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What Made You Start Collecting Telephones?

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

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I'm not rightly sure what exactly started me collecting telephones, but I do know I had a definite interest in them since I was a half-pint.

Back in the 70's when I was a young teenager, I had somehow acquired three or four AE phones and hooked them up at home after disconnecting the ringers. I had also sped the dials up considerably, which is very easy to do because of AE's governor design. I lived in what is now Shoreline, Washington on the EMerson exchange which was a 1XB at that time if I recall correctly; no issue with fast dial speed. One VERY funny incident happened about 1976 or so. My mother was talking long-distance to my aunt(?) in South Dakota and I was listening in. She mentioned that she was talking from her bedroom and I had hooked up some illegal phones; I promptly told my mother that she shouldn't say anything about them as there might be an operator tapped in. At that point the operator(!) busted up laughing... so the illegal phone hook-up was probably the genesis of my collecting.

Back in '82 or so, GTE had a HUGE surplus sale out here and I obtained a GTE three-slot pay phone- chrome- for $25, with nary a scratch on it. Wish I had bought more of them... hindsight is always 20/20...

I bought a couple of other dial phones back in the late 90's or so, but mainly for utilitarian purposes. Only around 2010 did I take an interest in actual collecting of phones, and it is still sporadic at best.

But phones ARE fun.
You know you have either phonitis or phonosis when your favorite film is "Dial Comes to Town".


For me telephone collecting was a rather recent thing. I'd always had an interest in telephones but never really had much time to collect them much or do much with them.

Over 10 years ago I once rigged up a 9V battery to a pair of trimline phones and a few RadioShack buzzers to make a rudimentary 2 way intercom thing. It worked pretty well.

A couple years ago I set up an Asterisk PBX in my basement and rigged it up with an ATA to two trimlines and a Cisco 7940 IP Phone (aka the phones known for their poorly designed hook switches -- should have used the machine at WE which pounded them for a while lol)... anyway I didn't do much, that PBX is wired to a VOIP line so that I can call it. I sometimes make calls with it now.

More recently though I started looking at how the Bell System worked and got real interested in the analog switching systems and how a crapload of relays, crossbars, step switches, etc formed such a network. In August I got the chance to go visit The Telephone Museum in Ellsworth, ME, one of very few museums to have a functioning crossbar switch, among other switching equipment. That visit was amazing. I didn't want to leave. Stayed at the museum from opening to closing (it was only 4 hours). I want to go there again...

Recently I modified my PBX to produce City Dial Tone and City Ring instead of the modern tones, to give it that bit of retro-ness. It sounds awesome on the old phones. I found an analog phone adapter that accepts dial pulse as well, which is pretty cool.

As for my phone collecting, my first rotary phone was a Western Electric "Celebrity" that belonged to my mother. I eventually found a few rotary phones (two 500 and one 554) in my cousin's father's house as well. Then after that I just started looking for phones and I have a pretty small collection so far but it's a start nonetheless.

Listening to Evan Doorbell's recordings of his phone exploring, I really wish I could have had the chance to play with the Bell System stuff when it was still in service. The modern digital PSTN is so boring now!

Here's the list of what I have, as of the date of this post, and in the order I got them

WE Celebrity
WE 554 yellow
WE 500 black with 9A dial
WE 500 black with 7D dial
WE 302 black, plastic housing
WE wall trimline 220, green
AT&T 702 Princess tan (broken!)
WE 2500 black
AE 80 black
The digital PSTN is so boring now. I wish I could have experienced what it was like to use the Bell System with all its analog wonders.

Well, at least we have museums. Right?


The stories a phone could tell. That is what draws me to collect phones. Until I found this phone, the only collection I had were some very cool novelty phones. (NASCAR oriented, M&M's, Pac Man) When I saw this 500 in the local collectibles mall my mind immediately began to wonder what conversations it had facilitated. How many family members checking in with loved ones, reporting on the days travels, calling in a pizza order? Lovers whispering sweet nothings, pillow talk? Harsh marks on the cradle tell the story of angry hang ups. One can only wonder what stories this phone could tell.

All I have done to it is a basic clean up. Nothing extensive. If it didn't smell of cigarette smoke one would question it's authenticity. The paint on the line cord documenting the passage of time & the repainting of the room, seem to belong.

The phone appears to be just as it was when placed into service in 1962 with no obvious upgrades.

Makes me wonder, what ignited your passion?


Panasonic 308/616 Magicjack service


I had more pictures, but they wouldn't upload no matter what I tried...

Panasonic 308/616 Magicjack service


Try resizing your images, nice phone, the one that got me was a 202


I really like it when a number card adds to the history of a telephone.  I found this ad on a 1989 newspaper page online, and also a post card.
Jim H.


I did several searches and didn't find that....very cool!...& the phone # matches....

Thanks for posting!

Panasonic 308/616 Magicjack service


Quote from: JimH on March 19, 2016, 09:59:39 PM
I really like it when a number card adds to the history of a telephone.  I found this ad on a 1989 newspaper page online, and also a post card.

A phone that comes with a history, now that's neat.

I have one with a little history as well. I have a multi-line that came that came out of a bank in a village not far from here. It was in the bank when it was robbed back in the early 80's.



I reconnected with my ex-wife after not seeing her for 34 years. We remarried on our original anniversary so I wouldn't have to remember two different dates. The two ceremonies were 37 years apart. We call the 34 year gap our 'failed divorce'. I moved into her home and she had a land line for her fax machine and a Vonage router for the rest of the house. Plus AT&T for cell service. She was paying three different phone bills per month. I convinced her we could ditch Vonage and put phones in every room. She was cool with that so I started looking for candidates. The first was a black 1955 Model 500. Next was a 1951 302. Then there was a black 1962 500. a 1940 302 followed and then...well, I had 60 phones in the house for a while.

I have it under control now, with only eight candlesticks, a 202, and two 302's in the permanent collection. The 1951 302 is still in the bedroom. There's a 51AL in the kitchen, and a Princess in her home office.

There's a bunch of 500's from the barn hoard on the floor in the den but they are just passing through. They are in what the wife calls the 'phone hospital'. May just have to keep the 2/51 501B ...and maybe the 3/51 500T...and, who am I kidding. I'll end up with 60 phones again.

Binge, purge, repeat...
"Things are never so bad they can't be made worse." - Humphrey Bogart


The Telephone Museum of Prince Edward Island:
Free Admission - Call (902) 651-2762 to arrange a visit!
C*NET 1-651-0001


Interesting stories...I know there are many more out there.... :)

PS  "Phone Hospital"...I like that!

Panasonic 308/616 Magicjack service


My passion for old phones probably took about 30 years or so to develop.  At some point in the 1980s I bought a Stromberg-Carlson manual desk phone, probably a 1243, for a few bucks at a yard sale.  I managed to get it working without the aid of the internet and used it for a while, amazing my friends by 'dialing' it with the hookswitch.  The transmitter had poor sound quality though.  As one of my friends put it: 'What's wrong with your phone?  You sound like Darth Vader.'  After a while, and maybe as a result of comments like that, I unplugged it and put it away and later got rid of it while downsizing for a move.

I liked old stuff back then but didn't really have any sort of collecting mentality.  For me, that started years later with telephone and telegraph insulators.  I had found one one fall out in the bush and taken it home.  Over the winter I researched it a bit and got interested.  When spring came I spotted a couple of more insulators at an early yard sale and bought them.   I had also decided I wasn't getting enough exercise so I put the 2 together and started hunting for insulators.  I would walk for miles on rail lines and found lots; first common ones that you could see on the ground, then older ones that you had to dig for.  I got fitter and a collector was born.  I read about fellow insulator collectors using metal detectors to locate tie wires (short pieces of wire used to tie the telegraph wire to the insulator) so I got one and started using that.  Soon I branched out into hunting for old coins and relics.

Between the insulators, and relics, I carted tons of stuff home and it was really piling up to the point where it was becoming a problem.  I pretty much stopped both activities except for the occasional outing and began trying to downsize the collections, which I am still working on.  I find it difficult to part with stuff that I put a lot of effort into getting and to decide what is truly good stuff that I should keep and what is junk that I should get rid of.  But things were getting out of hand and I began to feel that I was hoarding useless junk.  I have whittled this down a fair bit but still have a way to go.

At some point during this period, I had bought a 302 at a yard sale.  It didn't ring but I remembered from the SC phone years earlier that I could probably fix it if I had a wiring diagram.  I set the phone aside meaning to do that but forgot about it until I found a D1 missing dial, transmitter, and cap in a junk shop for 3 bucks.  I guess this was the phone that really got me going.  I found another handset to get a transmitter and cap from.  I remembered that I had a 2500 in storage that used to be my home phone, so I dug that out to rewire as a subset (thanks to wiring diagrams found on this forum before I joined), retaining the touch tone pad for when I needed it.  I bought a #6 dial for it but then remembered about the 302 I had so used the 5H from it and put the 6 in the 302 which I got working after the D1 was up and running.  I originally intended to only have a few vintage phones that I would use.  Somewhere around that time I joined the forum and my interest grew.  I have gone beyond what I originally intended but at some point I decided that maybe it was OK to collect things that I could actually use as long as I didn't get too carried away.    At around 30 phones +/- I think my collection is still relatively small.

I hope this didn't sound too much like an introduction at a hoarders anonymous meeting.   :D


Aside from my smart-Alec comment below about a match, I came by my interest, I think in a pretty good way - I know of at least one other who cme by his interest in exactly the same way, Don Woodbury.

I/we both grew up in Brockville, Ontario, the home of GTE/Automatic Electric and its precursor Phillips Electrical Works which  was run in conjunction with Phillips Wire and Cable untii the new plant was built in 1954 for AE.

They were major employers in the town, and approximately 1/3 of its families had at least one member working at one or the other.

I was hit by the bug at a very early age, and encouraged by a number of AE employees...
The Telephone Museum of Prince Edward Island:
Free Admission - Call (902) 651-2762 to arrange a visit!
C*NET 1-651-0001

Matilo Telephones

Very interesting to read how others got infected. :-)

What really sparked me off was when I bought my third or fourth telephone off the internet for 10 e (plus 6,25 shipping) and when I got it it turned out to be from the early thirties. Something so old, in good condition and it still worked! And for 10 e too!


Check out my telephone website:

And I am on facebook too:


I blame my childhood for all this. My grandparents had a hardware store which was served by the same two phones since they opened. At the front desk/counter was a 500, all black of course, with the metal finger wheel and a big soft-talk shoulder rest (not sure when that was added). In the back was a similar 554 wall set. These two phone worked without fault until sometime around 2002-03, when a credit card machine prompted an a 2500 with new dangled tone dial...

Anyway, the 500 vanished once they got out of the business, but and I'm almost willing to put money on this, the 554 may still be in the back in the now walled in area that had a slop sink.

Saw a 500 C/D at a flea market buried with old radios and such, instantly took me back to those days. Little did I know it would touch off something that's becoming a serious hobby.