Watch CBSN Live

Hello? Hello?

Telephones are credited to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. Like all technologies, the first decade was a shaking-out period for the design and the technology.

The earliest phones hung on a wall of your office or home (if you were someone important). You were connected by wires owned by the phone company to a central office. You didn't call your party. You called a live equipment operator who plugged your line into your neighbor's. Eventually, the operator could also call up other operators in other towns so you could call further and further away.

All photos by PHONECO
Wooden two-box phone

Two-story wooden two-box phone. Electrical components were in the top box, glass water/acid batteries in bottom. This phone required regular changing of electrodes. Cranking sent an electric current, which rang the operator's bell to get her attention. The steel center transmitter was an improvement over the first phones, where you had to be right up against a box. This phone was phased out around 1905. Mid 1880s to 1905.

Single-box wall phone

Single box plain-front wood wall. These were quite decorated at first, then gradually became plainer. Receivers were hard rubber. By 1927, they were Bakelite. Note the writing pad.

Crank phones begin in mid-1880s but were used into the 1960s in some rural areas. Northern Electric in Canada was the last maker of crank phones by the 1960s.

Side mount country junction

Side mount country junction. This one was small and plain, with a two-way handset. Local companies added dials. Hundreds of phones like this one came and went by the time World War I had started.

Phone with "French" handset

European phone with "French" handset. The handset is called a "French handset" because U.S. soldiers saw them in France. Very rare, if perfect

Candlestick phone

Candlestick phone. 1905-1940s Office and phone use. Well balanced. Can carry around. 1901 patent date is for the transmitter cup, and even those made in 1940s have 1901 patent date.

The more popular phones became, the more important it was that they be convenient, and that meant that phones landed on people's desks. Between 1901 and 1904, they switched to ordinary candlestick models, which lasted until World War II (1941). In the first 10 years of candlesticks (1905-1915), there were 30 variations in size and styles. But by 1915 or so, most fell by the wayside. By the 1920s, out of about 300 name brands, only about 10 equipment makers remained.

Cradle phone

Cradle phone. 1927-1940s. Western Electric and Northern Electric in Canada made this metal model for the Bell system. Only numbers are on the dial. The early ones carried no letters.

Multi-line phone

Multi-line phone. 1940-early '50s. Collectors with a technical bent like some of the multi-line phones because of their complexity. The ordinary user doesn't find them attractive, even the old ones. Multi-line phones came in on phones in the '20s. Before that, a switchboard could send multi-lines to a candlestick phone.

Rotary wall phone

Rotary wall phone. 1938. AE50 wall phone, rotary dial with letters. Stylish for its time.

Color wall phone

Color wall phone. 1957. Rotary dial plastic wall phone. You paid more for color phones.

Rotary dial desk phone

Rotary dial desk phone. 1949 on. A "modern" rotary dial desk phone, plastic starting after World War II in 1949. Colored plastic in 1954.

Princess phone

Princess phone. 1963. Dial or Touch tone in 1963 (different kind of signal). It cost the customer $1 more a month for touch tone. It took some phone companies a decade or more to adopt it.


Ericafone. 1955. Ericafone, modern Swedish design. First one-piece phone. Beginning of novelty phone era.

Dixieland Disney phone

Disney Dixieland Novelty: $75

French fries

French fries: $30

Slinky phone

Slinky: $30

Sportscar (Viper)

Viper: $30

Pay phone with transmitter on front

1911-1970s: During that entire period, pay phones were virtually unchanged. They started without a dial in 1911. (The dial was added in 1920.) Later in the '20s, the one-piece handset was added.
For more information, visit

Find out about other collectibles described by The Saturday Early Show's Tony Hyman in the Collectibles Archive or visit Tony Hyman's Web site.If you think you have a collectible worth a lot of cash, send an email to with "What's It Worth?" in the subject line. Or write to "What's It Worth?" The Saturday Early Show, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019.

©MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved