Old telephones can be worth a pretty penny

A 1930s Bakelite telephone
A 1930s Bakelite telephone
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Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn takes a look a back to a time before mobile phones...

Following on from last week’s look at televisions, this week we are featuring another household gadget that we wouldn’t be able to live without these days.

There is barely a house in the country that does not have a telephone. The first public exhibition of this ground-breaking innovation was over 130 years ago in Boston, USA. Its invention is usually credited to the Scotsman, Alexander Graham Bell, who discovered an idea for the phone accidentally, in June 1875. His first communication, nine months later is reputed to have been to his assistant saying: “Come here Watson – I want you.”

However, claims for the invention were made initially by American Elisha Grey who patented the design on the same day as Bell (but unluckily a few hours later) and German Philip Reis who allegedly made a telephone-like contraption out of a beer barrel and sausage skin 16 years earlier. Old telephones are often collectors’ items because they have a nostalgic charm and probably so many of us yearn for the days when we dialled a number as opposed to typing it.

Fortunately, almost all can be converted to be used with modern systems so they are functional as well as decorative.

Phones generally fall into three groups: the candlestick phone with a separate mouth and earpiece, the wall-mounted phone, often in wooden cases, and the more conventional triangular box-shaped phone. All of which have their own market of collectors.

The telephones of the 1930s are the most widely

obtainable today and are also very reasonably priced. They also have the added appeal to art deco collectors of being made from Bakelite.

Telephones are a fairly

recent addition to our home, but have revolutionised our lives, perhaps more than any other invention.

In our times of mobiles, iPads, FaceTime and apps, an old dial telephone may seem like something from the distant past. It’s hard to accept that until very recently (in collectors’ terms) it was the only form of communication and was seen as a luxury in some homes.

This grey two tone phone is from the 1970s and we had this exact model in our house for many years, so it brought back some memories for me when it came into the centre recently. It is still working and on sale for £35.