The photographs above show both the top and bottom of the J-38 Morse code key. Where does the J-38 name come from? Well, it was the U. S. Signal Corps that assigned their telegraph keys with the letter "J" and then a number. This practice started during the WWI era and ended in the 1950's. The number range begins at J-1 and ends at J-51. Unlike the J-37 key which uses a leaf spring, the J-38 employs a coil spring to return the arm after it has been depressed.
The J-38 CW key has a vast and wonderful history behind it. The J-38 key was used by all branches of the U.S. military. The J-38 key was produced by numerous manufacturers in very large numbers during the 1940's and later. Do not be surprised if you have a J-38 key in your collection without a manufacturers name on it. Many of the manufacturers did not place their name on the keys that they produced for whatever reason. Many collectors try to identify the maker of their J-38 key by the physical characteristics of the key. They use such things as the shapes and physical size of the various components along with the types of metals used on these components.
The J-38 can some times be found in its original training configuration. When the J-38 was used for training, each student's key was secured to a table, and was wired into the training system with two wires. One wire was connected to the "LINE" terminals, while the cans(headphones) wire was connected to the "TEL" terminals. With the students closer circuit in the closed position, the student could listen to the practice code that was being sent over the line. When the student wanted to practice sending, he would simply open the keys closer circuit and tap away. More information on how this training system was configured can be found in the February 2, 1942 dated United States manual TM 11-432. Of course the J-38 was used for much more then just training, and the history of these telegraph keys and where they were used can be quite fascinating.
When one thinks of the J-38 key, the name Lionel often comes to mind and for good reason. But beware of the many Lionel imitations that are out there. Some have shown up for sale with just the letter "L" stamped into the base. If you are after an original Lionel J-38 key, the type you will want to be on the look out for will have "The Lionel Corporation, New York, N.Y." in raised letters in the center of the base on top. The J-38 in the photographs on this page is an imitation that was made in Japan. While it does not have the quality of the original J-38 keys from the WWII era, the price also reflected that fact and this key would be perfect for a practice set-up for any one interested in sending Morse code.