Vintage Telephones
Conrad Biernacki

   "If you're a collector looking for a good investment, vintage phones have been steadily increasing in value," says Toronto-based telephone restoration expert Doug McCron. Who should know better than McCron, who has been refurbishing phones for the past 25 years - long enough to have earned himself the nickname "The Telephone Man"? In that time, the children of customers have even started coming to him in search of the phones that they grew up with. "Old telephones have character and were built to last, not like today's high-tech throwaways," add McCron. "They're easily repairable and, with just a few adjustments, very usable."

   Historical Notes

In vogue in the 1890's, "long boxes" were just that - large rectangular oak boxes (with a crank handle on the side) that hung on the wall, usually in the kitchen. By the early 1900s, the black-painted brass candlestick phone, with its footed stem supported by a daffodil-shaped transmitter and ear piece, was a popular tabletop model. By 1924, most metal phones had rotary dials for operator-free calling. The oval cradle phone, with a top-mounted handset combining both transmitter and receiver, appeared in 1930. Today, the cradle phone is commonly called a Humphrey Bogart phone because it often appears in old movies. It was also around that time that colours first became available; for an added premium of $10, customers could choose from jade green, red, ivory and rose beige. Square metal phones appeared from about 1936 to 1942, after the Second World War, cheaper, lightweight plastic models became popular. By 1954, a more rounded shape was being produced, with the introduction of push-button numbers (arranged in the shape of a rotary dial) in 1964.

   What To Look For

   Always make sure that a vintage phone is complete - candlestick and some cradle phones, for example, have a separate baseboard-mounted ringer box that houses a battery and a bell. If you consider a vintage phone an investment, then choose one of the rarer coloured models instead of the more common black phones.

   Price Tag

Want a vintage phone to do more than just look good? Then pick up one that's been upgraded for contemporary use, with dials recalibrated and transmitter cores replaced for improved sound quality. Long boxes range from $350 to $700; candlesticks go for about $500, with rare nickel-plated ones priced as high as $1000. Cradle phones are about $275; colours other than black will cost about $100 more.

   For More Information

  • Antique Telephone Collectors Association Newsletter, P.O. Box 94, Abilene, Kan. 67410-0094, (785) 263-1757
  • Telephones: Antique to Modern (Schiffer Publishing) by Kate E. Dooner
  • Telephone Collecting: Seven Decades of Design (Schiffer Publishing) by Kate E. Dooner
  • 100 Years of Bell Telephones (Schiffer Publishing) by Richard Mountjoy

   Where To Find It

   The Telephone Man
, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (416) 284-8058

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