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 phones -- have modern "modular" plugs and are ready to instantly plug into the jacks in most homes. Some purists prefer that these phones remain as they were made, but if you prefer, we can equip them with modern modular plugs
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Why are modular phones and cords called "modular?"
 

In the mid-1970s American phone companies started using phones with parts (i.e., a handset module and a base module) that connected together with plug-in cords, instead of the older "hard-wired" cords that required tools to connect. Modular cords were also introduced to connect from the phone base to a modular jack on a wall. Previous "portable extension phones" used a much larger plug with four prongs. Modular plugs can be attached by machine. The four-prong plugs require human hands for installation, cost much more than modular plugs, and had to be made and stocked in multiple colors. The original Trimline phones used plug-in cords but they were bulkier and costlier than modular cords. Variations of the American modular connector system are used in many countries, and are used for computers, test equipment and even radar detectors.
 

(above) A: Modern handset with built-in modular jack and its handset cord. B: Ancient hard-wired handset cord with spade lugs. C: Original Trimline five-conductor handset cord. D: Ancient four-hole jack and four-prong plug. E: Ancient "42A" terminal block with hard-wired line cord from phone. (Upper item is the cover.) F: Modern modular "surface jack" with modular line cord from phone. Modular jacks are made in many colors and formats, including surface- and flush-mounting.
 
How do I install a wall phone?


Phones designed for wall mounting usually have sliding modular plugs that fit into specialized wall jacks. These jacks have mounting studs that look like flattened mushrooms that fit into slots on the back of the phone to support the phone, and a "female" connector that protrudes from the face of the jack plate..

Some wall phones (see photo farther down) have short cords with plugs, instead of plugs that slide up and down in a slot as shown in the photo. Those phones will work with this type of jack, also.

The phone in the photo at the left has a security lock (lower right) that helps keep the phone in place by latching over the lower mounting stud. Some phones don't have it.

 

 

CAUTION: We have heard about, but never seen, a jack like the one illustrated at the left.

Apparently jacks of this type are designed to work with "convertible" corded and cordless phones that can be used on a horizontal surface or mounted on a wall.

Those phones come with short cords, not the sliding plugs shown above which are used with most wall phones. If your phone has a sliding plug, you will not be able to attach it to a jack like the one shown here, and you should replace the jack.

 

 
(above) Older wall phones, produced before modular jacks became common, were designed for "hard wiring." Wires from inside the wall entered the phone through an opening in the back and were connected to the "L1" and "L2" screws on the terminal block inside the phone.
 


(left) Adapters were made to convert hard-wired wall phones to modular, but are hard to find now.
 

(above) Some wall phones, particularly convertible models that also work as "desk" phones, come with short cords that connect from the back of the phone to the wall jack. Slots on the back of the phone fit over mounting studs on the jack.
 

Do your wall phones have chrome or plastic switch hooks?

Back in the 1980s American telephone makers switched from using chrome-plated steel switch hooks (left, above) to transparent, translucent or opaque plastic switch hooks. We have a mixture of chrome and plastic in stock. NOTE: just because you order from a page that shows chrome, don't assume you will get chrome. If you specifically want chrome, or specifically want plastic, ask us. We'll try to supply what you want. Keep in mind that these phones are no longer being made and the available stock decreases every day. We have never seen a phone with a broken plastic switch hook, but we have seen some badly corroded chrome.

 

What's the difference between a ringer and a bell?

Just the name. What normal people call a "bell," telephone people call a "ringer." It's a thing that rings. The sound is generated when a "clapper" bangs a "gong." The three ringers above are functionally the same, but show evolution. "A" has a metal frame. "B" has a plastic frame to save weight. "C" is also plastic but is a compact design that saves even more weight. Any of the three types will work inside a standard #500, #554, #2500 or #3554 phone.

 

I bought a phone on eBay but it doesn't ring. I can't return it. What should I do?

The problem can have several causes:
(1) There is no ringer in the phone. Get one.
(2) The ringer is defective. Replace it.
(3) The ringer is connected improperly. CLICK for some help.
(4) The ringer is "frequency selective," designed for ancient "party-line" service. Ringer "A" above is for normal service. Ringer "B," with the strange clapper, is for party-line service. There are other strange clapper designs, too. If you have one of those ringers, replace it.  

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

88.3847% likely. If you have VoIP phone service or DSL service or phone service from a cable TV company, ask your service provider before you order a rotary-dial phone. HOWEVER, you may get bad information. Some AT&T tech support people will tell you that their U-verse service will not work with rotary phones. It will. So will Cablevision. We've heard conflicting reports about Verizon's FiOS, Vonage and Cox. The different experiences are probably caused by different equipment installed at customers' premises, not by corporate policies or equipment back at the 'mother ship.' Even if a rotary-dial phone can't dial out, it can still ring and be used to talk on. We hope to start selling rotary-to-tone converters.

 
Why doesn't my touch-tone phone dial out?

There are several possibilities:

  1. It's defective. (Clues: you don't hear tones or they are "sour", i.e. off-frequency)
  2. (Unlikely, clue: you hear normal touch-tones but you can't "break" dial tone to make a call) Your phone company doesn't provide touch-tone service.
  3. (Most likely, for an old phone made before about 1985. Clue: when you press a button, instead of hearing a tone you hear a click or a dull "thud.") The wires inside your phone -- or phone jack, or somewhere in your house, or outside on a pole or underground or at the phone company -- have "reversed polarity." Open up the phone jack (you may have to temporarily remove it from the wall) and reverse the red and green wires. [See below.] Some jacks don't have red and green so you may have to reverse the wires in a different-colored pair, usually white with blue stripes and blue with white stripes, or maybe solid blue and solid white. It's quite possible that your phone company has accidentally reversed polarity in the wires feeding your home. You restore touch-tone service by deliberately reversing the accidental reversal, canceling-out the mistake. It's possible, however, that the phone company may make another reversal in the future, usually while splicing a cable, and you may have to reverse your previous reversal. This is why modern touch-tone phones have "polarity guard" circuits.


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 that installed or maintains your system. If you have VoIP phone service or DSL service or phone service from a cable TV company, ask your service provider before you order a rotary dial phone.


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 dial tone, 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 50 years old. Most of our NOS phones have their original boxes, which show some wear and tear. Some have new boxes.

 
Are your phones made by Western Electric?

We've been surprised that some customers said that they were surprised when they received phones from us that were not made by Western Electric. Except for a few rare phones, we do not specify brands. Our rotary-dial phones are made by multiple North American manufacturers including Western Electric, Northern Telecom, Comdial/Stromberg-Carlson and Cortelco/ITT.


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 USA. 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 except for the labels and packaging.


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. Some refurbed phones were repainted, either with the original or a different color.


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.
 

What's an Almost New phone?

Our Almost New Phones are color conversions. They contain parts from two or more phones that were never sold to an end-user, or some parts that were never on a complete phone. No factory makes rotary dial "500" phones anymore, but lots of people want them. We recently discovered some new plastics, and we put them on never-sold phones that had been other colors. They are absolutely gorgeous, and we don't have a lot of them.


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.


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 desk and wall 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, Almost New, Nearly New, and Rough & Ready phones were made either in the US or Canada. Most traditional-style new wall and table phones are made in the US. New Trendline phones and reproductions of Western Electric phones are made in China.


Do you repair old phones?

Yes. Click.


Do you buy old phones?

Yes, but we usually buy in large quantities, not one or two at a time.


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 was 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 world’s 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.