If you’ve ever visited a hold home, a home design show, or an antique store, you’ve probably noticed the proliferation of vintage telephones. Their design sure is eye-catching. Every kid that sees one stares at them with wonder, gets all excited, and asks, “What IS that?” along with the occasional “Where is it from?”
Antique phones are definitely a standout piece in any home, adding that touch of something different. They were invented in the late 1880’s but didn’t become popular until the 1920s. That’s standard for any technology. At first, only a few enthusiasts want it (and also can afford it), but as it becomes more affordable, more people buy it. As more and more people started using these phones, the demand for them grew. It was a world where technological advancements were taking place at regular intervals, and telephones (the first mass media device) fit right in.
The design of vintage phones was inspired by other electronics at the time (like radios and telegraphs); they were created to make the user look like a “big shot.”
Nowadays, vintage phones are mostly considered a collectible item. While you can use them to make calls, it’s more common to display them as art pieces and show off their beautiful design.
In this article, you are going to learn how to evaluate antique telephones to determine their value. We’ll cover the different types of phones, where to buy them and how much they are selling for now, as well as tips on how to sell your own antique phone if you so choose.
The History of the Telephone
The first telephone was invented in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell. At the time, telephones were a huge technological breakthrough that revolutionized how people communicated with each other.
The first telephones were extremely expensive and unreliable; they required massive amounts of electricity to run, which not everyone had access to at the time. They were also quite expensive. That meant that only wealthy individuals or companies could afford to buy them.
However, as time went on and technology advanced, the cost and reliability of telephones improved significantly. By the 1920s, most families had at least one phone in their home. This is when companies started to capitalize on the telephone craze and began creating unique designs for telephones. They were no longer seen as luxury items but instead became a staple for basic communication needs.
Today, telephones are used by billions of people around the world. While most of us rely on smartphones and mobile devices for our communication needs, there is still a lot of value in vintage phones.
Telephones have seen many changes in design over the years. Despite their internal components remaining mostly the same (the internal mechanics are not as important to most buyers), aesthetic changes have helped telephones maintain their status as a symbol of luxury.
Evaluating Antique Telephones
Whether you’re a seasoned collector or someone who simply appreciates vintage items, evaluating an antique telephone is an important first step to understanding its value and avoiding any potential scams.
Learning what to look for in a vintage telephone can help you determine its quality and authenticity, which will then allow you to price it appropriately when buying or selling one.
When evaluating antique phones, there are several important factors that you should consider:
- Condition — Most antique telephone collectors are looking for models that are in good condition, with few or no scratches and dents. The original parts of the phone (such as the dial and cords) should still be intact and working properly. If any damage has occurred, it’s important to assess whether it happened due to wear and tear over time or if it was caused by neglect.
- Design – Vintage telephones come in many different shapes and sizes, making them popular collectibles. An unusual design or subtle details can help you determine whether a phone is an original or a reproduction.
- Age – Antique phones are typically over 50 years old, but there is no clear cut age that defines them as vintage. Older phones fetch a higher price due to their increased rarity – the older a phone is, the less likely it is to have survived to the current days. To evaluate the age of a phone, you should look at any information printed on it (such as the brand and model) along with the condition of the phone itself. Older phones tend to have richer colors and more wear, while newer phones will appear shinier. Also, older phones are usually made from heavier materials like cast iron.
- Manufacturer – With vintage phones, the manufacturer often greatly affects its value and desirability. Companies like Western Electric and Stromberg Carlson are known for creating high-quality antique telephones that are still much sought after today. Other manufacturers may produce lower quality phones that don’t fetch as high a price.
When buying or selling an antique telephone, it’s important to do your research ahead of time and ask questions about the phone you’re interested in. This will help ensure that you get a fair price for any vintage phone and avoid scams where sellers attempt to pass off reproductions as originals. With more than 130 years of history, there is a lot to learn about antique telephones and their value. By doing your research and knowing what to look for, you can help ensure that your collection has the quality and history it deserves.
Condition is the most important factor in evaluating antique telephones. Let’s see how you can evaluate it.
In-Depth Guide on how to Determine a Telephone’s Condition
Learning how to evaluate the condition of an antique telephone is essential for both buyers and sellers. Whether you’re looking to buy or sell, being able to accurately assess the condition of a phone will help you determine its value and avoid scams where sellers try to pass off reproductions as originals.
First off, knowing each and every part of the telephone is crucial. Here’s what you should be looking at:
- The dial — Does it still turn smoothly or is it stiff and difficult to use? If the dial can’t be used properly, this could indicate that there may be structural damage to the phone.
- Cords — Are they intact, with no signs of wear or breakage? Any fraying or tears in the cords can affect the phone’s value. But it usually doesn’t impact the value that much. Most cords you’ll see will look like they were chewed by rats for a decade or more.
- The case: Is the case scratched, dented, or damaged in any other way? Even minor damage can take away from a phone’s overall condition.
- The power source — Is the phone able to be plugged in? Does the power source still work? If there are no wires or connections, it could indicate that an antique telephone is a reproduction.
- The handset — Does the handset still have a clear plastic cover and layer of foam underneath? If these are damaged, the phone’s value and condition will be negatively impacted.
- The switch — This is the hardest part to evaluate, but if you have experience with antique phones, you should be able to spot the condition of a switch just by looking at it. Does it still click into place when pressed? If not, this could indicate a faulty switch that may need replacing in order for the phone to work properly.
- The earpiece — Is it clear and free of scratches? Any damage to the earpiece may affect the phone’s value, even if other parts of the telephone are still in good condition. Also, just in case you were planning to use your vintage phone, a damaged earpiece will make it hard to hear the person on the other end of the line.
Expert appraisers will also look at the condition of other parts like the mouthpiece, screws, and connection pins. If any part of the phone is broken or damaged, it will lower its value significantly.
With all these tips in mind, you should be able to accurately evaluate an antique phone’s condition, and decide whether or not you’re getting a fair deal.
Warning: These factors will also help you with evaluating whether or not a seller is trying to pass off a reproduction as an original. If the phone looks too clean, has a fresh coat of paint, or otherwise looks too new for its age, it may be a reproduction. Be sure to do your research and ask lots of questions when buying an antique telephone so you can rest assured that you’re getting the real deal.
Another important thing to look for is the type of antique telephone you’re dealing with. It helps both in figuring out the phone’s age (different designs were created at different times) as well as its value.
Different Types of Antique Telephones
There are many different types of vintage telephones to choose from, each with its own unique design and features. Some of the more popular styles include:
- Rotary phones: Rotary phones are characterized by their circular dial and sliding finger holes. If you’ve watched old movies or TV shows, you might recognize this visual. They are very noisy and tend to be quite bulky. However, they are collectible and highly sought after by vintage phone enthusiasts.
- Candlestick phone: This style of phone is famous for its unique shape; it looks like two candlesticks that were fused together. Their design is another classic you find in old movies and TV shows.
- Western Electric Desk Phones: This was one of the most common desk phones used in America between the 1940s and 1960s. While they were not very expensive when they were released, as time passed, they have become a symbol of luxury due to their unique design. There are many collectors who seek out these phones today.
- Conference phones: These were a special type of phone that was designed for conference calls. At the time, this technology was very expensive and only available to businesses who needed it. Today, they are much more affordable but still popular as office equipment. These are the phones that you would see in conference rooms at large companies. They work more like an intercom than a normal phone.
- Cordless phones: Cordless phones became a common household item in the 1990s, which makes them fairly recent compared to other vintage phone models. Unfortunately, they started becoming popular when cellphones started gaining traction, which put them on the decline.
- Princess phones: This style of phone was made popular in the 1960’s, and is so-named because of its elegant design (which resembles a tiara). Princess phones came equipped with many unique features, such as a hold button, an intercom system, and a “flashing” light that indicated when the phone was in use.
- Touch-Tone Phones: Touch-tone phones are characterized by their push buttons with engraved numbers. They were first introduced in 1963, replacing rotary dials entirely. Their design has stuck around and is still used today. Even though they are not considered vintage, older models are still valuable to collectors due to their popularity.
Now that you know everything there is to know about antique phones, you’re ready to go out and start buying.
Buying an Antique Telephone
Buying an antique telephone is a fun and exciting endeavor, but it can also be tricky. The first thing to figure out is what you want, and the best way to get it.
The first and most obvious place to start your research is your local antique store or antique mall. Many antique dealers offer a wide range of vintage phones for sale, so you’ll have plenty to choose from. The main advantage of going to a store is that you can handle the phone, find out more about its condition and features, and get an idea of its value. Also, you’ll be sure you aren’t buying a fake.
Shopping online is another great option. With so many specialty websites and auction sites, you’re sure to find exactly what you’re looking for. However, it’s important to be able to recognize a fake or shoddy copy when you see one on the internet. Unfortunately, sometimes the pictures are a bit blurry or hide important details. If a seller refuses to send you more high-resolution images, this could be a red flag. Of course, there are also plenty of reliable sellers who have an excellent reputation and many satisfied customers.
Editor’s note: eBay, Etsy, and Craigslist are all good places to start your search for an antique telephone. Avoid Amazon as it only sells new stuff, and any “antique phone” you find there is a replica. They still look amazing, but for true collectors, nothing beats the real deal.
Last, if you’re more of the scavenger type, you can also try hitting up yard sales or flea markets. If you’re lucky, you might come across a real vintage phone that has been well-maintained, or was even refurbished at some point. But keep in mind that you are also more likely to find a fake or broken model here too.
Overall, there is no right or wrong way to buy an antique phone; it just depends on what kind of buyer you are. Whether you want a specific model, are looking for the best deal possible, or just want something that is unique and special, there is an antique telephone out there for you.
Let’s see a few antique telephones and how much they sell for.
Antique Telephones for Sale
We’ve prepared a list of a few popular antique telephone models that you can find on sale right now. If you’re in the market for a vintage phone, these could be a great place to start. This way, you can see how a model compares to the others, and get an idea of its value.
Antique Telephone 1940’s SH Couch Rotary Dial Telephone
Beginning our list, we have the 1940’s SH Couch Rotary Dial Telephone. Made from a high-quality metal, this phone has a beautiful antique design and rotary dialing functionality. S.H. Couch was a popular phone manufacturer in the 1940s, and this model is no exception. It sells for around $40, which seems low, but you have to consider that this telephone design has been around for decades and remains popular today. That means that it’s not that rare. The only thing that makes this model somewhat of a collectible is its age.
Antique Early20thC Connecticut Tel Intercom Candlestick Telephone
We continue our list with a candlestick telephone from Connecticut Telephone and Electric selling for $112.50. Dating back to the early 20th century, this antique phone is made of bronze and measures about 11 inches in height. There are a lot of signs of wear and tear, which is to be expected from a phone that is well over 100 years old. But still, the design and craftsmanship are quite impressive. Definitely a solid buy if you want an antique telephone and don’t care too much about the condition.
Antique Wooden Wall Telephone Mounted Touch Tone
This is another great find on our list, especially if you’re not looking for a candlestick model. For just $110, you can bring home this wall mounted wooden antique telephone. The wood still looks great, while the dial shows sign of wear. Overall, an impressive piece of history with a lot of charm and character. Unfortunately, the owner doesn’t give us many details about its age or provenance, so we are left to guess. But wall mounted phones were popular around the 1920s, so it’s probably at least that old.
Antique Monarch Wood Telephone Hand Crank L32793
If you’re looking for something unique and different, this hand crank telephone from Monarch might be just the thing. It’s currently available on eBay for $129.99, which is a bit more than other phones on our list. This phone is still functional. Naturally, the phone’s age shows on this model. There are some signs of wear and tear, but overall, it looks in great condition for a phone that is over a century old. Plus, it works. You can use it to make actual phone calls if you have a landline or VoIP service. There’s something just so charming about cranking your own telephone calls.
Antique Western Electric 20AI Candlestick Telephone 1915
Going up in price a bit, we have an antique Western Electric candlestick phone that was manufactured in 1915. This model was all the rage in its time, and can still command a price tag of $295 today. The phone is made in 100% brass. As you can see from the pictures, there is a lot of wear, especially around the phone’s base. Also, the owner claims the phone works. However, due to the fact that it has no dial, it can only work if you receive a call. You can’t call anyone, as the lack of dial means you can’t dial their number. Still, it’s quite a beauty and a great collectible.
Antique 1900s Kellogg Wall Mount Hand Crank Telephone Quartersawn Tiger Oak
This 1900s Kellogg phone, made with quartersawn tiger oak wood, sells for $416.50. This phone is from the early 1900s, and has a lovely wooden body that makes it very unique. It’s quite bulky, with its width of 8.75″, height of 12.25″, and its depth of 19″. The owner warns us of missing plastics here and there, but overall, the phone is in great condition. The price is definitely a bit more than others on the list, but considering the vintage, the quality craftsmanship, and the rarity of this model, it’s a great find.
Antique Vintage Hand Crank Wall Telephone
Continuing our streak of antique wall mounted phones, we now have this beautiful vintage hand crank telephone for $450. This is easily one of the most elegant phones on this list, with its iroko wood body and with the hand crank that is made out of brass. Also, this phone, unlike the others on this list, is made in Italy, which adds to its rarity. Unfortunately, the owner doesn’t give us any details about its age. Therefore, we’re left to just assume that this phone is around a century old.
Western Electric #10 Candlestick Telephone W/Red Cross Mouthpiece Museum Quality
Rounding up our list, here’s a candlestick Western Electric phone that is currently on auction for $830 (but the auction ends in less than a week, so expect this to rise in price soon). This is easily one of the more impressive looking phones on this list. We can definitely appreciate the workmanship, as well as the era that it hails from. The Red Cross mouthpiece (the mouthpiece used by nurses during wartime) is also a nice touch. The embroidered *329* transmitter tag indicates it was probably used by a hospital in the early 1900s, as that’s when Red Cross tags were in use. In overall, this phone is a great find for its price.
There are also rarer, more expensive phones with a particular history attached to them. What about JFK’s personal hotline phone? Let’s see a few of these unique pieces.
Rare Antique Telephones’ Auctions Prices
These are the real heavyweights in the antique telephones’ world. They are unique models with their own history. They were owned by famous people or appeared in iconic movies. Auctions for these pieces are usually held by reputable dealers, who have an excellent reputation for selling quality pieces at fair prices.
Here are some of the most notable ones:
- We begin our list with this personal office telephone from the Hermann Göring Aeronautics Research Institute that sold for $3,840. This is Hermann Göring’s personal telephone. Göring was head of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s second-in-command during WW2. He collected all sorts of military memorabilia, including this telephone from a German airfield in 1932. You may be wondering why this model sells for so little despite its uniqueness. The reason is that the switch is broken. Also, Nazi memorabilia in general is not held in high regard due to the history associated with the Nazi party.
- Here’s a Steve McQueen Wooden Crank Telephone that sold for $3,125. Steve McQueen had a real passion for vintage phones, and this model was one of many that he collected. McQueen died in 1980, but his estate held an auction of his belongings in the ’90s. Unfortunately, the phone doesn’t work, which is why it sold for so little. However, collectors are still interested in it because of its connection to McQueen and the fact that it features a wooden crank handle, which is quite rare.
- Vincente Minnelli was an American film director and producer. This is his personal telephone he used in his home office in Beverly Hills. It sold for $6,875. This is a pretty standard Western Electric for Bell System telephone, with crimson plastic housing and chrome plated receiver engraved, “Vincent Minnelli”.
- Here’s the Joe Pesci “Nicky Santoro” telephone from Casino. It sold for $14,000. This is the phone you see in the movie Casino when the main character, Nicky Santoro, uses it to beat his rival, Billy Sherbert.
- The Kennedy, John F. Presidential White House Hotline Travel Telephone is one of a kind. It sold for a whopping $60,000. This white, blue, and red phone was owned and used by John F. Kennedy, who famously used it as a hotline to the White House in case of an emergency during his 1962 visit to California. The historic value of this piece can’t be overstated, and it is reflected in its jaw-dropping price.
These phones’ rich history is what makes them so attractive to collectors and antique phone enthusiasts.
Now, let’s say you bought an antique telephone. What now? The first thing is learning how to properly maintain and care for your phone.
Caring for Your Antique Telephone
If you are the lucky owner of an antique phone, then it is important to know how to properly care for it. Antique phones require a bit more work and attention than modern models.
To begin with, make sure that your phone is plugged into the wall at all times when it is not in use. This will prevent moisture from building up inside the phone and potentially damaging it over time.
In addition to this, make sure that your phone is always connected to a working landline. This will prevent damage from occurring due to power outages or surges in electricity.
Finally, take care not to drop or mishandle your antique telephone. Even small bumps and collisions can cause damage to your phone’s internal components that could be very costly to repair.
Cleaning an antique telephone is also an important aspect of maintaining its condition. The first thing to do when cleaning your antique phone is unplug it from the wall and disconnect any external telephone wires that are plugged into it.
Next, use a dry cloth or electrostatic dusting brush to gently wipe down the surface of your phone. If you notice any particularly dirty spots, use a damp cloth that has been lightly dipped in soapy water to wipe them down. Make sure that the phone is completely dry when you are finished cleaning it.
If your phone is in working conditions, we recommend setting aside a regular time each week to check and clean the phone. This will help you catch any small issues that could develop into larger problems if left untreated.
Also, you could try making a call every now and then, to make sure the phone works. If you notice any noisy static, pops or loud buzzing when you talk over the phone, then it might be time to have your antique telephone fixed by a professional technician.
Overall, antique telephones are a fascinating and valuable part of history that is well worth preserving. Looking at these old models makes many people wonder “how could they work without smartphones?” But the real beauty of antique phones is that they worked right when you needed them, even if you didn’t have a fancy touchscreen interface. Although, to be fair, some things like the rotary dial weren’t exactly the most user-friendly.
When shopping for an antique phone, the best thing to do is find a reputable seller that can guide you through the process of buying and caring for an antique telephone. Remember, these are delicate pieces of history that deserve to be treated with care at all times. With some time and attention, you can preserve your antique phone so that everyone in the future can enjoy it as much as you do!
If you have an antique phone and are looking for someone to take care of it properly, consider reaching out to an expert in antique telephone repair services. With their help, you can rest assured that your treasured antique will be well-cared for and in good hands.
So if you are a collector of vintage telephones, or simply want to add one to your collection, then remember these tips to properly maintain and care for your antique phone. By following these guidelines and doing your research, you will be able to enjoy your antique phone for years to come.