Birgitta’s vintage low voltage lighting system

vintage-switch-plateBirgitta writes: “I am wondering if this was a common feature in the 1950’s?  It turns on/off nine lights and there is another one in the back of the house.”

Well, this a new one to me. I have never seen this feature in person, or in a magazine. What do you think, retro renovators?


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  1. Angela Longfield says

    I believe it is made by Lutron?? I am trying to find an old catalog I had from a lighting store I worked at. Definatly not common, pretty expensive for the time. I would love to have these too! I will send copies of the catalog if i can find it.

  2. Kim Harayda says

    I have almost identical switches to these- ours were made by Despard, and are part of some new “low voltage” lighting that was an experiment in our neighborhood when the houses were built. We have the switches throughout the house, with a master control in our bedroom. I’ve been looking for replacements for the past 10 years, but haven’t been able to find anything other than the switch plates.

  3. says

    Hopefully it worked with a low voltage relay system or something like that, because trying to jam 10 pieces of Romex (or 10 pairs of old wire) into a single-gang electrical box would be almost impossible.

  4. Richard says

    This is definitely part of a low-voltage lighting system. Sometimes you can hear a short buzz when pushing the switch. It allowed the homeowner to control several rooms from one switch, like outdoor lights from a bedroom, etc. and probably required wiring that was less bulky than conventional switches. I’m certain these systems are no longer made or we would see them on remodeling TV shows.

  5. cadman says

    If I’m not hallucinating, I think I may have mentioned these in the past on this site in the comments…. some place. GE was the most popular manufacturer and they still make the parts today. A search for RR7 on eb@y will turn up new relays, usually around 25 bucks. Any momentary contact switch will work with them, but today’s “real” version is more of a rectangular rocker commonly used in commercial apps (like large offices). These systems are pretty easy to keep going, and parts are available, despite what the clueless residential electrician might pitch! -Cory

  6. says

    Thanks for the additional information, Cory/cadman! And you’re correct, every electrician who has been at the house has let out an audible gasp when they see the mess of low voltage wires in the solenoid station in the basement! I had to spend an entire day documenting which items throughout the house were controlled by 25 circuits here 🙂

  7. says

    We have this exact same thing in our master bedroom! Your switchplate is much better than ours, which has been painted a time or two. And our switch is in milk chocolate, not pink. Our place was built in ’56 and was pretty high-end, so I am thinking this was probably expensive!

  8. Ray says

    I have the same switch in my bedroom as Brigitta. Mine is missing the switch plate, anyone have a clue where to find a replacement? The selector knob is different, but its a nine-cicruit controller.

  9. Linda says

    HOOLY COW!!! This was a great post I have this same swithch and never could find out what it was for, after reading this I got my hubby involed and found out what lights it works in our house lol this was GREAT Thanks a bunch!!

  10. philq says

    I never saw this post before! That is a master control for a low-voltage lighting system. I have the GE system in my house with three separate master controls – one at the garage door, one at the front door and one in the master bedroom. Thankfully, the previous owners left detailed “maps” of all the gang boxes/relays and what contols what. My master controls have nine positions to contol various sequences of lights, such as lighting a path from the bedroom to the kitchen and another position – I refer to as “panic” – which turns on or off ALL the lights in and outside the house. Very high-tech for the time. Yes, cadman, some parts are still available. The low-voltage systems are used mostly in commercial applications and are computerized nowadays (do the have an “app” for it?).

  11. mcjunkie says

    If you are looking for replacement switches and relays, they can still be had…just google pass and seymour low voltage switches or relays. Don’t let the electrician tell you that he can’t find them. Mine ordered them from his supplier. They are lots more expensive that regular line voltage switches, but much less than tearing into your walls and rewiring your house.

  12. Kingola says

    Birgitta, yours is a low voltage system made by Sierra Electric originally.

    They went out of business, but were bought by Pass and Seymour who still make the switches and, I believe, the straps needed to install them.

    The shape of the switches is called “Despard”.

    In the master bedroom at our place, we have a switch with the rotary just like you have, its very cool.

    As the relays have gone south, they have been replaced by GE RR7s, which do the job just fine.

    One place to seek wall plates and switches would be here:

    If you were to find an online Pass and Seymour catalog, simply type “despard” in the search and the proper section will come up.

    They are still making the switches in a variety of colors, too…



    • pam kueber says

      Thanks, Kingola, for these tips and for sharing your experience. However I do want to add to Birgitta and others: Consult with licensed professionals when dealing with environmental and safety issues in your homes — and I would put electrical issues squarely in this category.

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