Miniature model 500 phonePeripheral collections are great aren’t they? When you’re out hunting for whatever it is that you collect and having no luck, you come across something that ties to it. I combed through the stuff at my favorite flea market yesterday in hopes of finding old phones, but instead I came home with an interesting telephone-related item. At first it appeared to be a toy telephone, but upon closer inspection I could see that this accurately rendered model 500 served another purpose, one that I’ve yet to determine with total confidence. The seller said it was an inkwell, but I found that highly unlikely. After all, how many inkwells were produced in the Model 500 era? In the center of the dial (where the number card would be) is a hole that does indeed look like the opening of an inkwell, complete with ink remnants. But before we go into full mystery-solving mode, let’s go over the details of this little beauty.
It is plastic and looks, for all intents and purposes, to be the same plastic used on the actual phones. Even the color is a dead-ringer for the aqua blue used by Western Electric. The handset is removable, and held in position on the body of the phone with two holes on the underside. These holes line up with the “plungers” on the phone itself. No cord, or place to accommodate one, is present. It has a clear plastic fingerwheel (non-moving) and a tiny metal(?) finger stop. It is 4 ½” from front-to-back, and the handset measures 4″ in length. The height is approximately 2 ½” with handset in place. On the bottom is what appears to be a piece of cardboard, secured by four screws. A rectangular area of the cardboard is discolored, and I strongly suspect that a label once resided there. The presence of that label would certainly have answered at least some of our questions, but we’ll carry on undeterred.
The “inkwell” opening seems to taper internally, almost like a pencil sharpener, but there’s no such apparatus inside. (Neither is there sufficient capacity to hold ink) Is it possible that this phone is nothing more than a novelty pen holder? The copious amount of ink stain (most of which I’ve been able to remove) could have led the seller to believe it was an inkwell, when it had simply fallen victim to an exploding ballpoint. On the other hand, I suppose I could have been mistaken for a high-rolling inkwell collector, but then he probably would have asked more than $10. At any rate, I can’t say for certain what the purpose of this little phone could have been, but hopefully some clever reader out there will know all about these and share with us. Until then, I’m going to consider it a pen/pencil holder!

Mystery solved. My buddy Dennis Markham sent me a link to one of these that’s now (5-13-08) at auction on eBay, a black one complete with its original pen. The auction phone also has a sticker, missing on my example, that says “Mastercraft, Inc. - Tel-O-Pen - Monterey, Calif.” So, there you go!