Views 41 Likes Comments Comment
Like if this guide is helpful


American Telephone Plastic & Bakelite Buyers Guide

This is a general guide for Ebay users who are interested in buying American USA telephones, it is intended as a non technical guide and will cover the basic information you may need to help you make a decision on your purchase.

I do not offer a valuation service or provide service information, I can, however, offer general advice as in this guide

Below you will find information on different models including some pictures, but please take the time to read through first!

A brief history

Unlike the GPO in the United Kingdom, the American Telephone companies and manufacturers were miles ahead when it came to providing customers with telephones, that is, in the range of colours and different styles, when we were still installing any colour as long as it was black the Americans were having colours 'we did have ivory,red & green but you had to be somebody special to get one, the 1960's saw a few more colours introduced', even in bakelite like orange & pastel blue etc. By the early 1950's thermo plastics with even greater ranges of colours were being introduced. In the U.K. the GPO had a vested interest in keeping the range of styles and colours to a minimum for reasons of economy, whereas in the USA different telephone companies sourced their telephones from different manufacturers thereby creating a greater range of models.

The 1950's saw many new models arriving on the scene!

Western Electric started producing new models in plastic and other makers like Stromberg Carlson jumped onto the bandwagon with their new designs

Compatability with the UK network

Most standard American telephones, be they dial or push button can be converted to fully work on the british telephone network, they will happily operate on BT and the cable networks like NTL. It is important, however, that they are converted before attempting to connect to the UK network! All conversions should be carried out by an engineer even if the telephone has a modular plug or socket to which you have or buy a lead or adaptor that fits, by fitting such a connection yourself you could be causing undesirable conditions on you telephone line that you are not readily aware of which in serious cases could cause the ceasing of your telephone service!

Ringing bells'

Many people are under the false impression that an American telephone will ring the American way (cadence) if plugged into a UK socket, this is certainly not the case, it will ring the British way. Any telephone with a traditional bell, will ring the way its told to by the system it's connected to, it will, however, have a different pitch or tone quality, this is purely due to the size of the bell gongs and their construction, it's a shame! If you are mad enough like me to have your own telephone system you can have a different ring!


As you will discover there are many more different colours and shades than you would find in the British GPO range of telephones, from the late 1950's and right through to the middle 1980's different colours were popping up all the time (we were stuck with black,grey,ivory,red,green,blue & yellow not forgetting the brown that popped up just before we stopped making them), Americans had a much greater choice. It's worth noting that some American phones had their colours applied by painting methods rather than coloured plastic this is quite normal and does not mean that somebody has done it in their garden shed the paint is hard wearing and should not come off in normal use.



If you buy or have an American phone with a clear plastic dial and you want to change the paper disc that holds the number read this, IF YOU DON'T YOU WILL BUST THE DIAL!

To remove the paper disc you have to remove the whole front of the dial, the window does not come out!

Proceed as follows:

instructions on how to remove the dial front.

You need a drawing pin to do the job.

Removing the dial plate:

1 Dial 0 with your right index finger but don't let the dial return

2 With your left hand hold the dial in place and take your finger out of "0",
  then turn the dial clockwise the little extra until it stops.

3 whilst still holding the dial look closely at the two finger holes nearest to the finger stop,
  you will see a tiny hole between them on the rim of the area where the paper disk is.

4 whilst still holding the dial place, put the drawing pin in the hole and push it down with your right thumb,
  keep a little pressure on the drawing pin and turn the dial further in a clockwise direction again until it stops.

5 whilst still holding the dial remove the drawing pin, then let the dial go completely and it will wind back as normal.

6 you can now just lift off the whole dial plate.

Refitting the plate:

1 with the dial in its normal position locate the dial plate over the front of the dial but so   the finger hole that
would normally be over the "0" is actually over the "9"

2 apply very light downward pressure and rotate the dial anticlockwise, as the hole arrives at the "0" it will click and that is it!


Importing by buying from non-UK sites

If you are thinking of buying from a non-UK listing, you should take the following important information into consideration:


The value of the item and the shipping costs are taken into consideration by HM Customs when calculating your import duty, this means the value of the item is subject to import duty, this total is then added to the shipping cost and the whole amount is then subject to VAT at 17.5% even though you made a payment to a foriegn country and may have already paid their tax, there may also be additional charges for administration in processing the item by the courrier.


As these telephones are often heavy and usually exceed 2kg, the shipping costs can be very expensive, opting for surface shipping rates can reduce the costs by a small ammount but with a usual delay of 56+ days means if there is a problem it's too late to make a claim through ebay as there is a limit of 30 days when making a claim and even if you are in a position to make a claim, you will still be liable for return postage costs. many listers in th USA do not offer worldwide shipping prefering to offer only to the 'lower 48 states' exluding some of their own states, the ones that do tend to insist on Airmail rates & insurance.


Remember the telephone will need converting to use in the UK, may be incompatible as some models are or could be faulty


If spare parts are required, you will have difficulty in obtaining them, most UK parts do not fit. I keep a range of spares for my own use and repairs for items purchased through my listings, but I do sometimes offer spares up in listings & will try to help if I can!


If you feel confident enough after reading this then happy bidding!, otherwise, stick to a UK seller like myself and buy with confidence that you will get a quality fully working and guaranteed purchase thant you can enjoy for years to come! 




The Classic 500 & 2500 types most people will recognise

These are the telephones you often see in American television programs and films of the 1950's / 60's /70's & early 80's.


Early 500 (note black dial)                   500 series in Black                              2500 series in RED    

The 500 series was introduced in the mid 1950's to replace older bakelite models like the 302 often seen in 1940's films, this range of telephones were one of the first types (but not the first) to use thermo plastic molded cases rather than bakelite and soon started to appear in a range of attractive colours, the range of colours increased during the 1960's & 70's. Early black 500's had matching black metal dials. Nearly all of these telephones have really nice dials, you can wind them up very quickly and they return smoothly and are a joy to use! Older types from the 50's & 60's tend to be much heavier than later models. 500's were made by various different manufacturers including Western Electric, Northern Electric (Canada) & Stromberg Carlson, some are also marked by the telephone company, like Bell Systems, later models are often marked with ITT & AT&T. In the mid 1960's Touch Tone dialing was introduced on some exchanges so a new type of telephone was needed, the 1500 version was introduced, these are quite rare and collectable they had only ten buttons 1 to 0, the 'star & hash' buttons did not exist until the 2500 version was introduced later on. The 2500 version is the most common model but is ideal if you often need to use tone dialing for services like telephone banking as the rotary dial types cannot provide the tones required! 500 series telephones also come in wall versions, these are the 554 (rotary dial) & the 2554 (touch tone buttons).


Bedroom Telephones Princess (702) & Starlight

Dial version Starlight                PB Touch Tone Version

Princess (702) in ivory / white

As you can see with the starlight pictures there are certianly some vivid colours and these colours run right across the american telephone range. Many of the bedroom telephones also come in more pastel colours like pink and pale blue, colours are a very personal choice! These littel phones come in both dial and push button versions, the other interesting thing about these phones is that although they are small they have quite a weight to them, this helps to stop them moving about on the table while you dial, many also have a real cork base, our GPO in the UK should have had a closer look at these before bringing out the trimphone which really does dance about when dialing! The princess range also have an illuminated dial so you can find it in the dark (this function only works with an additional mains transformer). These phones came out in the early 1960's a real Dorris Day item!


Bakelite, hybrid & metal types

Above a Stromberg Carlson 1543 bakelite / thermo plastic hybrid 1950 onwards, usually handsets are of bakelite and are quite heavy! Note the black dial this is made of metal, transparent plastic came in a lot later but can be found on early models if repairs have been carried out, these telephones may have been in service for very long periods of time and this is proof of their sturdy construction!


Original 302                                       Later 5302

Above left a Western Electric 302 originally made from 1937 onwards until the early 1950's, some versions are of thermo plastic as this one is, earlier models will be all bakelite although it's hard to tell the difference and if repairs have been carried out during their lifetime then older telephones may have some plastic parts. 302's can also come in some interesting colours. The right hand picture is also a 302 although rebadged as 5302 it is the same phone with a newer plastic case, these were a stop gap solution for where a newer 500 type could not be fitted!


     WE 202

Above a Western Electric 102 & 202, 102 were made from about 1927 onwards  & 202's originally made from about 1930 until 1937 when the 302 arrived, these are part metal and part bakelite and have a low profile, they are the table replacement for the erlier candlestick types and as the with candlestick types do not have an internal bell (very much like the British GPO 232 pyramid) bells were contained in a seperate box mounted on the wall complete with other parts neccesary for the phone to function correctly, the base is usually covered with felt rather than having feet, this felt is often found to be in poor condition but can be easily replaced. Both are now quite collectable due to their age and style

It's worth remembering that models prior to the 302 onwards, unless they also have a bell box may not perform well on modern telephone lines due to some models not having the correct anti sidetone circuits and also having inefficient transmiters as is also the case with some candlestick types as well



Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides