Dad finally decided to liquidate his inventory of antique and vintage items from the basement of his house late last month. At one time, he was an antiques dealer, so there was quite a variety of items stored around the basement. As the buyer was loading them into a truck trailer, I was allowed one nice thing to bring home with me. I picked out the best candlestick telephone in the room.
At home, I decided to find out who manufactured the phone and the approximate time it was put into service. First, I checked out the updated dial label. The last phone number corresponded to the Fairbury, Nebraska telephone exchange. I haven’t determined whether or not Fairbury was served by Lincoln Telephone & Telegraph Company or AT&T. I’ll have to satisfy my curiosity about that, later.
I went online and searched through rows of photographs. The closest matches were phones from “American Electric” and “Monarch Telephone”, or an “Automatic Electric” phone. There were no markings on the phone nor was there an accompanying ringer box. Dad cannot see well anymore so I’ll go with the guess that it is the more common “American Electric” phone.
Going by the photos and some of the commentary about the style of the dial and the phone, itself. I am placing the date of manufacture around 1925, give or take a few years. I’m a neophyte regarding old telephones, so If you know anything about this phone, please tell me in the comments section.
Usually items stored in basements accumulate mildew, mold, dirt, and sometimes dead insects. Such was the case with the old phone. Even though this example was the best of the bunch, it was filthy and stinky. A thorough cleaning was required. I brought the phone and an old dishpan outdoors in order to disassemble the unit. Thankfully, there were no insect pieces, so I brought everything to the kitchen sink for a scrub down.
The phone body and “stick” are solid brass, so I didn’t need to worry about rust. The original paint is worn from the area that people commonly grabbed it during conversations. The Bakelite speaking cone and receiver earpiece were coated with very stubborn mildew. I had to use full strength laundry bleach and a gentle dishwashing scrubber brush to obliterate the growths from inside and outside of the parts. A cool water rinse removed the cleaning chemicals, then I buffed with a microfiber cloth.
The painted metal parts cleaned up more easily with diluted bleach and the soft part of the sponge. I couldn’t submerge the phone, so repeated wiping with plain water removed the bleach residue. The inner side of the bottom plate features a paper schematic diagram of the phone. It was badly mildewed, so I took extra care to remove the fungus in order for the printing to remain intact.
Because there were no wires from the base to the receiver, I wanted to add one for display purposes, only. I found an old, dangerously frayed cord from a vintage waffle iron. I cleaned it up, clipped the plug ends from the cord then made a temporary, non-connected installation to the phone.
I made no effort to restore any of the painted nor plated surfaces. This was a cleaning project, only. In the long term, I hope to find a proper ringer box and possibly return the phone to working condition.
Again, if you have information and/or advice, please let me know.
The Blue Jay of Happiness found an obscure quote by computing pioneer Alan Turing. “No, I’m not interested in developing a powerful brain. All I’m after is just a mediocre brain, something like the President of American Telephone and Telegraph Company.”