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Landline Telephones: Funky Phones, Novelty Phones and Old Fashioned Phones

Updated on June 20, 2013


Telephones have come a long way since Alexander Graham Bell rushed off to patent his new invention in the 1870's.They are now smaller than ever and getting smaller and of course the technology in them today is mind-bogglingly advanced.

The invention of the telephone grew out out developments in telegraph technology and once the last link in the chain of discoveries was in place the device was off and running. Bell (and others, it should be noted) had realised that undulatory current generated by a magnet was strong enough for the transmission of speech.

Interestingly, the invention was initially greeted with ridicule - Bell was mercilessly laughed at and accused of being a "crank" and a "ventriloquist". It seems that at first, people found it hard to come to terms with the miracle of travelling speech. However, we all know who had the last laugh.

The first words ever uttered through telephone were from Alexander Bell to his assistant Mr. Watson: "Mr. Watson...come here....I want to see you!" Imagine the millions of words that have been spoken through the phone since? Of course now you can text through a phone, send pictures, play games, read your email, browse the internet, take videos and a few other things besides.

Classic dial phones from the 1960s
Classic dial phones from the 1960s | Source

The Good Ol' Home Phone

Although cell phones have taken over the world, most of us still have a land line phone that we just wish to use for talking through. It's the stable, old fashioned home phone and it doesn't need batteries, chargers or any of the other accessories that mobile phones require.

Once upon a time, the home phone was a standard piece of equipment that came in a limited design, depending what era you lived in. Now ther's a style of phone for every home decor and personality type - from fantastic antique reproduction phones, film 'noir' phones, to funky phones of the 50's and 60', vintage pay phones, zany novelty phones, wall phones, elegant phones, fluffy feminine phones and classic phones.

Cell phones are great for convenience and portability but due to their size they just don't have the design possibilities of the larger in-house phones.

Old fashioned pay phone
Old fashioned pay phone

Phone Facts

  • The first commercial phone was the Box Telephone patented in 1877. It was a single transmitter/receiver placed within a retangular wooden box. and the speaker would speak into the opening in the box and then listen through the same opening
  • The first commercial landline phone in Australia was installed into the offices of Melbourne engineering firm, Robison Bros to link their city office with their South Melbourne foundry
  • As of 2007, there were 163.2 million land line telephones in use in the US and 255 million mobile celluar phones
  • A Swedish engineer called Lars Magnus Ericsson installed a telephone in his car in 1910 and as he drove around the country, he would connect his phone with a pair of long electrical wires into the telephone poles installed along the way. Technically, this was the first car phone.
  • The world's smallest phone,as listed in the Guiness book of Records, is the Israeli made Modu. It weighs 1.4 ounces and is 0.3 inches thick.

Groovy car phone! image from flickr by Random0
Groovy car phone! image from flickr by Random0
Classic black
Classic black

Black Beauty

The timeless black phone appeared in countless film noir classics of the 40's and 50's , such as The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart or Allfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, whiich starred Grace Kelly and Ray Milland.

Traditional black phones like these conjure up images of hard bitten detectives in sleazy offices and glamerous women with red lips and suspicious motives. They were quite heavy but felt very solid and well=made and the dial was beautiful to use - this telephone made all the classic phone noises that have now dissappeared.

The classic black phone was still popular up intil the late 1960's/1970's, when it was replaced by lighter weight models in brighter colours. When push button dialling came in, this circular dial type of phone virtually dissappeared off the market..

Very Evelyn Waugh
Very Evelyn Waugh

Whoa ...elegant

The regal blue and white porcelain phone at right is reminiscent of high teas and grand houses. Most ordinary people would not have owned telephones like this but if you could afford it, custom made swanky phones could be purchased.

This type of slimline telephone feels lovely to handle and makes a gorgeous click when you pop it back on the receiver. Todays landline phones tend to be silent - they make no noise when you dial and there's barely any sound when you turn them off. They've lost the phone music.

Brideshead: Castle Howard, Yorkshire
Brideshead: Castle Howard, Yorkshire
Ooh lala!
Ooh lala!
Zsa Zsa
Zsa Zsa

Pink, Fluffy and Jewel Encrusted

Darlink! I'm zo glad you called...

If you look like this you might like the phone above- perfect for girly-girl vamps, husband hunters  and courtesans.

Image from Techblog
Image from Techblog

Funky and Novelty Phones

There are many things which can be made into telephones...bananas for example, or Elvis dolls, french fries, lips, coke name it.

Novelty phones are great fun, as are the brightly coloured hand sets that used to appear in the 60's and 70's and could often be found in teenager's bedrooms.

It's not just phones that have novelty booths too can be pretty way out too, such as the one shown at right, which was made into an aquarium.

Prior to the internet, telephones were really the only device that connected people in real time. They're an important part of the history of communication. It may be hard to believe but there was a time when people survived without cellular mobiles!


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