Commercial and Non-Military Straight Keys

Commercial Keys from Several Countries and Services


    This section contains keys that were used in maritime service, American landline telegraphy, and in the domestic postal services of several countries.  Some in the collection were obviously removed from active service, while some were obtained in the "new in box" condition.  As a comparative novice among key collectors, my historical knowledge is limited - there may be a number of mistakes in what I say about these keys.  I invite constructive criticism to put me straight where I have gone wrong.


     This is the one that started it all - the Vail Correspondent.  Pictured here is a replica made by Kent Engineers (Serial Nr. 0020).  Morse had originally intended that the telegraph should send code generated by a programmed series of notches on a prepared stick, but this proved to be too cumbersome for their experimental work.  His co-worker, Alfred Vail, who also devised the Morse Code, invented this special switch to allow manual sending of the code.

     Notice how many of the features of the first key became commonplace in later keys.  The flat metal spring may be seen, for example, in the military J-37 key.  The knurled knobs used to set contact spacing and lever travel are also almost universal in key designs.  In the days of spark and cathode-keyed transmitters, however, the uninsulated lever would have caused problems.



     The first several keys in this section were designed for maritime service.  Many of them were covered by protective housings.  This one, the Danish Amplidan, is a large and rugged key with very smooth and precise action. This key, Serial Number 050713, is in unused condition.

     Frequent features among this class of keys are the forward location of the contact points (see below), and either ball-bearing or flat-spring pivot mechanisms.  The Amplidan uses precise sleeve bearings.

Click here for a close-up look at the bearing system.



     Here are some closer views of this key.  Click on the image to see a closer view of the critical parts.  The use of the forward contacts, which are mounted on a stiff steel spring, gives this key a positive feel without a harsh "bottoming" or contact bounces that massive keys with rear sometimes display.

     Another maritime key, this time from Sweden.  Beneath its housing it has a brass mechanism with a leaf-spring pivot and forward contacts mounted on a spring steel strip.  It has a very precise feel without being so crisp that there is danger of contact bouncing.



















This massive key is from Kent Engineers in England.  It is made in the style of the early Marconi keys and was available for a time in kit form.  It is crisp and precise in its operation and has impressive weight.




     The largest key in the collection is this unit from the British Royal Navy.  Like many other maritime keys, it uses front contacts and has a leaf spring rather than moving pivots.  The only adjustment possible when the cover is in place is the contact spacing.  The spring force is changed using the set-screw and lock nut shown at the lower right.



    This heavy brass key from New Zealand is in the tradition of the "postal" type of key, although it may have been intended for amateur service.  It is heavy and produces a satisfying sound when keyed.

      This set of four elegant Triumph style keys was a fortunate purchase from the well-known Murray Willer (VE3FRX) collection, and they are being preserved as a set.  While they look super- ficially similar, closer examination reveals subtle differences in the style of the screw heads and lock nuts and in the shape of the shorting lever mechanism.  This is a high resolution picture - click on it to examine the particular features of the individual keys.

    A rather common but smooth- working key is this one (in new condition) made by the Signal Electric Company of Menominee, Wisconsin, for use in landline telegraphy.

     Another key in the lineage of the one above.  This one has been adapted for ham radio use by mounting it on an oak board and adding a skirt below the knob.  It is marked as coming from the Menominee Electric Company.

     This style of key is rather light and tends to wander around the desktop.  To correct this, keys like this Bunnell model were given "legs", actually bolts by which it could be semi-permanently attached to the desktop.

     A workhorse of landline maintenance, this Polechanger key (made by the Spies Electric Works of Chicago) was fitted with multiple connection points and a switch to select the active ones.

     An interesting variation on the theme, this key by Mesco has a portion of its frame missing, and connections to the terminals are made via brass straps.