Off Topic: One Ringy Dingy- Old Telephones.

I have a bit of a thing for old technology. I have a couple of fat-bellied old AM Radio that are fairly useless in that there is practically nothing on AM radio these days- and I hear that those wavelengths will be gone like your old TV channels, so they may be even more relics than they are now.

I also love old phones. I first got one back in the mid nineties at an antique store in Long Beach- one of those big, clunky black ones that Lucy had in her living room and was always taking one earring off to answer. I proudly put it by my bed, which turned out not to be the best decision. These phones were built when a house had one phone- a second extension was a luxury that was quite expensive thanks to Ma Bell. Those phones were usually in a little nook in the front hall and had a ringer loud enough to wake the house. Or, when it’s six inches from your slumbering head, the dead, as I found out one morning when The Times called at 7am sharp to offer a better subscription rate.

Growing up we had the obligatory harvest gold dial phone in the kitchen, and a fancy French looking thing in my parent’s room. Presumably with a soft ringer. This phone was a bit of a bone of contention- it was owned by my parents (my dad bought it in Europe) but Ma Bell insisted upon treating it like a rental phone and charging us the same as the rental on the one they leased us in the kitchen. Such was life under Ma Bell- don’t like it? Try two tin cans and a string.

Over the years I have collected a couple of more- Lord knows what I will do with them. I have a pink and a blue princess phone (I suppose to make that Doris and Rock statement in the boudoir, a gold and ivory “Imperial” phone that used to be my primary at my old apartment, and one that I got for cheap on eBay a few months ago- a pink trimline with a rotary dial. This for an apartment that no longer has a land line.

As far as the rotary dials go- I kind of love them. I love especially on the trimline how they had to figure out how to make it fit into the smaller form of that phone. Henry Dreyfuss was the designer of all of Western Electric phones for years and you can see the thought that went into his designs- the 302 (the black one in the photos) was pretty, but in his revision, the sleeker 500 series was not only more colorful, but more useful. The flat surface of the handset meant that you could comfortably cradle the phone between your shoulder and head, which you could not in the older one. The princess was a runaway hit as was the trimline, especially in the touch-tone models.

Of course time marches on, and these are fast becoming relics. I can still remember my godchild at 12 or so when asking if she could call home looking with blank consternation at the rotary dial of my living room phone. I am told that with the new phone lines that some of these won’t work at all without major modifications. And of course I dropped the little used land-line because it was a needless expense.

I will miss the sound of that real bell, though. Well, not when it’s six inches from my head.

Do you collect old items? Cookware? Pottery? Discuss in the comments.

Photos are mine and from Pexels

  • ElizaC says:

    We have my hubby’s treasured 1950/60s black rotary phone in our living room! We are both collectors by nature – books are a special weakness. I love to collect vintage or antique jewelry. There was a stunning vintage jewelry store in Seattle called Souvenir that introduced me to micro mosaic jewelry, Taxco silver jewelry, and Victorian garnet jewelry. I love turquoise jewelry but it’s hard to know if it is real or not. Collecting beautiful things – such as perfume – is always so much fun!

    • Tom says:

      I don’t guess I even consider books as collecting. It’s like I’d consider breathing as collecting oxygen..

      Those old phones are great, right? So satisfyingly sturdy. Just the thought that you can slam the phone down and make a statement is quite fun.

  • Musette says:

    I used to collect vintage Pyrex but I’m largely over that, now.
    I absolutely adore your phone collection, though. They harken back to a quieter, simpler time (as a kid I wouldn’t have had a phone near me – dunno about my parents). I do remember my grandmother (who lived in the suburb just north of us) stressing about the ‘toll’ call – there used to be some sort of ‘click’ that would happen on those calls and she was convinced it was Ma B racking up the cents on the time. My mother said no.
    Well, at least it wasn’t a party line. Most people here, in this little burg, were on a party line until the late 70s!

    • Tom says:

      The house I grew up in had access to a party line. It didn’t go over well when my Mom didn’t want to join the party.

      My dad worked overseas a lot and sometimes on holidays. I remember a couple of Christmases where he would be calling from Europe or Asia or somewhere. We had to Evelyn Wood our way through the convo because it was ruinously expensive and it sounded like we were connected by two dixie cups and a string, underwater.

  • rosarita says:

    I love looking at your old phones and wanted a pink princess phone so badly back in the day. I collect scarves and old sterling silver jewelry, especially turquoise and mainly rings. I used to wear a lot of the scarves but now I mainly look at them and feel them. Usually about February, I am so sick of the Midwest winter and it’s soothing to get out all my scarves and polish up my jewelry. Wearing lots of rings and bracelets is my trademark. Best of all, my collections take up only a little space.

    • Tom says:

      Those are nice to collect. I don’t wear them much in SoCal but I loved scarves when I lived back East. Of course you ladies have he advantage of the decorative scarf that is usually not done by guys.

  • March says:

    Hahaha jinx! There’s … some conceptual overlap with my post next week (already written.) Great minds etc. I grew up with one of those heavy as hell black phones that got replaced with an avocado green one when I was in high school, which my dad had until he died at 95. They make me think about how that was the only phone, in the living room, and how that simple fact made the way we interact with it soooo different than now, or the advent of cordless (IIRC we got our first set — more than one phone! — sometime in the nineties?) I got rid of the landline in 2018 or thereabouts because 1) it was some ridiculous cost and 2) nobody called it at that point but spammers. I still remember the # I grew up with and I bet lots of other folks do too.

    • Tom says:

      I do remember the #s I grew up with, as well as the ones of friends. I have in the past used them as pin numbers because I know I will remember them while nobody else will.

      We dropped the land line (my boss pays for it) because it was finally going to fiber optic (as is the rest of the country) My big argument for keeping those lines was that they would still stay on during a power outage (and those old phones, bot needing to be plugged into the wall, would too) but as of this year that will no longer be the case. So I have no idea what’s going to happen when you’re stuck in an elevator..

    • Musette says:

      ST3-2534! BAM!
      (that’ll probably be stuck in my brain until I die – at 99, looking every bit as fabulous as Nichelle Nichols did (Floyd willin’)

      • Tom says:

        We should all die looking as good as she did. But then she started out looking as good as she did. Oh yeah, Captain Kirk had to be FORCED to kiss her..

  • Dina C. says:

    I totally agree about the comfort of holding one of those vintage handsets against your shoulder! You could talk on the phone for an hour, all while painting your finger nails or doing math homework problems, or NOT doing your homework and just doodling in the margins! In college, a friend and I shared the expense of a phone. We kept it in the hallway between our dorm rooms with this tiny lock on it, and we each had a key. The lock fit into one of the rotary dial holes, so outsiders couldn’t dial and use our phone. Worked out great! The only old thing I collect is perfume. I’ve inherited a large stack of antique sheet music, and some antique clothes, but those weren’t on purpose.

    • Tom says:

      Oh my lord, I remember those locks! We didn’t have them but I saw them for sale and in use at restaurants and hotels where they didn’t want the hoi polloi dialing out unsupervised.

      • alityke says:

        Could you “tap” the US phones, not listen in but tap the bits that ended a call.
        If you tapped out each digit then a short break before tapping out the next digit. So, tap tap, tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap, tap tap tap would be 293.
        I was the Houdini of the locked phone!

  • cinnamon says:

    I remember those kitchen wall phones: ours had a hugely long cord and I spent my teenage years, after dinner and homework, wandering around between kitchen and dining room talking to friends who’d I’d been with all day at school. mobile phones are a great great thing in some ways. I’m not a collector. I’ve lived with too many people who were and who didn’t know how to keep all the stuff they collected. and I currently live next door to hoarders. we’ve had the council out about them three or four times over the years.

    • Tom says:

      I kind of have to stand over my “collector” self with a whip and chair to keep it out of hoarder territory. Luckily I don’t “collect” old big mac containers or ketchup packets. Yet. Have you ever seen this? Funny.

  • alityke says:

    Ok, get ready for a real shocker, drum roll…….. my parents didn’t have a phone AT ALL until 1979!!!!
    Collecting old stuff? I did collect Midwinter Nasturtium crockery, I had 250 pieces until our youngest son bought his own flat & asked for it as he’s styled it all out in mid-century modern. He’s also got the family Le Creuset pans.
    Going back to phone booths, the famed UK red ones in our town centre are now art installation spaces. Paintings, sculptures, mini light shows are all in them.

    • Tom says:

      Wow! No phone! I thought we were deprived because we only had 2 intil the 70’s!

      I remember seeing in “Exit Through the Gift Shop” that Banksy took one and cut it up, torqued it, and put it back together. I thought it was brilliant. Ours were never are singular looking as yours.

  • Portia says:

    Do you remember pay phones in booths Tom? Australia has just changed all their payphone to free for land or mobile lines in Australia. It’s very cool to go make a free call on our adventures.
    Interestingly, even when free, they still smell exactly;y the same as they did in the 1970/80/90s. Peeeeeeee-you!
    Portia xx

    • Tom says:

      I do remember pay phones and phone booths, although booths started being phased out in the 70’s in the USA. As a matter of fact it was a visual gag in “Superman: The Movie”

      • Musette says:

        omg, Tom! That was PERSACKLY what popped into my mind when I read Portia’s comment. One of the funniest scenes, evah!

        • Tom says:

          I went out to Thriftbooks and picked up a DVD of that movie. I haven’t seen it it eons. Chris Reeve was so freaking handsome..

  • Maggiecat says:

    The pictures of those phones bring back some memories! The slim line I grew up with was avocado green – I much prefer the pink. I collect old perfume bottles, which makes no sense given that I have lots and lots of modern perfume bottles in various states of fullness, but logic is seldom a part of collecting things.

    • Tom says:

      In the mid 70’s Ma Bell made a push for people to get more phones and move to touch-tone. E went from two phones to something like 7 or 8. Mine was a turquoise trimline that lit up. I loved it.

      And certainly my collecting of stuff has no logic to it. Perfume bottles are pretty though. If I had money I’d collect those big factices