Belgium Telephone

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Telecommunication became a problem in Belgium before it actually arrived. In 1833, just 3 years after independence from the Netherlands, a citizen by the name of De Hornes informed minister of domestic affairs Charles Rogier that he intended to set up a commercial telegraph line between Brussels and Antwerp and solicited his business. While Rogier saw no problems, the Justice department panicked. There was no license requirement and they saw the possibility that such a line could be used by the Netherlands' intelligence services to undermine public order.

The debate took years, as Rogier saw no need for licensing, except in war time, while the justice department wanted to follow the pattern of a state monopoly laid down in the French telecommunication law of 1837. As the stalemate continued, telegraphy proved its commercial use, especially for railway companies, and Belgium started to fall behind internationally. At last, in 1851, a law permitting the government to set tariffs and exercise "strict control of the content of telegraphic messages. Between 1862 and 1876, telecommunication became a public service.

In 1876, a law was accepted, stating that local network concessions could be sold but long-distance and international telecommunications would be a monopoly of the telegraph administration. This law was applied to telephone networks when they arrived in Belgium in 1879. Three companies were interested in developing local networks. The International Bell Telephone company (IBTC), established in Brussels, won out. Against the state's expectations, telephone was not a marginal technology, so, in 1883, a law was approved that split ownership and exploitation of the networks, gave the government the right to buy existing networks and foresaw a unified public network. In 1889, the government was forced to buy the loss-making networks, leading to the purchase of profitable networks until 1896.

Frans Wellesplein 1.JPG

Meanwhile, IBTC had become the European headquarters of Bell Telephone Company, the leading US telephone provider. In 1882, it founded an operational arm, Compagnie Belge du Téléphone Bell (CBTB), and a manufacturing arm in Antwerp: Bell Telephone Manufacturing Company (BTMC, later BTM). BTM's headquarters are an iconic building in Antwerp known as "Den Bell", now home to government services (photo: Onroerend Erfgoed, Elise Hooft This combination provided the first international European telephone line, between Brussels and Paris, in 1887. The US parent turned itself into the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in 1899. By that time, much of CBTB's concessions had been allowed to expire or were bought back by the Belgian government. BTMC, however, had become a leading European producer of telephone equipment. In 1913, BTMC started manufacturing rotary telephone sets. This came to a quick end owing to damage sustained in the first world war. Under increasing pressure from anti-trust authorities, AT&T sold its European division, including IBTC, to the International Telephone & Telegraph Company (ITT) in 1925.

The Belgian telephone network suffered serious war damage. As the state was continually short of funds, due to its adherence to the Latin Monetary Union and its dual standard, later its gold standard, recovery was frustratingly slow. The obvious answer, automatisation, needed heavy investments also. Only in 1930 was an answer found: the creation of the Régie du Télégraphe et Téléphone (RTT), a wholly state owned enterprise that at last obtained a formal monopoly and could borrow on financial markets.

The second world war brought renewed devastation. While RTT did a good job restoring services, it did so at the cost of high indebtedness, accelerated by the oil and dollar crises. In 1986, BTM was sold to Alcatel and merged with ITT's Dutch facilities to form Alcatel N.V. (Netherlands).

Pressure on RTT increased further as the EU formulated a policy of privatisation of the telecommunication sector in 1987. As a result, RTT was reorganised into Belgacom, a more autonomous company, but still state-owned. In 2001, Belgacom split off several parts privately owned parts. It became a publicly traded company in 2004, with the Belgian state as majority shareholder. Belgacom became Proximus in 2014/15, a brand originally used only for mobile telephone services.

Belgium Telephone Tokens
BTP.01.jpg
Material Cu-ni
Filename BTP.01.jpg
Description R T T arrow down in centre incuse two grooves
Rev. Blank with one groove
Size (mm) 24.34
Weight (grams) 6.04
Notes © Ciro Marta. There are variants of both BTP 01 as the inscription may be weak or bold and the point of the arrow varies (1,4 and 2,8 mm).
BTP.02.jpg
Material Cu-ni
Filename BTP.02.jpg
Description R T T arrow down at right from centre incuse two grooves
Rev. Blank with one groove
Size (mm) 24.27
Weight (grams) 5.64
Notes © Ciro Marta. There are variants of both BTP 02 as the inscription may be weak or bold and the point of the arrow varies (1,4 and 2,8 mm).
BTP.03.jpg
Material Brass
Filename BTP.03.jpg
Description T A N incuse
Rev. Blank
Size (mm) 24.26
Weight (grams) 6.48
Notes © Ciro Marta
File:BTP.04.jpg
Material Brass
Filename BTP.04.jpg
Description T A N incuse
Rev. Blank
Size (mm) 21.1
Weight (grams)
Notes
File:BTP.05.jpg
Material Brass
Filename BTP.05.jpg
Description T C A incuse
Rev. Blank
Size (mm) 24.3
Weight (grams)
Notes
File:BTP.06.jpg
Material Brass
Filename BTP.06.jpg
Description T A N incuse C/hole
Rev. Blank
Size (mm) 24.3
Weight (grams)
Notes
BTP.07.jpg
Material Brass
Filename BTP.07.jpg
Description two concentric circles with number incuse (GX02499)
Rev. two concentric circles
Size (mm) 24.10
Weight (grams) 5.52
Notes © Ciro Marta
BTP.08.jpg
Material Brass
Filename BTP.08.jpg
Description two concentric circles with number incuse (ML03353)
Rev. two concentric circles
Size (mm) 24.00
Weight (grams) 5.48
Notes © Ciro Marta
BTP.09.jpg
Material Cu-ni
Filename BTP.09.jpg
Description (Antwerp) AN with number incuse (AN20019)
Rev. Blank
Size (mm) 25.92
Weight (grams) 8.44
Notes © Ciro Marta
File:BTP.09a.jpg
Material Cu-ni
Filename BTP.09a.jpg
Description (Antwerp) AN with number incuse
Rev. Blank
Size (mm) 26.9
Weight (grams)
Notes
BTP.10A.jpg
Material Brass
Filename BTP.10A.jpg
Description R T T arrow down at right from centre, B (Brussels) on the left side, incuse two grooves
Rev. Blank with one groove
Size (mm) 24.36
Weight (grams) 6.18
Notes B can be inverted
BTP.10.jpg
Material Cu-ni
Filename BTP.10.jpg
Description (Brussels) BR with number incuse (BR01130)
Rev. Blank
Size (mm) 25.90
Weight (grams) 8.35
Notes © Ciro Marta
BTP.11.jpg
Material Cu-ni
Filename BTP.11.jpg
Description (Brussels) BR with number incuse (BR02093)
Rev. Blank
Size (mm) 24.00
Weight (grams) 5.89
Notes © Ciro Marta
BTP.12.jpg
Material Cu-ni
Filename BTP.12.jpg
Description (Brussels) BR with number incuse (BR19040)
Rev. Blank
Size (mm) 24.00
Weight (grams) 6.43
Notes © Ciro Marta (same as BTP.011 but thickness 1,71/1,81)
File:BTP.13.jpg
Material Cu-ni
Filename BTP.13.jpg
Description (Gent) GN with number incuse
Rev. Blank
Size (mm) 24
Weight (grams)
Notes
File:BTP.14.jpg
Material Cu-ni
Filename BTP.14.jpg
Description (Kortrijk) KT with number incuse
Rev. Blank
Size (mm) 24.1
Weight (grams)
Notes
BAT.06.jpg
Material Brass
Filename BAT.06.jpg
Description PRISON with telephone handset
Rev. GEVANGENIS with telephone handset
Size (mm) 24
Weight (grams) 5.55
Notes © Ciro Marta