enter image description here

Our neighbors have this mystery wall plate by their front door. We have the identical house (both built in 1929) and we don't have one. The fire department was there today to investigate a smoke alarm and they were apparently very puzzled by it.

It looks like a doorbell buzzer or similar above and a two-prong socket below, but the socket is smaller than modern and the blade holes are slightly canted toward each other.

Does anybody know what this is? Google image search failed me.

  • 3
    Try removing the plate - get the paint off the screws and test to see if anything is live.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 15:45
  • 3
    Careful with the paint removal. Is an old house. Could very well be lead paint.
    – Tonny
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 14:29
  • Good point. I always assume lead, although my experience has been that wall paint is much less likely to have lead than trim paint.
    – jeguyer
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 15:09
  • What country is this house in?
    – shoover
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 22:08
  • 1
    @shoover: USA, Washington, DC. Tag added.
    – jeguyer
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 0:07

1 Answer 1


This is a Despard Wall Plate with the following devices:

Wall plate

I found an excellent website where a vintage switch enthusiast has laid it all out for us:

Outlet with slants

Vintage Bryant and Pass & Seymour Despard Convenience Outlets with Slanted Slot

These specialized bakelite electrical receptacles had a pair of blade slots where one was slanted or rotated in relation to the other in order to require a special plug for distinguishing the main and auxiliary contacts. These antique receptacles were often paired with pilot lights and used for electric irons or toasters for indicating they were in use. Sometimes you'll find versions of these unusual sockets with the angled slot marked GROUND and the straight slot ANTENNA; these were likely used for vintage radios. For more information see this original patent by Victor R Despard for this speciatlty outlet.


As the description mentions, this outlet is often paired with a Pilot Light. Only paint removal will tell, but you likely either have a pilot light or a push button on top.

enter image description here

I've never seen these, personally. No doubt they seem to have fallen out of favor with electricians.

  • 2
    Upon investigation, the wire may lead to an antenna somewhere.
    – Turbo
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 20:05
  • 7
    Thank you for the quick detective work! I think my neighbors are contemplating keeping a toaster by the front door from now on.
    – jeguyer
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 15:11
  • 4
    Wait, there's "a vintage switch enthusiast"??? Who knew??!?!??!
    – FreeMan
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 16:44
  • 2
    @FreeMan I found some old ceramic wire-nuts in my house and I deemed them worth keeping. I'm not sure if that makes me a vintage wire-nut enthusiast or not.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 17:39
  • 2
    LOL, Only if you start a web site, @JimmyJames!
    – FreeMan
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 17:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.