any speed change requires
adjustment of contact spacing and dwell. The action is very smooth and
the bug is a wonder to operate. It weighs in at a whopping 5 Lbs,
with its heavy black painted steel base.
Early ancestor of the Hi-Mound BK-100 and BK-200 bugs, the Monarch KY-102 was sold through ham radio and electronics stores in the 1950's and 60's. This one is complete as sold-- with box, instructions, and "wedge." The wedge is the odd looking plug seen on the end of the cord in the photo. The operator could shove the wedge in between the contacts of an ordinary straight key, and reverting to straight key operation was simply a matter of pulling out the wedge. The instructions sypplied with the Monarch are hysterically funny, typical of the earliest "Jenglish" translations of Japanese. In fact, this may represent the earliest use of the word "sexercise." You can view a scan of them by clicking here.
This is my "Imperial Russian" key, made before the 1917 Revolution. Little is known about it, or its maker, but it was most probably used in a governmental or postal telegraph operation. We know that it is pre-Soviet because of the logo on the side, shown in the photo at right. The letters "S" and "G" are rendered in Cyrillic, but the ampersand was a western European invention. One of the first things the Soviets did was to "purify" the Russian language and get rid of western impurities such as the ampersand, which was replaced with the Cyrillic letter "i" which by itself means "and."
G is the typical Russian rendition of the English letter H (which doesn't exist in Russian), so the mark becomes S&H, for Siemens & Halske. The design is classic Siemens, and the key was likely made in Russia by Halske, under license or as agent for Siemens.
The key is typical of European keys of its time in that contact sets are provided at both the front and the rear-- so that the circuit could be closed for receiving when not actually sending. The connections are made by way of the three large slotted-head screws shwon on the left side of the key. The hardware is lacquered brass, and the base is varnished hardwood, possibly maple. An unusual feature is that two separate tension screws are provided, fore and aft of the trunnion.
Perhaps most unusual is the lower front contact arrangement.
The contact is mounted on a stiff metal leaf spring extending away from
the lever. Nobody seems to know its purpose, but there are two theories--
a) that spring tended to soften the impact of the contacts, resulting in
a slightly softer feel and possibly less wear, and b) there because of
the movement of the sprung contact, their is a slight "wiping" action as
the contacts meet, which might tend to keep them clean.
This is a Cold War era Soviet marine key, made in 1959 for use on a naval vessel. Compare it to the much earlier "Imperial" key and note the similarity of the contact arrangements (again there are three contacts) the shape of the lever and trunnion, and especially the trunnion support. The front part of the lever, beneath the knob, is insulated, as are the adjusting screws for contact spacing and tension. The connections are concealed within the bakelite base. The metal parts appear to be made of cast and/or machined aluminum, with steel screws and another metal (possibly silver) for the contacts. Serial number, year, and possibly contract numbers are stamped into the base plate.
This is an all-brass bug from Gerhard Schurr, of Schurr Morsetasten in Germany. Schurr made 25 of these bugs in 2000, and this is number 16. As this is written (July 2001) Schurr has taken a reservation list for a second run of 25, but has not started to make them yet. The weight of the moving parts (from the fingerpieces to the end of the reed) is balanced at the pivot, resulting in an unusually light feel. For Schurr this was an exercise in craftsmanship more than a need to supply a product, and the result is a beautiful bug that handles as well as any ever made. Schurr's logo, 2000, and the serial number are engraved on the base.
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