"The phone is a remarkably complex, simple device,
and very rarely ever needs repairs, once you fix them." - Dan/Panther

Main Menu

What Made You Start Collecting Telephones?

Started by Doug Rose, June 06, 2010, 01:51:59 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


Hadn't seen this topic before.

Wanted a companion piece for some office antiques: an old GE fan from early 1900's, and a Royal #10 typewriter from 1923 to name a couple. 

Bought a brassed out candlestick phone & homemade subset for (what I later learned) was way too much money.  Turns out most of it was legit, just overpriced.

Since I like learning about most anything-- especially antiques-- the candlestick led to a second, more 'collectable' phone... And a third... And...  ; )

Now I'm up to my ears in telephones, typewriters, adding machines, fountain pens, clocks, barometers, mantle lamps...  You name it, and pack rat that I am-- probably have one, or something similar lying around. 


I always had an interest in ELctronic items.

When I was a wee child in the late 60s we moved to a new house. It was a new house that was prewired for phone but I remember following the phone guy (Pacific Northwest Bell as it was then) around as he installed a phone in the kitchen, and one upstairs. I remeber I was so impressed that he could pull the wires out of the wall and know what color to connect where . He put these really cool modern looking round wall plates on the wall with the hard wired cords sticking out the hole.

I also remeber this is when I learned to dial 1191 and hand up to make the phone ring

I remember my mother correcting the installer that the trimline phone had to be 'baby poo yellow" and it was so cool to the the external transformer illuminate the dial pad.

Several months later it was just before christmas I remember that a neighbor kid had an AE desk set (Model 80??) with plastic case with metal base, probably the current model at the time. It was missing a fingerwheel but other than that it worked. I thought it was so weird , so different from the (Western Electric) phones I had seen. It was a day after christmas and do not recall what the christmas gift I received that year was but it was soon traded for the AE 80. I had been able to get enough information out of the installer guy to know how to actually wire it up and it worked.

It seems the adults decided I was taken advantage of by the neighbor kid and demanded that I give him the phone back to get whatever that christmas gift was back. I refused and kept the phone.

I remember studying how the dial worked and taking it apart further and further . Later I acquired more telephones , and more electronics in general, mostly broken non- working phones that most would have considered garbage.

I was really good at taking them apart and re-assembly was only a dream.

I went on acquiring these items over all other electronic items , sometimes I got only a mic element or a handset

One day I was at school and my mother came into my bedroom and threw away all of my phone parts. I was broken hearted to find them all gone

At about 10 years old I remember my mother always had a clock radio next to her bed, and as I took out the trash I saw it there , removed it from the trash and took it to my room for further exploration. I found an exploded electrolytic capacitor and when I showed it to a family friend, he helped me to relpace it, then to re-string the radio dial (which I would have never been able to figure out).

My mother returned home one day to find that clock radio at her bedside a few days after tossing it out and asked me why it was back. After telliing her I fixed it she never threw away another electronic component froom my bedroom again! My phone collection grew and was sacred no matter the condition or level it was disassembled. I guess she had realized the value in what I was learning.

I remember a few yeas later a building in the neighborhood that had buned down some neighbor kids tore the boards off and got into . One told me there was an old payphone in there . I was willing to do anything for it so I went into the old burned up building and there it was in all its glory. The wall had burned and the payphone , a 3 sloter laid there on the burned  floor in all its metalic glory mostly undamaged from the fire, just as it had fallen in the fire. It was so heavy i could have never got it home alone and only ended up taking the dialing instructions card which incredibly was not burned. The phone eventually came my way after some of the bigger kids got it out and sold or traded me something for it, but by that time it had been disassembled , broken into, etc. It was 70% of a WE 3 slot payphone, and a tremendous piece to add to my collection.

later I remeber I also acquired one of The Dutch PTT phones (Ericsson??) from radio shack. I left it premanently connected to the line then came the call from the phone company about "unauthorized phone on the line". I quickly learned to disconnect the bell. YES YOU CAN CHEAT THE PHONE COMPANY , and then phreaking began.

I was always seen as the weird kid.  Why would he want old phones?

Over time I had 3 telephone collections completely lost 
1 to my mother as a child in her cleaning rage. (mostly fragments and parts)

2 when I did military service and left some at my uncle's home and were stolen form there when someone got into his basement.

3 My ex wife claimed in a divorce they were "donated"  to the Goodwill but would never say which goodwill. She knew the value of them.

Each loss was never a deterrent rather a motivation to continue. I currently sit here surround by a disassebled french novelty phone , 2  Rotary Ericssons circa 1980, working, ATC Snoopy just reassmbled after a clening and resurfacing of snoopy who had yellowed, Beige WE princess rotary disassembled, Rotary WE green trimline and some simulated brass Japanese phone.

Phat Phantom's phreaking phone phettish


Great story, Markosjal!  Thanks for sharing your journey of perseverance.  I have no story, really.  When I was a kid, we had one yellow 554 in the kitchen, but I always liked the 500s I saw in other people houses.  Several years back I decided I needed something to work on for fun that could easily fit into small available chunks of time.  I wanted something electro-mechanical from the 50s/60s, inexpensive, good quality.....  Then I remembered those 500s that I'd admired as a kid.  I found a nice black one on EBay to start.  Then to learn more about it, I started searching and found this forum.  What a great group of people, always willing to help! 

Vern P

Some fun stores. As for me nothing  that exciting.  As a kid in the '60s, I wanted a phone in my room. We only had the 1 phone in the kitchen.  I found a 2500 in the trash, hook it up next to my Dad's chair.  We were on a party line, (we were #2 on the line) Dad would make long distint call on that phone, the call were billed to the other party.  After the phone co. came out, to see way,  we changed to a Private line. That was around '75.  It was some time before I got one put in my room. Now I have a room just for the phones, all 200+.  I have 13 phones on line (not all ring), there are only 2 TT, one is in the bathroom, due to size (2554).


Lee David Day

Shortly after the touch tone phones came out I saw a TV news
feature showing hundreds of dial telephones being crushed. The idea
was they were now obsolete and useless. I have always been a coin collector
so I knew, as those old phones became scarce, their value would go
up. I started buying them for a dollar or two at yard sales and flea
markets and socking them away. As time went on I also fell in love with
with them. I now have over 80, all sizes shapes and models. I have also
since retired and now have the time to clean them up and get them all
working. I also intend to trade or sell duplicates if anyone is interested


"if anyone is interested"
Of course we would be interested!
Harry Smith
ATCA 4434

"There is no try,
there is only
do or do not"

Butch Harlow

I think what made me start the collection was my lament in not being able to slam down the receiver when angry. Cell phones are expensive when you angrily throw them at a wall, and the effect is just not the same. As a kid we always had WE 500 and 2500 phones, they were amazingly durable. The bug of collecting the phones came from my technical background and need for a more interesting hobby. I am an HVAC tech and maintenance man, I needed something to tinker with that wasn't an air conditioner or toilet. Ebay provides the gambler in me some satisfaction, so buying phones there, researching them, and repairing them satisfies everything. Then making calls and angrily hanging up on people is a real bonus. I don't actually have anger issues, I just love the effect of slamming the receiver down. I am currently stuck on only WE and NE phones, but I am sure I will expand that eventually. That is, if I don't drive the wife away first.
Butch Harlow


Quote from: Butch Harlow on July 15, 2017, 09:50:43 AM
I think what made me start the collection was my lament in not being able to slam down the receiver when angry. Cell phones are expensive when you angrily throw them at a wall, and the effect is just not the same.

There is an unmistakable sound when your on the other end of the "slam down". A great way to round out a heated phone conversation, something lost in the era of touch screen.


I saw a D1/202 phone at an antique store about 25 yrs ago. I took it home and hooked it up and thought it was defective as it did not ring when called. I opened it up only to had no bells! Someone had put a mini network in the base to make it work without a subset. That was my first old phone, which has led to many more. Then I got a job with the phone company which really got my interest going. I am proud to say that both my 9 and 11 yr old kids know how to use a rotary telephone as well as magneto phones. I have an asterisk system that I have set up extensions for many of the old phones. One manual phone even is set up to auto dial a number when taken off the hook. Such fun. Sometimes I find myself going out to the shed and turning cranks on magneto phones just to hear them ring. Possibly something is wrong with me.

Jim Stettler

Quote from: shadow67 on November 12, 2018, 10:26:59 AM
Sometimes I find myself going out to the shed and turning cranks on magneto phones just to hear them ring. Possibly something is wrong with me.

I doubt if anyone here thinks that. Your actions help the rest of us appear normal.
Jim S.
You live, You learn,
You die, you forget it all.


What made me start collecting phones...

As a teenager I visited a house where the owner had a small collection of Bakelite phones. They were in another room and I could just see them through the open door. I wanted to take a closer look but the owner was out. I never went there again. But I never forgot those phones, I thought they looked smart.

Years later I moved into a new flat (apartment) and on the floor of one of the rooms was an Ivory GPO 300 series phone. In a cupboard was a GPO 150 Candlestick. Both undamaged, unwanted and with the original dialcard for my 'new' telephone number. They had been installed in that property when new.

My own collection began that day. And I still have them.
A collector of  'Monochrome Phones with Sepia Tones'   ...and a Duck!
Vintage Phones - 10% man made, 90% Tribble


I jump around with hobbies. I collect old German radios, antique books, old clocks, old watches, old guns, test equipment, old optics, and whatever else I'm interested in. So when my wife told me she wanted a phole like Lucy has on "I love Lucy", I bought a Western Electric 302.  She wanted a phone like the old lady on the Twilight zone "Night caller", then I bought a WE D1. My collection is small, 5 phones.


Well I started with a phone my dad removed from an old house when he was looking for property to buy. We just moved to New Hampshire and he and his brother were looking to make a new start and wanted property on which to build a new house. Well this old black WE 500 with metal dial hadn't been used in years, he didn't know how to connect it up, so I took one that the phone company put in the house, removed the cover and looked at the connections and copied them down and made the old phone connections the same. Connected the base cord and whala it worked.

My dad was impressed, he knew I liked fiddling with electronic and electrical things. After a while he had his business line connected to the house, had only one extension but wanted another in the master bedroom. So he asked me if I could use that old black phone and connect it to his business line in the bedroom. I said yea, but to run a wire from one end of the house to the other would be difficult because the house was built on solid bed rock, and crawling under the house in some areas was impossible. So I looked at the wire in the wall outlet and saw four wires, only two were used. So, I jumped the yellow and black wires to the CP (circuit protector) for his office line, connected the phone to the other end in the bedroom, and it worked!

My dad said I should work for the phone company, and I told him I'd love to. Well one day my dad was sick, (cancer) and wanted to know if I could connect the two lines into one phone, and some how switch between the lines. I said let me think about that, well after much thought I made a box up that used a relay and switch to operate the relay, and connected the two lines up to the one phone, and it worked.

This was before I knew about key sets, because that would have made life real easy. But my invention worked and he was very happy. After time I drifted away from phone stuff, and went for old pinball machines and vending machines.

I got an old candy machine on the side of the road, a building was being torn down, and in it was that machine, then I had a chance to buy a coke machine for cheap. It was in excellent condition, then I was looking at a magazine that was advertising as removed payphones. Then I thought that would be cool to have. All the time I was converting my dads work shop to a man cave, before man caves were a thought.

I had a pin, I had a coke/beer machine and a candy machine.

Now I wanted a payphone. So using parts from an old heathkit my dad gave me, an old tackle box, black spray paint and, and a G handset I found some where. I made a payphone. Using clear Plexiglas for the face plate, I back painted silver.

Drilled the hole for the dial, and the handset cord. Made a hanger from a F handset hanger (I don't remember the number) my uncle gave me from his days with ma bell. He said it was used on switch boards to hang a handset, fashioned a hook switch leaver. Put it all together and wired it up and it worked. Much to mine and my family's amazement. At some point I got a set from somewhere, it was in a fire, the housing was melted, I took parts out of for the network, and ringer, I added that and the network connected the new parts up and now I had a working payphone look almost alike. The clicking in the receiver was the only drawback. The simple dial in the kit had no contacts to short the receiver. So when dialing you wanted to keep the handset away from your ear.

Then a few years later I was given a NOS Beige WE 2565-HK wow that was real cool (to me). It took me a couple days sorting through all those wires to figure out how to connect it up to a single phone line. Well that was the start, the phone bug bit me, and I couldn't stop. I later came across a huge box of business phones, most NIB 2565, sets and other stuff. I was in heaven. I set out to build my own KSU to operate those phone's. Using a box that was used for well pump control equipment. It took many attempts to get the right set up. But I got it, and kept improving it over the years.

Then after the break up. I bought my first real unit with a bunch of 830 desk sets rotary multibutton sets. But still lacked female connectors. So I set out to source those, and find the tool to connect the wires.

After several hours working on the abandoned unit, I got it fully working. It had a 207A I believe that is the correct number dial intercom signaling unit. That in its self was a challenge. Then found the ATCA and joined, found key system manuals, so now I had it made. So that was the start of my collection, at one point had 102(looked brand new) with a #2 dial. 202s, 302s, 500/2500. 702s 2702s. In just about every color. Those were the days of yard sales and cheap phones.

But had to move, and down size big time. Also had payphones, mostly single slots, a couple 10-A and 11-A credit card sets. And a barn full of assorted single line and key telephone sets. Ahh those were the days... I still miss em, though next summer I'm going to build a payphone look a like much like that I made when I was 16, but I'm going to help my 10 year old boy do that. We're both looking forward to that.


Wouldn't call it "collecting" per se - at least not compared to the majority of the members here  :). As a matter of fact, my interests in "dinosaurs" are rather eclectic - I like antique or vintage fans, radios, TV, lamps, typewriters... And of course telephones. And reasons are primarily two - first one is a protest sentiment against an "everything disposable" society we live in, the concept of "planned obsolescence", and in general a desire not to follow the crowd. The second one is a simple fascination with technology of yesteryear, when (most) everything was built to last, was simple, functional, repairable, and had a certain degree of industrial design beauty, that I, as an engineer, learned to appreciate  ;)

So, I have decided to surround myself with a few objects, that are a pleasure to look at, are fully functional, integrated into my everyday life, and also serve as conversation pieces. Since I like learning new stuff, I basically made a decision to get those forgotten and discarded objects, that no one wants, and attempt to bring them back to life. I am pretty sure that I will never become a true collector, but there are a few phones that appeal to me aesthetically, and I have narrowed them down to the following list:

Western Electric B1/202 (1931) w/ 634BA subset
Western Electric 304, wired as 302 (1938)
Automatic Electric 40 (year unknown)
British GPO232 Grand Pyramid (1948)

And waiting for its turn to be restored is the last one - Automatic Electric 34 (1937)

Two other Western Electric D1/202's, WE 302 and an AE40 that I have restored in the mean time have all sailed to the new happy owners.

That's it in a nutshell.


As a child I was fascinated by all things electrical and technical.  I wanted to have such things of my own.  I used to buy as many of the popular magazines as my folks would allow and just as important as the articles and news stories were the myriad of advertisements and classifieds in the back of them.  One that always caught my eye were the ads from Burden Sales in Nebraska.  they put out a catalog that had fantastic stuff that the government saw fit to get rid of.  Two items I wanted more than anything were the AE40 and AE50 phones they had for sale.  Thanks to a birthday windfall, I found I could afford one.  Since my folks would kill me if I disfigured their walls, it had to be the 40.  I got it.  And after messing around with it. i finally decided to try to hook it up.  Our house had tie points in each room.  I worked with it, and a bit of trial and error, I got it to work.  A couple of days later, the friendly Indiana lineman came by to inform my parents there were too many telephones in our house.  I silently flew up to my room and disconnected and hid my phone.  After a couple of days, I set it back up and we got another visit.  After that my folks found my phone and that was all she wrote.  That got me started with phones and kept my interest up, and while in the Army, trained in microwave communications and frequency division multiplex systems.  I now work in UHF FM portables and mobiles and trunking communications systems, but still love the old familiar phones, starting my current collection with a good old AE40.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
— Arthur C. Clarke