Being inventive in finding ways to communicate, as well as getting to grips with new technologies to stay in touch, are occupying minds right now, even for those regular users of WhatsApp or Facetime.
A pair of humble devices in the Museum collections show what can be done to keep in touch, when you have the skills.
These are a pair of ‘telephones’, made in 1877, by William Holms of Paisley when he was just 18.
William was inspired by a demonstration of Alexander Graham Bell’s prototype telephone demonstrated (unsuccessfully on that occasion) in Glasgow a few months earlier. His friend, James Reid, made a similar pair of telephones. They had already been experimenting with a telegraph Morse code set up, so used the existing telegraph wire, which connected their two houses.
An account of their pioneering work was written up in the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette in November 1926, under the headline ‘First ‘Phone in Scotland: Fine Achievement by Two Youths’, when James Reid presented his telephones to Paisley Museum. The newspaper quotes him describing making the phones: “I looked around for suitable wood. I wanted mahogany, of course…Over one of the windows was one of those solid mahogany curtain poles, and I managed to ‘scrounge’ this. Cutting off a suitable length, I turned out the cases from it.”
William Holms’ sister presented William Holms’s telephones to the National Museum of Scotland the same year.
Bell’s telephones only appeared on sale in the UK in 1878.
These home-made telephones are strong contenders for being the earliest telephones in Scotland. What innovative devices will emerge as products from our time in self-isolation?