TELEPHONES: Evolution of Different Styles and Tones

Western Electric Model 2500 Clear Case - photo by Oldphoneworks

Looking at the differences between the designs of telephones we have now and the telephones we had decades ago, it will occur to you that the telephone evolution has come a very long way through history, and is probably yet evolving.

From the need of communicating in absentia to having aesthetically pleasing devices for communication, the various designs of telephones emerged to fit the need of the time.

Special designs that were beautifully crafted in the past eras, and later became obsolete, were kept and preserved as memoirs by individuals and museums.


The world’s first telephone invented by Antonio Meucci in 1849 – photo by Wikipedia

In the 19th Century, telephones were produced for the first time to meet the need of communication between people who were far from one another.

It is recorded that in 1849, the first telephone was created in Havana, Cuba. It was not patented, and so was not recognised or publicised.

In 1860, the first recognised and publicised telephone was used in Frankfurt, Germany.

In 1876, the telephones that were made were finally patented and exhibited, but not installed as private telephones until 1877. The first exhibited telephone was made by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, and exhibited in Philadelphia, at the Centennial Exhibitions, after which it was installed as private phones in 1877.

From 1877 up until the World War II, more telephones were produced and used privately and publicly, although at some point the newer models of telephones were not as aesthetically pleasing as the older models, and so they were hardly remembered long after, like the wooden wall telephones.

Western Electric oval base Model 202 phone from the 1930’s with 684 Subset Ringer Box – photo by eBay

By the late 1880s into the early 1990s, newer trends of telephone designs came up, like the Candlestick Telephones. These telephones were in high demand especially with the making of the newer models that were nickel-plated around the early 1900s.

In the 1920s–1930s, the Ringer Box Desk Set Telephone was produced, and by 1930 the Rotary Dial Models known as the Western Electric Telephones became a major design trending from the early 1900s to the late 1900s. Many versions of the Western Electric Telephone were produced; in 1930, there was the Western Electric 202s were made. From the 1940s to the 1950s, the Western Electric 302s came in. From the 1960s to the 1970s, the Western Electric 500 sets took over. After this series came to the Ericofon Telephones, Princess Telephones, and Trimline Telephones in the 1960s to the 1970s – designed by Henry Dreyfuss, telephone designer who was quite prominent in this industry. These Western Electric Models of Telephones became a household name for Americans until afterwards other more interesting and unique designs took over.

Antique Telephones

Charles Williams Jr., 1880, three-boxer with Blake transmitter – photo by Tom Adams | Telephone Archive

Antiques, as is known, are items that are not less than 80 years old. Therefore, Antique Telephones can be said to have become a major collectable at least 80 years after they started being produced and exhibited in 1876, meaning that the Candlestick Telephones were the first set of Antique Telephones. Although telephones were already a collectable by the late 1880’s – after Alexander Graham Bell started making Telephones.

Some of the most valuable antique telephones were the early handcrafted wooden telephones that were made in the 1880s and labelled “American Bell” or “Charles William Jr”. The more unusual and older that antique telephone is, the more valuable it is to a collector.

Types/ Categories of Antique Telephones

Antique Telephone Collectables and Vintage telephones can be grouped or categorized into the:

Wood Wall Telephones – These are the telephones that mostly hung on the walls; most of which in the earlier times were made wood, and so were called “Wood Wall Phone”. These telephones are about the oldest and really sought after.

The American Bell Telephone Company Candlestick Telephone – photo by Everything But The House

Candlestick Telephones – These telephones were called “candlestick phones” because they were typically shaped like candlesticks, having vertical stemlike shapes. This shape made them stand out of the rest of the telephone designs.

Desk Sets Telephones – These telephones were mostly operated from the Desks.

Western Electric Telephones – The Western Electric Models were known to be boxy and had bell ringing tunes.

Bell Systems – These phones like the Cherry Red Bell or Princess Phone Bell Systems were either hung on the wall or placed on the tables, having attractive colours and shapes, and were put in the kitchen or living room, or corridor, etc.

Some Actual Vintage Telephone Models to pick from

There are tons of antique telephone models and their different version that you can pick from as collectables. Among all of them, here are some of the known antique/ vintage telephones that are collectors’ delight:

  • Eiffel Tower Skelton Telephone with working Ringer and Dial Tone – 1895
  • Antique Art Deo Era Rotary Style Old Hotel Lobby Telephone Wall Phone – 1930
  • Antique Bakelite Ost Telephone Receive – Unmarked
  • Old Bell Blake Telephone – Rare
  • Antique Telephone Blake Transmitter
  • Vintage Western Electric Dial Candlestick Telephone
  • Vintage Automatic Electric Co, Strowger Dial Candlestick Telephone Parts/ repair

    L.M. Ericsson Skeleton Telephone No. 370/AC100, c.1890 – photo by
  • German WWII Wehrmacht Army Headquarters Command Field Phone Amstanschlieer 33
  • Microphone Transmitter L.M. Ericsson Skeleton Telephone No. 370/ac100, C. – 1890
  • Western Electric 3-Slot Payphone
  • Original 1904 Western Electric Brass Candlestick telephone 1913 Att 323 Subset 534
  • Antique Viaduct Baltimore Md Wall Telephone
  • Vintage Bell System Western Electric 500mm Black Rotary Dial Telephone 77053
  • Western Electric Vintage Payphone
  • Antique Kellogg Howler Signalling Horn Oak Wall Transmitter No. 5a for Telephones
  • Antique Kellogg Candlestick Table Phone 1901-1908 Bell Shaped Mouthpiece, Chicago
  • Vintage Bakelite Telephone –stunning Ivory/White Phone-c1960s
  • Vintage Western Electric Model 2500 Clear Case – Rare
  • Coin-on Pay Phone – Push Button
  • Vintage Aqua Light-up Princess Phone Bell Systems/Western Electric Works

    Vintage Nautical Solid Beautiful Victorian Brass Rotary Dial Telephone – photo by Etsy
  • Vintage Old Red Illinois Bell System Rotary Telephone
  • Western electric Short Arm Type 293A Wooden Wall Telephone W/Original Receiver
  • Vintage Victorian Telephone Antique Brass Rotary Phone Nautical Desk Decorative
  • Graham Bell / Bell Telephone Co.: Antique telephone/telegraph 1875 – 1922.

In Conclusion

Antique Telephones are a unique collectable, as there are various designs of telephones from different eras. Even relatively newer designs are considered as collectables because of their archaic and unique designs.