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Vintage fuse and breaker panels in Italy

Back in the day, Italy didn't have a single system for fuse boxes or breaker panels, unlike for example the Wylex fuse boxes in the UK, the Edison screw fuses in North America or some of the self-contained Diazed fuseboxes found in parts of Continental Europe.

Instead, separate fuse holders (and, later, breakers) were available which could then be screwed onto a board or an electrical enclosure of some sort. This was obviously more time-consuming, though it wouldn't have been as much of a problem back then as houses had very few circuits, typically only two.

Fuse holders

Fuse holders can vary considerably in design, but they all fall into two categories: they can be cartridge-based, or rewireable.
Their main disadvantage was that they're not resettable; of course, while this would later be solved by breakers becoming cheaper and seeing mass adoption, their much higher complexity put them out of the price range of most people even decades after their introduction.

Rewireable fuse holders have the advantage of being cheap - you could buy cards with fuse wire of different sizes that would last for quite a while. However, they took more skill to install (you generally needed to use a screwdriver) and there wasn't any protection against people using the wrong type of wire or something like a paperclip.

Cartridge fuses, on the other hand, only required removing the old one by unscrewing a cap and installing the new fuse. They were however more expensive (as each fuse was enclosed in ceramic). Note that in Italy the Diazed fuse system used in most other European countries was considerably less popular, and generally used more for industrial applications.

These days, you'll essentially never find an old fusebox still in place. A big part of that is due to RCDs having been made mandatory in 1990 even for existing houses; given how cheap breakers are nowadays, it made more sense to replace the entire board than try to retrofit an RCD next to old fuse holders.

Ceramic rewireable fuse holder

This was one of the earliest types of fuse holder ever used in Italy, likely due to its simplicity. It consists simply of a ceramic base (bakeilite versions also existed), with a lid that screws on top of it, with screw terminals for the wires and the fuse wire itself.

Obviously, this was quite unsafe, and it meant that it was necessary to turn the power off to replace a fuse, which was quite inconvenient.

"Tobacco tin" fuse holder

The so-called "portafusibile a tabacchiera", tobacco tin fuse holder, was one of the most popular styles of fuse holder in Italy until the 50s. They consisted of a ceramic base with metal contacts, with screws to connect the line and load wires, and a removable lid (also made of ceramic) where the fuse wire was held.

Both single and double-pole examples existed; this particular one is a double pole one, and it's in remarkably good condition. This probably means that it was never used at all, as normally used electrical items show signs of wear and tear.

Edison socket cartridge fuses

These are some early examples of cartridge fuses. The fuses themselves were built out of metal, with ceramic as an insulator. The fuse holder is made out of a single piece of ceramic and has two E27 sockets for the two fuses - that means that changing a fuse is as easy as changing a lightbulb.

The top also has the screw terminals, which, while slightly recessed, are still very easy to touch. This meant that the user would have had to pay extra attantion not to touch them and get a shock when replacing a fuse.

This style of fuse holder is somewhat similar to the American ones, and in fact one of those fits perfectly as they also use an Edison socket.

These were also used in other parts of Europe, not just Italy, but were replaced quite quickly by the much safer Diazed system, which, unlike this one, doesn't allow changing the fuse for one of a higher rating.

"Signorini" rewireable fuse holder

This is another style of fuse holder, quite similar to the "tobacco tin" one shown earlier, though this was likely newer. The main difference is that this one has two separate lids for each fuse, and the lids are held with a metal nut which screws onto a tread present on the fuse holder itself.

While the metal screw is kept separate from the fuse wire through some ceramic guides, there might be a possiblity that a melted fuse would make it live, and thus place the user in danger of receiving a shock, so this doesn't seem like a particularly great design.

25A rewireable fuse holder

This is also a rewireable fuse holder; however, it's rated at 25A. Because of this, it has much larger contacts which make the fuse carriers really hard to remove.

This specific model is in acceptable shape, though one of the screws has been replaced by a random one which sticks out of the back. Also, both fuses have been replaced by random pieces of wire, which highlights one of the main problems with rewireable fuses.

BTicino cartridge fuses

These BTicino fuse holders were very common around the 60s-70s, and were used for many applications, both in fuse boxes as well as isolator switches. They use small fuses, which are held in threaded holders which can be unscrewed to remove them.

Various different models were made over the years, varying in current rating, number of fuses (this one has two) and style of mounting (panel-mount versions were also available, for industrial use).

BTicino 642 rewireable fuse holder

The 642 fuse holders were quite common back in the day, especially as isolator switches for things like electric water heaters. They're simple rewireable fuse holders with a built-in switch; the fuse is removed by taking off the front cover, which also has a small compartment to store replacement fuses.

This model, which as also available with the cartridge fuses seen earlier, was so popular that modern-day replacements exist which enable the use of modern DIN rail breakers (an example is shown here).


Early breakers were very large, owing to their complex mechanism. This also made them quite expensive, it took a few decades for them to become cheap enough to find their place in household installations.

It's worth mentioning that early breakers often didn't necessarily work the same as modern ones. Modern circuit breakers found in Europe are all thermal-magnetic, with a thermal element that acts on overloads and a magnetic one for short-circuits. Some early breakers, however, only had one of the two mechanisms, which may make them unsuitable for use nowadays.

Zeus Rapizzi breaker

This is one of the earliest types of breaker to be sold in Italy. Being so early, they were initially only used for indutrial or commercial use, or (apparently) as limiters for power companies.

The breaker has a surprisingly modern appearance for its age, with a lever to turn the power on or off like on modern ones. Removing the screw on the front reveals the insides, with the wire connection and mechanism. It works entirely magnetically: once the current being pulled is large enough, a metal piece is pulled upwards and then held in place until the breaker is reset.

The breaker is double-pole, something common at the time, though notably the two poles are allowed to trip indipendently, so a fault tripping only one side would leave the other one still live. Additionally, it's worth noting that, unlike some other early breakers, this one doesn't have a user-adjustable trip current.

BTicino double-pole breaker

BTicino breakers were some of the most popular types of early breakers in use in Italy. As with many breakers of this age, it's quite large and built on a ceramic base, with a metal cover on top of it. Turning the power on or off was done using large buttons on the front, a feature common at the time.

Interestingly, unlike some of the other breakers shown later, this one doesn't allow the user to modify its tripping current, which is set at 9A, as written on a label viewable from a window present in the front cover. The controls for it are likely there, but hidden under a sealed plastic cover - it's likely that breaking the seal would have voided the warranty of the device, and any guarantee of protection.

BTicino single-pole breaker

This later style of BTicino breaker was much more common than the one seen earlier. The front cover is made of plastic, instead of metal, and has two removable pieces which could be used to feed wire or conduit.

The trip current was changeable by the user simply by installing different types of shunts (special types of metal strips) on the back and turning the fine adjustment knob on the front. A label is present on the front, boasting the special metal composition of the contacts of this breaker, as well as having a space usable to write down the trip current that had been set.

AVE type 1902 breaker

BTicino breakers weren't the only ones sold at the time, of course; this one is made by the company AVE, and works essentially the same as the ones shown previously. It, too, has a trip current changeable by the user, in this case using a small wheel on the side. It can be set from 12 to 25A.

One interesting feature about most of these breakers is that the front cover can be secured with a seal; this would have been useful to prevent againt tampering, such as if these were used as limiter breakers by a power company.

AVE "PIM" breaker

As technology progressed, the size of breakers got smaller and smaller. This is evident with this breaker, which, while not as tiny as the later DIN rail ones, has a much closer appearance to them and takes up considerably less space than the ones shown previously.

The name of this breaker, moulded into the plastic casing, is PIM, which stands for "small magneto-thermal breaker"; evidently, the significant size difference compared to older models was an important selling point.

Siemens DIN rail breaker

This is an early style of DIN rail breaker. Not much is different from modern-day ones, aside from the older design language of it, but there are still some minor differences.

It's rated at 16A, and uses the now-obsolete type L. Additionally, the screw terminals are of an older style, with a large amount of exposed metal.


As explained previously, RCDs are devices which sense the difference between the currents in the line and neutral wires and trip if that exceeds a certain limit - because of this, in the technical terminology used in Italy they are referred to as "differential interruptors".

The earliest RCDs were sold by BTicino under their "Salvavita" trademark; this name was so popular that it's now the way RCDs are referred to colloquially.

Early RCD breaker from AVE

This early RCBO (RCD breaker) is from the same lineup as the PIM breaker shown earlier. It's considerably larger than later models and, while it did come with a bracket to mount it on a DIN rail, it's only supported from one side and thus tends to sag.

On the front, aside from the usual on/off lever and test button, there's also a sensitivity adjustement, which sets the trip current to either 30mA ("maximum protection") or 300mA ("reduced protection"). The former is the standard RCD trip current in Europe, and would be needed to protect the life of people, while the latter setting could be used to protect a TT installation (which is essentially the only type of earthing system used in Italy). Note that this control is actually hard-set to 30mA, with a seal to prevent it from being changed.

Other devices

BTicino single-pole switch

Rating: 26A 380V

This is a fairly single-pole switch; it doesn't feature any sort of protection other than providing a safe way to interrupt a circuit. This could have been used, for example, for isolation of a fixed appliance such as a water heater or as the main switch of a fusebox.

Like with other devices by BTicino shown on this page, it features removable covers to feed wire or conduit through.