1877 Bell Telephone "Butterstamp" Receiver

Featured here is a Bell Telephone "butterstamp" receiver made circa 1877.  It was a component of Alexander Graham Bell's first commercial telephone system.

In standard telephone parlance, the "transmitter" is the microphone into which the caller speaks, and the "receiver" is the earphone for listening.  In the first phones, they actually used the same device for both functions.  It was necessary to continually move the device back and forth between the mouth and ear as the conversation progressed.  This was confusing and impractical, so they tried using two identical units for both functions.  The example shown here is from that era.  Though is is normally called a receiver, it could also function as a transmitter.

As the technology evolved, the designs of the receivers and transmitters soon diverged, as each was optimized for its particular function, and the interchangeability feature was forever lost.

The butterstamp was a popular kitchen gadget in those days which was used to press a decorative pattern into a pat of butter.  They are all but forgotten today, but some were almost identical in appearance to this device.

This receiver is made of mahogany and is about 6 inches long and about 3 inches in diameter.  Internally, there is a bar magnet, a small coil of wire, and an iron diaphragm.  After almost 130 years, it is still functional.

Four versions of the butterstamp receiver are shown here.  Click here or on the image for a larger view.
This is one of the early telephones that used the butterstamp receiver.  Click here or on the image for a larger view.  These two images are from the book Beginnings of Telephony by Frederick Leland Rhodes, published by Harper and Brothers in 1929.


Even in the earliest days of the Bell System, ownership of the equipment remained with "Ma Bell", a practice that lasted about a century.

"PATENTED MAR.7.76 & JAN.30.77"

This refers to two fundamental Bell patents, no. 174,465 (issued March 7, 1876), and no. 186,787 (issued Jan. 30, 1877).  The former was actually described as an improved system of telegraphy employing what he called "undulatory" currents.  The latter patent describes an actual system of "telephony".


This address in Boston was that of Charles Williams, Jr., a manufacturer of telegraph equipment, alarm bells, and other electrical and scientific apparatus.  It was Williams' company that built the first telephone equipment for Bell.