Antique And Vintage Payphones


2015-06-26 11:14:54


Antique And Vintage Payphones are collectible coin-operated telephones produced from the late-19th century to the mid-20th century.

Brief History

The first-ever payphone was a "post-pay" machine invented by William Gray in 1889. In this early model, the caller had to deposit the coins after placing a call. A bank in the town of Hartford, Connecticut was the pioneer in having a public payphone that did not need coin-collecting attendants.

William Gray's patent on his invention allowed his Gray Telephone and Pay Station Company to produce most of the payphones in the country. This was until 1948 when Automatic Electric acquired Gray's company. Nonetheless, Gray's company is credited for coming up with the three-coin slot system in 1913 which was used until the 1960s.

In 1966, the “dial-tone first” system was introduced in which calls could be made without dropping coins into them.

Guide for Collectors

People from different walks of life collect antique and vintage payphones. What interests them are the history, design, and technology of the phones. For some, it is about the feeling of excitement one gets upon finding a bargain at a flea mart.

Collectors usually look for the following in antique or vintage phones:

  • (1) Completeness- Telephone companies leased payphones and they would rehabilitate them by replacing old or worn-out parts. It is rare to find payphones with their original parts so they are worth more than those whose parts have been replaced.
  • (2) Condition- Damages such as cracking and chipping to the plastic, wear-and-tear on the original finish may reduce the value considerably.
  • (3) Authenticity- As in other types of vintage or antique items; fakes also abound among phones. Expert eyes are needed to distinguish the genuine from the reproduction.
  • (4) Scarcity – Take the case of older Western Electric models- most do not have numbers and letters inscribed on the fingertips. A few do and they are considered more valuable for their scarcity.
  • (5) Rarity/ Uniqueness- Some models were manufactured on a limited quantity so very few are in existence.
  • (6) Attractiveness- Bakelite, the type of plastic used for making phones then, become faded when exposed to sunlight. The attractive colors on the old phone are a plus on their value.
  • (7) Functionality- Whether the phones actually work matters to some and not to others. Some collectors believe tampering antiques reduce their value. There are those who believe, restoring them in working condition make them more valuable.

The largest organization for antique telephone collectors is the ATCA which stands for Antique Telephone Collectors Association. There are more than 1,000 members scattered in North America, Australia, and Europe. It was established in 1971.

Notable Auctions

A Western Electric type 21 payphone from the 1900s sold for $17,000 at an auction by Morphy Auctions on October 15, 2011. It was reported to be in excellent condition.

A vintage rotary dial pay telephone used in the soap “Happy Days” was sold for $2,800 in an auction by Guernsey's on March 16, 2008.

A nickel-plated payphone bank said to be in pristine condition was sold for $1,800 by Bertoia Auctions on December 3, 2004. The slots where a cent, nickel, and a quarter were inserted still functioned by giving a ringing sound.

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