A friend was recently bemoaning the lack of contact from a student son away at university. Our offspring, seemingly glued to their hi-tech devices, cannot appreciate our telephonic trials and tribulations. Evenings spent shivering in cold hallways or draughty phone boxes certainly didn’t make surreptitious courting conversations very easy!
Undoubtedly considered antique by anyone under 30, old ‘wired’ telephones are very collectable. They have a nostalgic charm, especially for those who remember dialling a number as opposed to pressing, swiping or speaking it.
The telephone’s creation is hotly contested due to a race among at least six prominent inventors, including German Johann Philipp and Italian-American Antonio Meucci. Famously, Scotsman Alexander Graham Bell registered the first patent in 1876, beating American Elisha Grey by just a few hours.
Vintage phones generally fall into three groups. Candlestick phones, produced from the 1890s until the 1920s, are still in great demand, especially the earliest turn of the century nickel-plated models.
Wood wall phones, produced up to the 1920s, have lost much of their appeal. Undeniably stylish, they are bulky, heavy, and few now remember growing up with them. However, early Charles Williams or American Bell handmade examples from the 1880s are highly valued.
Desk phones, produced from the 1920s on, make up the bulk of the hobby today. Bakelite 1920s and 30s sets have added appeal for Art Deco collectors, with Kellogg’s 925, or ‘Ashtray', the epitome, starting at around £100.
Groovy 1960s and 70s phones popular with retro collectors include Ericsson’s Ericofon, Western Electric’s Princess and Trimline models, and the Trimphone.
Most people enquiring after vintage phones at the centre want to be able to use them as working landline phones, and there is a large sector of lovingly restored fully usable models.
Be aware that ‘candlestick’ telephones are nicknamed “Operator! Operator!” phones for a reason: early models didn’t have a dial at all. Simply connecting you to the operator for manual onward connection, even the most die-hard period devotee would have trouble using one today!