Friday, 9 November 2012

Sepia Saturday - Number 18068 please

This weeks theme is about operators and telephone exchanges. And that rings a bell. In fact, it rings two bells. 
The first one goes back to 1967 when I made my first trip to the States. We flew to JFK and from there with legendary PanAm to San Juan PR. I stayed there for a number of weeks so at least once a week I called home. In those days direct dialing to Holland did not exist yet; every call had to be placed via the hotel operator. And she always used the same words that I came to know so well in the years after: "I'll put you through to the overseas operator." A quite common phrase that for some reason I never forgot. And now that we have arrived in the era of the mobile phone, the overseas operator probably has disappeared in the mists of history...
The second bell refers to my grandfather Andreas Miebies (1883-The Hague-1957). He was a civil servant for the municipality of The Hague. There he made a career in the Social Affairs Department. At a certain point he was Director of Social Housing (Directeur Contrôle Woningen) in a certain part of the city. And it doesn't come as a surprise but when you made it that to level, you were entitled to have your own telephone! Fortunately this fact has been recorded in the 1927 white pages. So I know he could be reached at 18068.
Telefoongids Den Haag 1927
1927 white pages
Not only do I know his number, I also know how his phone looked like! Below is a picture of my grandfather and his secretary (?) in his office. On his desk a giant telephone is visible.  
Andreas Miebies
Andreas Miebies and secretary in his office in June 1936.
I think it is significant that the phone is on his desk and not on hers. To me that confirms that a telephone in those days was part of the status of the owner. And that in itself is not very surprising. I've seen less interesting objects as part of people's status...
During the 50s American singer Jo Stafford (1917-2008) was very popular. You might remember her Embraceable You. In The Netherlands Thank you for calling was a big hit. Listening to her for the next two minutes seems an appropriate end of my contribution this week.
For an exchange of more views on operators and their connections, please visit the Sepia Saturday site.


  1. Erg mooie foto Peter en een mooi verhaal. Prima passend vond ik ook het gekraak dat je hoort als je "Jo"

  2. The telephone never made it into the frame in my family pictures. Your post has reminded me how interesting old phones could be.

  3. @M.Dan moet je me even uit de droom helpen. Neem aan dat je dat onder een andere naam gedaan hebt. Ik heb wel een idee... maar weet het niet zeker. Begint die nick met kleine a en heb je iets met Australië?

    Peter, ik zie dit berichtje van je nu pas, omdat deze topic bij 50+ forum weer naar boven kwam.
    Ja, ik heb iets met Australie, ben een aussie, woon hier al 46 jaar.
    Er is geen mogelijkheid voor een prive bericht hier, maar wel bij het forum.
    Groetjes, M.

  4. That is interesting that the phone was on his desk and not his secretary's. Also of interest that her desk was in his office. Guess it just made things easier to have her close. "Here, type this, handle this, etc."

  5. Very cool that you have that photo Peter

  6. I'd love to see the phone on his desk from a different angle. Classic photo and thanks for Jo Stafford.

  7. The photo in the office is fantastic

  8. Yes, that Jo Stafford song was the perfect ending to your excellent post. That office photo with the old-time telephone is a classic. Wouldn't you love to have a phone like that now?

  9. I hadn't heard that song before, and I really enjoyed listening to it (though the long instrumental part almost put me to sleep).

  10. Thank you for calling! Or at least posting this collection of telephone remembrances. It is amazing to think of how much has changed.

  11. Peter like you said the telephone was for a time like a status symbol. Great that you have this photo of your grandfather in his office and with his own phone! I listen to the song, she has got a nice voice, but I did not know the song or the singer. Imagine to day a song about a mobile phone...haha!

  12. That was quite a phone on his desk. I haven't seen one quite like that one. Jo Stafford is great, but I'll have to listen later so as not to interrupt my husband's program!

  13. A great post Peter. We traveled down similar paths of thought this week. That is a fine old photograph and you make a very good point about the position of the telephone.

  14. Holy Smokes, Peter! I mean, Jo Stafford? Haven't thought of her in years -- what a great voice! And your grandfather looks VERY important!

  15. Oh yes, the status of a telephone in days gone by. Today everyone walks about with buttons in their ears..constantly chatting....I had forgotten that Stafford song. Overseas calling was quite a challenge way back then, now, like magic. Interesting photo of that phone on your father's desk too.

  16. I'd completely forgotten about international operators until you triggered the memory. That is some phone on your Grandfather's desk, what a nice photo to have.
    The Jo Stafford song was new to me.

  17. @Albert
    Ja, dat klopt wel, in de vijftiger jaren was het een kraker :)
    Moet even op het 50+ forum kijken waarom ik die opmerking ook al weer gemaakt heb. En dan kom ik nog wel bij je terug via dat kanaal.
    Don't know whether Grannie knew she was this close... :)
    That phone is almost like a piece of furniture...
    Hope you woke up in time to have a look at all the other contributions!
    A song about a mobile phone? Can't imagine that there is any romance there.
    Husbands should yield to Jo!

    Thank you all for visiting, it was a pleasure reading all your remarks.

  18. Your grandfather looks stern... It's not the usual smile-let's-take-a-pic pic.

  19. What a wonderful old photo! And that phone is splendid. And as Bob already said, it would be great to see the phone from a different angle.

  20. A very clever use of the theme, Peter. I actually have my grandparents phone, a classic Bakelite rotary model circa 1935 with their number printed on a card in the dial. For many years it was leased from the phone company. The sound of the bell ringer and the clicking made when dialing such a phone is on my list of vanishing sounds. The next generation will know nothing about this iconic device.

  21. I'm happy you had to rings to share! What a wonderful trip you must have had back in 1967! I totally understand how that one important phone was placed there- but I'm guessing he didn't always answer it, right? What an interesting photo too, I'm happy you shared it with us!

  22. Indeed, the perfect conclusion to your post!! A lovely song!!
    Great pic of your grandpa!!
    I guess they shared office space because the interphone was not in the budget yet...

    PS: I do remember, vaguely, those overseas operators... to reach Germany, and England too!!

  23. @Alan
    Thank you. We have a saying here: "Two souls, one thought."
    I don't know whether he was VERY important but I do know he had a great sense of humor (and a straight face)!
    This constant chatting you are talking about, in the beginning I thought these people were talking to themselves...
    I assume Jo's song was new to you cause you are too young to know her!
    In those days that was the way to look, apparently.
    Would it help if I mirrored it? :)
    That would be a great idea, an archive with vanishing sounds!
    I honestly don't know whether dialing 18068 would get you Grandpa directly. Maybe his secretary would get up and walk around her desk to pick it up... ;)

    Thanks everybody for dropping in!

  24. The phone being on his desk and not on hers is just like the computer. Now, when you want to show a person in a power position, they have a keyboard (signals modern, smart and savvy) in front of them where the keyboard was for decades only on the desk of the secretary. Very enjoyable read.

  25. @Ticklebear
    Or maybe because the interphone was not yet. ;)
    The times they are a-changin' :)

    Thanks for your visits.

  26. Oh this takes me back to the last time I was in London. The day I arrived the phone company went on strike. Trying to find a way to call back to the states to let loved ones know I'd arrived and was fine became a challenge. And then when I discovered my travel agent had bungled my car rental it became more of a challenge having to make numerous calls to her. The other guests in the small hotel were all a buzz about where there were working phone boxes, those beautiful old red kiosks. "Psssssst. There's one around the corner from the V & A that was working this afternoon." Off I'd go on the tube to find the box. And then one evening standing along a side street in Kensington with a stranger, the two of us waiting for a particular phone to work. All time that was wasted those first days of my trip. What a difference a cell would have made.

  27. @T&L
    Your story is proof of the assertion that strikes bring people together ;)

  28. I always enjoy your posts, Peter; they are filled with detail, surprise and wit.

    What a fabulous photo of your grandfather and I have to say, anyone who had to lift the receiver of that phone would not have needed any other cardio-workout! It is colossal!

    When I saw the reference to the Jo Stafford ( bearing in mind the photo as well, ) I immediately though of the Martin & Farren hit, "Take a Letter Miss Smith", but then, that was a whole different communication, wasn't it?

  29. I'm laughing at Teresa's comment; "handle this" could be misinterpreted.

  30. Thank you Kat, one does what one can ;)
    I have to admit that this Martin & Farren song is unknown to me but it doesn't take much imagination to suppose how it must have been. But I'll look it up on You Tube.
    And I'll leave misinterpretations to people with fantasy :)
    Appreciated your visit and thanks for taking care of SS!


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