One of those unique telephones that has almost no equal: the Grillo (cricket) from Siemens Italy. It is from an era when new materials and technology, combined with changing demands from the market, sparked off a number of designer telephones in various countries. It is a truly out of the box design that is certainly not all looks. Designed in 1965 bij Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper and famously won a design prize, the Compasso d’Oro in 1967. It is also one of the few telephones in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
This classic phone is not only sought after by telephone collectors, but also by design collectors.
The Grillo has a comfortable flowing shape when closed and it opens up to the size of a normal handset. Very small for its day, it is somewhat bigger than most of the smart phones of today.
Although the electronics are not very revolutionary, the way the Grillo is made is all the more special. First off the design is very compact indeed, as small as they could make it. It is also the first telephone to have a clam shell design. This clam shell design later influenced a generation of mobile phones with the same feature.
Because of its compact design a normal dial would never fit. After all a normal dial requires 10 finger holes, and a pause, a blank piece without holes. This and the size of the average finger makes the Grillo too small for a conventional dial. The Grillo dial has an clever design without a conventional finger stop and finger wheel. Instead it has a ring of 10 small buttons. Depressing one causes a pin to engage a stop inside the mechanism, when the dial is turned. It does not have an internal ringer, which is placed in a separate housing connected to the plug, a configuration which was also used on some Ericofon.
The Grillo came in a wide variety of colours, the colour range changing over the years. There were even a few transparent examples made. And although it started out as a rotary dial telephone, later a touch tone version was developed. Usually it has a plug that was standard in Italy, but export versions may have a different plug. This Italian plug is fortunately of a normal type that was developed by Ericsson, so matching sockets can be found in other countries too, like Sweden and South Africa. This type of plug was even used in the Netherlands before 1955 it fits perfectly on older PTT sockets, see picture.
Apart from the usual normal discolouration due to sunlight, one thing to be aware of is that the hook switch mechanism is a bit delicate. Built into the hinge of the clamshell it may become faulty with age. So this is certainly something to watch out for, when buying a Grillo. Also the bell set and plug are sometimes missing. And of course beware of what kind of plug is on your Grillo, especially if you want to use it. You will need the right socket for it, because you cannot replace the plug with any standard part, without modification.
Outside of Italy prices can be quite high, but if you buy them from Italy you can get one at a much lower price. Within Europe the difference usually makes up for the shipping costs.
In my collection
I bought mine, a red one of course, in 2014. As they are not offered for sale here in the Netherlands very often, and even when one is for sale, it is usually not red, I had to buy it from Italy. It is in good condition, but, as I mentioned before, I had to make a repair to the hook switch. That this was faulty the seller kindly neglected to mention.
Oh well, it works now.