Today’s teenagers find it hard to believe there ever was a time when their ancestors didn’t spend 3 hours every night gossiping on the telephone. Decades ago that would have been unthinkable.
Antique telephones hearken back to a simpler time when life was less complicated. Perhaps that is one of the reasons antique telephones have become increasingly popular in recent years. From appearances in movies, television shows, on desks in magazine layouts, everything old is new again. However, unlike many other collectibles, most antique telephones can still be used today, adding a touch of style and uniqueness to any home or business.
Antique telephones made in the 1920’s are among the most popular old phones, mainly because the Roaring Twenties were when candlestick phones became more widespread, starting to appear in the houses of the wealthy. Candlestick phones were made out of mostly brass and still look great today.
The 1920’s also saw the introduction of the desk phone, sometimes called a desk set. Desk phones were made out of Bakelite (an early form of plastic), or metal. Wall phones from the 20’s are also available, although they are more rare and were normally made out of wood and metal.
Candlestick phones and desk phones often had the bell and other equipment in a separate box that was often hidden. The square or rectangular box was the what actually rang, not the phone. Thus the term ‘set’ is used to refer to the phone and the box.
Telephones made before 1910 did not have a rotary dial. The person placing the call would pick up the ear piece, hold the mouthpiece up, and ask the operator to place the call. An example of a non-rotary candlestick phone can be found in almost any television episode of the Andy Griffith Show. Andy would ask Sarah the operator to help place his call.
By the 1920’s almost every phone had a rotary dial, which is one of the reasons they are more popular with collector’s today.
Desk phones were introduced in the 1920’s and quickly gained widespread popularity. By the end of the decade manufacturers had phased out candlestick phones. The desk phone of the 1920’s would also introduce the shape of the traditional home telephone for the rest of the century.
For most antique telephones with a rotary dial, the only updating needed to use the phone with today’s phone lines is putting on a modular jack, which costs less than a dollar and can be done in minutes.
Some collectors offer restored antique phones for sale. They replace worn parts, install a modular jack, clean and repair the base if needed, and the phone is ready to plug in and start calling.