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5 Vintage Phone Styles Every Collector Should Know

Updated: Jan 11

While most people in the world carry some version of a cell phone these days, once upon a time, phones were confined to inside the house. From the vital invention of the first wall-hanging telephone to the colorful, retro phones of the ‘80s, there are over 150 years of classic phone designs in antique malls, flea markets, and basement storage boxes around the globe. 

Whether you’re a passionate antique phone collector or are looking for a showstopping accent piece for your home office, there are countless designs from different eras waiting for you to answer their call. Learn about the five most popular styles throughout time and invest in a stylish vintage phone.

The Invention of the Telephone Changed the World

Phones are widely regarded as one of the most important inventions of the last millennium. When Alexander Graham Bell patented the first classic phone design in 1876, he changed the way we, as a society, communicate. 

For centuries, writing letters and telegrams had been the only form of communication—and slow ones, at that! When the original vintage phones were introduced to the world, people suddenly had the ability to talk to loved ones, colleagues, and strangers within a matter of minutes. Without the first classic phone designs, cell phones and high-tech landlines as we know them wouldn’t exist.  

Why Would Someone Collect Vintage Phones?

Anyone who collects or sells vintage items has a personal connection and love for that type of merchandise, and collecting retro phones is no different. Many collectors buy vintage phones for a nostalgic love of a certain design era, feeling included in the rich history of that time and finding unique decorations for their home. Each collector is driven by something different, whether they’re collecting rotary phones in an attempt to become antique mall vendors or to show off their lovely stock in their home. 

5 Vintage Phone Styles

Has your interest in the wide world of retro phone collecting been piqued? Before you buy your first piece, learn more about the five most popular designs: 

1. Wood Wall Phones

Wall phones were one of the earliest designs available for public purchase in the late 1800s. There are a few different styles, but this classic phone style typically uses a rectangular wooden box to house and hide wires, with a receiver hanging outside. These telephones are commonly referred to as box, coffin, and camera phones due to their oversized size and shape. 

Determining the value of a wood wall classic phone comes down to the different variations, such as the wood used, where the receiver hangs, and the shape of the box itself. Learning to identify antique wall phones will help you create a valuable and high-quality collection.

2. Candlestick Phones

There’s nothing that’ll transport you back in time quite like picking up a candlestick phone. Known for an upright stand and a removable megaphone receiver piece, these classic phones from the early 20th century are a subtle and stylish antique option for any collector. This classic phone silhouette was all the rage, allowing users to sit comfortably at their desks or lounge on the couch rather than standing to make or receive a call.  

Pay attention to the telltale patina brass features when searching for an authentic candlestick retro phone. Some designs have an early rotary phone detail, whereas others lack a dialing system. Candlestick vintage phones are worth more with the original intact cords and receivers. 

3. 3-Slot Pay Rotary Phones

If you’ve ever stepped foot into an outdated train station or encountered a large, clunky telephone design at an antique mall event in Florida, you’ve probably encountered a 3-slot rotary phone. These heavy-duty rotary phones utilize a coin system, where a user would have to insert a certain amount of loose change to make a call. While these payphones were generally placed in public spaces, they are now a prized option for many retro phone collectors. 

4. Art Deco Desk Rotary Phones

The decadent Art Deco period gave us the timeless rotary phone silhouette many people know and love. With a rounder, sturdy base piece, a rotary phone dial for calling, and a receiver set on the top of a stand, this vintage design never goes out of style. When a caller was done with their conversation, setting the double-ended receiver back on the hooks would hang up, ending the call. These were (and are!) perfect for learning to decorate a desk or bedside table with vintage flair. 

5. Novelty ‘70s and ‘80s Phones

Whether you grew up in the groovy ‘70s or adore the neon décor in ‘80s movies, novelty retro phones are desirable to collectors and buyers alike. Most of these creative designs used the same technology of a rotary phone, with a double-ended receiver attached to the main box by a cord—but with shapes and characters geared towards the hip teenagers of the period. 

Popular Novelty Retro Phone Designs:

  • Mickey Mouse

  • Red lips

  • Kermit the Frog

  • Garfield

  • Bananas

  • Winnie the Pooh

  • French fries

Where to Shop for Vintage Phones

Antique phones can be found all over the globe—so why limit yourself to one store? Connect with different rotary phone collectors online through auction sites like eBay and specialize in classic phone forums to search for the perfect piece to take home. 

Whether you’ve stumbled across an antique mall near Chicago or browse the same vendor mall aisles every weekend, there’s a high chance you can find a unique retro phone in person! Some collectors specialize in specific eras of telephones, whereas others just have one or two antique options. 

Popular Retro Phone Manufacturers

Keep an eye out for these popular phone brands when you’re shopping for the newest addition to your vintage phone collection: 

  • Western Electric

  • Kellogg Switchboard and Supply

  • Stromberg Carlson

  • North Electric

  • Royal Victoria

Can Vintage Phones Be Repaired?

If you ever encounter a broken classic phone, don’t leave it behind! There are many options for repairing a retro phone, from sending it to trustworthy refurbishment services to tuning it yourself. If it is beyond repair, it could still be valuable to collectors who love the look of a vintage telephone more than its function. 

Ring, ring, ring! Hello? That’s just the essential information needed to start a vintage phone collection! With a deeper understanding of the most popular designs throughout the history of telephones, you can get inspired to visit an antique mall

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1 Comment

han gu
han gu
2 days ago

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