Vintage Insulators: From Phone to Home

For some collectors, purchasing a Hemingray No. 42 insulator completely makes their day.

But what exactly is an insulator, you might ask? Let’s start with the basics.

An insulator is a glass item originally made to insulate telegraph and telephone wires against their wooden poles. You would see these on telephone poles especially in the 1920s through the 1940s.

An oddly-shaped insulator in-store at SNC-ETC.

An oddly-shaped insulator in-store at S&C-ETC.

Insulator collecting is a niche market which, for those involved, incites great enthusiasm over these beautiful pieces.

The most common insulator colors are clear and aqua thanks to insulators’ natural iron content. But many, many colors exist for insulators, which is part of the fun for collectors.

The earliest insulators were “Ramshorn” and “Glass Block” designs in the mid-19th century, following Morse’s invention of the telegraph line in 1844.

Clear and teal Hemingray insulators, available online.

Clear and teal Hemingray insulators, available online.

Put a battery-operated light inside the insulator for a dreamy lighting effect!

A lot of change in insulator design occurred through the years, as people had not yet figured out what worked and what didn’t. This led to many different insulator designs: all the more for collectors today.

The popular “Ramshorn” pattern held the wire suspended beneath. This design held for a while, but soon it was replaced by the superior “pin-type” insulator.

Louis Cauvet patented the last major insulator design in 1865, which marked the last big change until the end of insulators’ production in the 1970s.

Interesting insulator shapes abound.

Interesting insulator shapes abound.

All this flip-flopping did lead to a big number of colors and designs available out there. One is called the “Gingerbread Man”, with a rounded top and pointed arms. Another is the “T-Bar”, which resembles a robot with its square top and grooved, outstretched arms. However, the most popular design by far is the Hemingray No. 42. Hemingray made the biggest variety of insulator styles.

Insulators can be found in many an antique store today, and they also make great pieces for home décor, whether stand-alone or as do-it-yourself projects.

Make sure to keep an eye out for these special pieces the next time you visit an antique store.


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  1. Pingback: Vintage Treasures Into Modern Novelties | Glass Insulators | Past & Present

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