Thursday, April 12, 2012
Western Electric Color Telephones (1954)
Good morning! I came across this ad for color telephones in a 1950's Life magazine and you know the first thing I thought of was you guys! Ok, truthfully, the first thing I thought was "Look at all those Bakelite lookin' telephones! They look like candy!". But then I thought of you. :)
Western Electric, which served as the telephone set supplier to Bell Telephone Systems from 1881 to 1995, offered a dazzling array of color telephones for your home in 1954. The "500" model that year was the first to be offered in specific colors. Think of how exciting it would be to switch up your old coal-black model for a a bright pop of green or beige in the front hallway or the boudoir.
I was so interested to see that the models came in monotone, with clear plastic dial:
OR TWO TONE, with a black handset, dial, and number plate. How rockabilly does this little number look?
The wallphone, always a favorite of mine, looks even better with the slim fifties' handle, as opposed to the later, mid 60's chunky handle. Which color of the ones below would you choose for you dream fifties' house phone? I'm leaning towards red, but with the two tone option so the handle is black. It looks weird to just have the faceplate a different color.
If you insist on staying Model-T traditional, however, Western Electric also offers you the following options, most of which I've never heard of. The "cut off switch" would especially come in handy when pesky siblings want to listen in on private, teenage conversations between your teenage self and potential dating material! I had a light-up phone in my bedroom in the early 90's, but this "light up dial" on an old model phone is news to me.
And once again your color choices. Good job including "ivory" as a paint sample here, advertising men. I thought something was wrong with the print at first!
Two phone stories from my family:
1) My mom found a weird "rental" charge while looking over my grandmother's phone bill in the early 90's. To set the scene, my grandma was one of those cool, "early adopters" gadget people who had a touch tone cordless phone with call waiting and caller ID in those late 80's/early 90's days when such a thing was the living end of home telephonics. In my Luddite household, we still had pulse dial and rotary phones. My mom was comparing charges for different functions to educate herself in case of the (entirely unlikely) event of our phone services and subscriptions being updated, and couldn't figure out to what one $4 charge referred. Upon calling the phone company, she found out that a 1950's, standard black desk-set phone, which had been stored in a back closet in my grandma's house for the last thirty years, was still racking up a monthly "equipment usage" fee, in spite of the fact that it had not been used since my mom was in grade school.
Did you know (and I didn't until that day in the late 90's) that you used to have to pay for the set, which says, stamped on it, "Property of Bell Telephone Systems", and had an option to buy it sometime later in the company's history when the whole "renting your model" thing became too much trouble? My grandma must have missed the boat on that one, because she was still paying for a phone that was sitting in storage serving no earthly purpose for ye-e-e-ars. I think the whole rental aspect is responsible for telephones back in the day being so heavy duty... you might have the same one last you forty years, but would also have to pay for the privilege! Don't you find this hard to wrap your head around, in the age of dropping your phone in the bathroom sink and having to have it replaced for whatever ungodly sum (even with insurance sometimes!)? Would a simple monthly fee and guaranteed replacement be easier on us all?
2) My dad worked for the company that prepares the phone book in the early 80's, and during his brief stint there scored this exact print (above), poster sized, from 1969, in a large frame, when it was being removed from the office during a renovation. I was always in love with it growing up, and still intend to wheedle it away from him some day in a moment of house-cleaning weakness. Do you see the video phone? DO YOU SEE. THE VIDEO PHONE. Love it.
Were you aware that Saul Bass, famous for title sequences in movies like Psycho and The Thomas Crowne Affair, designed the AT & T logo? The more you know...
Anyway, just a brief jaunt into mid-century phone practices! Which model or color of phone do you covet the most? Do you still have a landline in a bid for vintage authenticity, or have you, like me and everyone else I know, succumbed to the siren's call of cell phones? I wanted to keep the blamed thing but I only ever used it to hang up on telemarketers or call my own phone to figure out where I'd put it. C'est la vie.
See you tomorrow for Photo Friday!