Frequently Asked Questions

Do your old phones plug into modern phone jacks?

All of our phones -- with the exception of a few un-restored New Old Stock Western Electric phones -- have modern "modular" plugs and are ready to instantly plug into the jacks in most homes.


I have touch-tone service. Will I be able to use a rotary-dial phone?

99.999999999999999999993847% likely

Can I use your old phones in my office phone system?

They should work fine if your system has "analog extension ports" or "hybrid extension ports." Ask the person or company who installed or maintains your system.

Will your phones work during a power failure?

Yes, and that's part of their appeal. Unlike cellphones and cordless phones that require constant AC power or periodic charging, our phones get their power from the phone company. They don't use batteries, and don't have power cords. As long as you have dialtone, you'll be able to make and receive calls. NOTE: If you use VoIP phone service, make sure your VoIP terminal adapter is connected to a back-up battery ("UPS," or Uninterruptible Power Supply).

What's New Old Stock?

The term probably originated in the antique car parts business, and refers to products that were made years ago, but never sold to an end-user. Our "NOS" phones range from about two to 40 years old. Most of our NOS phones have their original boxes, which show some wear and tear. Some have new boxes.

Why are there so few New Old Stock Western Electric phones?

Most Western Electric phones were built to be rented by local Bell phone companies, not to be sold as retail products; so they never entered the new phone distribution pipeline with other brands like ITT. Some later AT&T phones were made for AT&T in Singapore or China, but collectors consider them to be less desirable than phones made by Western Electric in the US. In the mid-1980s, WE made phones for sale under the names of former AT&T companies, such as BellSouth and PacTel, that were identical to the AT&T-branded versions.

What's a refurbished phone?

Refurbishing is just another word for reconditioning or rebuilding. Traditionally, when a rental phone was taken out of service, it was disassembled, cleaned, tested, and made to look and work like new, and then rented to another customer. A refurbished phone may contain parts made in different years, and even by different companies, but should be as good as a new phone. Rental phones were built to last for many decades. Many people who thought they got "new" phones from their local phone company, actually got refurbs. Some phones were refurbished several times, and some 50-year-old phones still work fine.

Should I get New Old Stock or Refurbished?

It depends on what's important to you. If you crave perfect appearance, NOS is a better choice than a phone that's been used. If you're not a perfectionist and like to save money, get a refurb. If you want a style or color that's not available in NOS, get a refurb. Our Nearly New phones look as good as NOS, but are less expensive. They all have the same one-year warranty.

Who refurbishes your phones?

It varies. Some were refurbished by their manufacturers, such as Western Electric. Some were refurbished by local phone companies in the US and Canada. Some were refurbished by companies that specialize in refurbishing. Some were refurbished by us. We started refurbishing phones in 1977.

What's a Nearly New phone?

Our Nearly New Phones are less expensive than New Old Stock, but look better than most refurbished phones. Nearly News usually have new plastic shells, new dials, new handsets, and new cords. Their internal electronic and mechanical parts are carefully tested, and replaced if necessary. Nearly News look and work just like New News. Unless you turn them over or take them apart, you'd think they just came from the phone factory.

Some phones are labeled "Bell System Property. Not for Sale." Is it legal to buy or sell them?

Usually yes. Since the Bell system has not existed since the end of 1983, nothing is Bell System property. Many phones with the "property" label were sold by local phone companies to the people who had been renting them, and were subsequently given away, junked, or sold to others.

What's a mechanical ringer?

That's the official phone industry term for a plain old bell that rings, as opposed to a new-fangled electronic ringer that warbles, chirps, beeps or purrs.


What's mechanical hold?

It's a simple hold circuit used on older 2-line and 3-line phones that puts a call on hold by placing a short circuit on the phone line. It's simple and inexpensive; but only the phone that put a call on hold, can take it off hold -- so it can be a PITA in a multi-phone environment. It's fine for a single user.

What's full modular?

Full Modular phones allow the handset cord to be unplugged from the phone body and from the handset. On full modular desk phones, the line cord can be unplugged from the phone body.
Half Modular is a description that applies to desk phones only, and is a relatively uncommon configuration. The line cord can be unplugged from the phone body, but the handset cord is permanently attached ("hard wired").
Quarter Modular is a description that can apply to desk or wall phones. The phone is designed to connect to a modular jack, but the handset cord is permanently attached ("hard wired").
Non-Modular phones have not been made since about 1980. Both handset and line connections are hard wired.

Where are your phones made?

New Old Stock, Refurbished, Nearly New, and Rough & Ready phones were made either in the US or Canada. Traditional style new wall and desk phones are made in the US. New Trendline phones and reproductions of Western Electric phones are made in China.

Do you repair old phones?

Only the phones that we sell. If you have an old phone that needs parts, we may be able to help you.

Do you buy old phones?

Yes, but we usually buy in large quantities, not one or two at a time. However, if you want to sell even one phone that's New Old Stock, let us know.

When was the last rotary dial phone made?

Cortelco (the company that used to be known as ITT) stopped in 2006. Other manufacturers stopped before then. Many companies make phones with circular touchtone dialing pads, that look like rotary dials from a distance.

When did people stop renting phones in the US?

A few thousand people still rent phones. Renting was mandatory until the late 1970s.

Today, AT&T is the name for the company that used to be called SBC.
Who makes AT&T-brand phones?

In 1996, AT&T sold off its phone equipment manufacturing operation as Lucent Technologies. Lucent was granted the right to use the AT&T brand name for several years until the Lucent name could be established. Initially, Lucent consumer phones carried both Lucent and AT&T labels.

In 1997, Lucent joined Dutch electronics giant Philips (parent of Norelco, Magnavox, Sylvania and others) in a joint venture to make and market consumer phones. The partnered companies had planned to use the Philips brand name, but neither "Philips" nor "Lucent" meant much on the shelves at Circuit City, so after a few months, Lucent got permission to keep using the AT&T name. Regardless of the brand name, the joint venture was a very bad idea, and was killed after less than one year.

AT&T once ran an expensive ad campaign -- possibly the only TV commercials ever broadcast for consumer phones -- promoting the virtues of "Genuine Bell." The campaign was a sham because many Bell (and, later, AT&T) phones were made by others. Sometimes an AT&T-made plastic shell contained non-AT&T innards. Sometimes a phone was AT&T inside, and the shell came from someone else. Often, it was all from someone else, but the quality was usually quite good. Lucent was in an ironic situation, as it tried to sell its consumer phone business in 1999. There's nothing very special about its factories and product designs. Its biggest asset was the AT&T label, which it twice planned to give up, but could not live without. In 2000, the Lucent/AT&T package was sold to VTech, an Asian company that had previously made cordless phones that carried AT&T labels (and lots of other labels), as well as electronic toys.

Who's Cortelco? What happened to ITT?

Cortelco can trace its roots back to the Kellogg Switchboard and Supply Company. It began operations in 1897 near Chicago, and became a division of the International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) in 1952. During the 1960s and 70s the business name and its affiliation with various other ITT divisions underwent various changes, but the changes had very little impact on the day-to-day operations of the ITT telecommunications factory in Corinth, Mississippi. 

During the 80s the Corinth facility was part of a joint venture between ITT and CGE, transferring the majority of ownership to the newly-formed Alcatel, the worlds largest telecommunications manufacturer, based in France.  Shortly after this merger, the American operation was named Cortelco an acronym for Corinth Telecommunications Corporation.  In 1990, Alcatel sold Cortelco to former ITT executive, David S. Lee.

Who's Comdial? What happened to Stromberg-Carlson?

Stromberg-Carlson was a telecommunications equipment manufacturing company formed  as a partnership between Alfred Stromberg and Androv Carlson in 1894, when Alexander Graham Bell's patent for the telephone expired. Stromberg and Carlson were employees of American Bell Telephone Company, and each invested $500 to establish a firm to manufacture equipment for sale the non-Bell telephone companies.

Stromberg-Carlson was originally located in Chicago, with Carlson managing manufacturing and Stromberg responsible for marketing. In 1904, Stromberg-Carlson was purchased by Home Telephone Company, a relatively large service provider which was based in Rochester, New York, and which relocated all of Stromberg-Carlson to New York.

In 1955, Stromberg-Carlson was purchased by General Dynamics. In 1982, General Dynamics sold the phone system and telephone division of Stromberg-Carlson to Comdial Corporation. Comdial went bust in 2005 and was bought by Vertical Communications, which also bought phone system maker Vodavi.