Old Telephones

Here at Repair Sheffield we’re big on old stuff. Retro is cool and while reproductions are ok, the genuine original is always better. Here we take a look at old telephones. Where to find them, how to restore them and how they can still be used today.

Two 'modern telephones' as the GPO called them. The one on the left dates from 1959 and is still working 57 years later!

Two ‘modern telephones’ as the GPO called them. The one on the left dates from 1959 and is still working 57 years later!

Nearly everyone can remember the old dial telephones. They have been a constant part of our everyday lives for well over 100 years. From the ‘candlesticks’ of the early 1900s, through the black bakelite phones of the 1940s and 50s, to the multi-coloured 700 series of the 60s and 70s to the modern plastic devices of today. But what you may not know is that the technology of the telephone is still essentially the same as it was in the late 1800s and those very early phones will still work quite happily today.

Old telephones are quite easy to come by. Brightly coloured examples from the 60s and 70s can still occasionally be found at car boot sales and in charity shops, while older bakelite and candlestick models turn up from time to time in antique centres. The availability is a bit of a historic numbers game. In the early 1900s far less people had phone lines than in the 1970s, so far less telephones were made to meet the demand. The later you get, the more were made and so more survive. But having said that a 1920s candlestick type phone can still be yours for less than £200, which is only about 4 times the price of a modern plastic replica.

The beauty of old telephones is they were built to last. Prior to the mid-1980’s you didn’t buy a telephone, you rented it, together with the line, from the General Post Office (G.P.O.) Telephones were seen as simply functional, so the longer they would last in service without repair or replacement the better. Only in the 80’s could you start buying telephones to plug in yourself and that is when the ‘throw-away’ mentality took hold. But even then many subscribers (as the GPO’s customers were called) stuck with their faithful old dial phones, some of which had even then been in service for well over 20 years. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t mend it’ was the mentality of the GPO, so they a;ways stuck with a design as long as they could if it worked.

The phone from 1959 with it's plastic cover removed. It's a simple job to re-wire the terminals on the right for modern working with the plug & socket system.

The phone from 1959 with it’s plastic cover removed. It’s a simple job to re-wire the terminals on the right for modern working with the plug & socket system.

The old dial type phones we see today are usually the 7xx series, first introduced in 1959 The first of these was the 706 desk phone, which was followed by an updated version known as the 746 in 1967 and a ‘plug & socket’ version the 8746 in the early 1980s.

Many 706 types still survive today. As I sit typing this, one of the very first, dating from 1959, sits on my desk and is still working perfectly 57 years later! With the event of the plug and socket system, originally known as ‘inphone’ in the 1980s, the wiring in our houses changed slightly, so old telephones do need a small conversion to fit a modern plug and switch some wiring around inside the phone. But the conversion is simple and can easily be done in less than 10 minutes.

So if you have an old dial telephone gathering dust in the loft or if you’ve found one at the local car boot sale, bring it along to our Repair Cafe and we’ll tell you all about it’s history, check it over, and get it working ready for the next 50 years!

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