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The Simple Joys of Phone Books

Started by bingster, February 07, 2009, 01:56:10 PM

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Every once in a while I remember to add to my regular ebay searches a search for "chesapeake and potomac," our local Bell company.  Last week I did it for the first time in a month or so, and up popped a matched set of 1948 DC telephone directories, which include the close-in suburbs of Maryland (where all my family is from) and Virginia.  I coulda peed myself, I was so happy.  After a bit of a bidding tussle for each book, I wound up with both of them.

It's an odd thrill to flip through a phone book this old and find loads of family and old family friends.  I have a Richmond, Virginia combo white/yellow pages from 1937 somewhere, and it was fun going through it when I got it, but with these, it's different.  I know these people and companies.  I know the streets and the exchanges.  I can't remember being so happy with an ebay purchase, so just I had to tell somebody.

Each book is fairly big at around a thousand pages each, and the pages are in great shape.  I have to be careful with the white pages, though, because the front cover has an odd brittle stripe (the brown stripe in the photo), and it's already becoming detached there.  Obviously, these weren't meant to be browsed through sixty years after they were printed.  I wonder how much longer they'll last.  That cheap, thin paper does get brittle over time (my Richmond directory was like that in the 1980s).

If you know anybody who might have lived in or around DC in the 1940s, I'll be glad to look up a number for you! ;D


Too cool to be true that you found those phone books which you have a personal connection to.  Interesting that they were selling British Austins in the DC area after the war, these books are a great piece of cultural history.


I'm still searching for my roots phonebook, you gave me new hope.

The More People I meet, The More I Love, and MISS My Dog.  Dan Robinson


Bingster -

That 1948 White pages is too good to lose. I would look up a bookbinder or bindery, and get that White Pages fixed before it comes apart. A good bookbinder will put the book in a press, shave off the current binding (maybe 1/16 inch), strengthen the cover, and rebind the whole thing. Books like this are done with hot glue, I think.

I believe they can also neutralize the acid in the paper covers and pages, which is what is causing it to get brittle and brown.


Dennis Markham

Bingster, those phone books are very cool.  I love looking at the old car photos and other things from the day.  A while back I was lucky enough to find one from the small town in northern Michigan where both of my parents were from.  The phone book is from 1960, so not nearly as old as yours.  But it has all my relatives listed (including my Grandmothers) and includes a yellow pages ad for an Uncle's business.  The phone numbers are listed as exchanges. 

It really is a trip down memory lane to look inside one of those books with the past pressed between the covers--like a time capsule.  Being that I'm a pack-rat, among the things I've saved and drug around with me all these years is our family phone book from 1968 when I was 13 years old living in Cocoa Beach, Florida.  I don't know what caused me to throw it in a box and keep it all these years but I'm glad I did.  On the back cover there was a place to write frequently called numbers.  Seeing them now caused me to remember names of friends I had forgotten about.  There was also some handwritten things that my mother had written so it's quite a keep-sake.  It really is fun and I urge anyone that has an opportunity to get a phone book from their past to do so.

For some interesting reading, check out this story about a guy and his brother that collected phone books as kids.  It became a passion for them and they traveled the U.S. in the summer of 1967 in their old Chevy, just picking up phone books.  When I first read this a year or two ago the man was selling the collection.   There is a link at the top of the page called Old Telephone Books.  You can look for books for sale in your area.  Here is the link to the story.