My partner purchased a previously poorly-maintained house built in 1924, and these two single-gang boxes have some mystery contents. What are these two receptacles and can they be repurposed as 120V outlets?
I suspect one is a a broken single outlet, as I've measured 120V across the connections, but I have no clue on the other.

first receptacle second receptacle

  • 1
    If they still have power looking like that, then "Danger Will Robertson Danger". Seems like someone(probably high as a kite) removed the plastic protection/covering from them. Not something you want to lick. Turn off power to them now.
    – crip659
    Nov 23, 2022 at 0:51
  • 4
    Second one could be a mostly destroyed pushbutton switch. Possibly low voltage, like a doorbell or bell to summon the servants, possibly line voltage. Shut off power and get these things covered with a dead front before restoring power.
    – Ecnerwal
    Nov 23, 2022 at 0:55
  • 1
    Old time switches were sometimes a Bakelite push button. Saw many back in the day in old manor houses in the Philadelphia suburbs.
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 23, 2022 at 1:16
  • 2
    The top one looks like a more modern toggle switch, with most of the insides missing. The bottom is likely an old rotary or push button switch. N.B. There are still mains wires (not low-power bell wires) attached to the second device. Use caution -- they might be live! Nov 23, 2022 at 1:36
  • Further to the comment by @JonCuster, this is an interesting read : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bakelite
    – P2000
    Nov 23, 2022 at 3:59

1 Answer 1


The one on the left is an old-school outlet that has been smashed and not repaired.

The one on the right is an old-school switch that has been smashed and not repaired.

Let me guess, when the eviction moratorium expired, the tenant smashed up the place?

  • Would that be a rotary switch?
    – isherwood
    Nov 23, 2022 at 14:56
  • It's actually an house that was owned by a pretty old individual and fell into disrepair. Is there any particular risk in popping out the old outlet and putting in the new one? I assume that the switch, if that's what it is, can only be removed/covered, and I'm also unsure why there would be a switch there--it's only about a foot off the ground.
    – dmc
    Nov 23, 2022 at 17:15
  • @dmc high risk until you shut off the branch circuit breaker. A small amount of risk until you shut off the main. (nobody can tell me the branch breaker is enough; I've gotten nailed on a panel I built on a circuit I know like the back of my hand and that was definitely off. It was a freak failure.) Once you have the "switch" off, you'll be able to see how it's connected. I would stick a receptacle there by default if it's only 2 wires. Nov 23, 2022 at 19:02
  • And by "only two wires" I mean if two wires are connected in a manner that they're also connected to each other, then treat them as one wire (i.e. pretend they're pigtailed). Nov 23, 2022 at 20:03

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