I cannot help myself. Even these I find interesting: telephones that look like something they are not. My fascination for them is not because they are beautiful or well made, like real vintage and antique telephones. But as a phenomenon and the way people react to them and how they value them, even if they know they are not real, wonders me endlessly. And as an active collector with a distinct presence on social media it is inevitable that I acquire some of them and that people ask me questions about them and often request me to repair them. Also, there is no denying it, I have bought 1 or 2 fakes, thinking they were real. That is, until I opened them up. As other collectors do not like them, there is very little information about them.
So, phones that are in some way not real. But not just phones that look like something else, but look like something that is more valuable, older and from an age that they are really not. They are kitsch, brocante and there are people who love them and are prepared to pay some real money for them.
Like this RTT 56 that has been copper plated. It is worth more that the original black painted ones.
Often these appeal to nostalgia for a time that never was. More beautiful than the real phones from yesteryear, at least in the eyes of some. Highly decorated telephones, newly made, to old style designs. Sometimes they have gold plating on them, scroll work, or intricate metal mouldings. When the were made, from the late 60s until today, they weren’t sold under the pretence of being really old. Nowadays some of these have gotten so old, that sometimes they are offered as real antiques either inadvertently but more often deliberately. Once you know a little bit about telephones, they are not difficult to spot. Not in the least because they are very unpractical, either by the choice of materials, such as marble (actually onyx) which damages easily and is impossible to repair, or because of their shape, such as the ones made from a large brass decorated pillar or integrated in a metal table. Not at all what a telephone company would want. They would prefer easy to produce, maintain and reliable equipment that would be easy to use by the subscriber.
And although these fantasy telephones were newly produced, the technical parts inside may come from an original old telephone from the 50s or 60s. Often they used several different models as a source of parts and almost literally threw them together. And as you may have guessed quality and reliability is abominable. I have an example of a “marble” telephone made by Telcer and a wooden telephone also produced by Telcer, both of which have since left my collection for various reasons.
Recently a couple of manufacturers started reproducing classics from the bakelite and plastic era, with new electronics inside. They are a lot better that these cobbled together older ones and look quite good.
I have My wife has a so called scandiphone that I bought for her, which is a reproduction of an Ericofon, but with a touch tone dial and modern electronics.
Older reproductions stay less true to an original design, like this model Wales, which is more like a fantasy model. It’s shape is similar to the Royal Albert telephones, which were made of porcelain, often with a floral design on them.
A mix between Frankenstein and telephones this term refers to telephones that are made up of parts from several different models, often of from several different eras. The reason for this is often quite innocent. Somebody just wanted to create a working phone from parts available. But also the pimped up RTT56’s and Ateaphones can be considered Frankenphones, as they were all disassembled and reconstituted again, mixing up the parts of the different variants. Like this RTT56, that has a copper plated body but the original handset has been replace with one from an Atea 1928.
This illustrates the grey areas between faux antiques, frankenphones and fakes very well. For a collector these can be very confusing. Am I looking at an unknown and original variant of a known model or a refurbished telephone which has some parts replaced? Or has somebody been messing with it? Sometimes the answer remains unknown. And where the above is done out of practical reasons, some Frankenphones have come from darker origins and are made to deceive. They are fakes, but to the untrained eye they look original.
For instance almost all so-called W26 telephones I have seen on ebay were made up of non-original parts. The were made up of parts of the W28 family of different eras but passed off as original and unaltered.
Even more so the red Hitler phone, a frankenphone of German and British components, false presented as Hitler’s: clearly fake, which leads us to the next category.
Yes, a category all by itself but many fakes may have characteristics of a frankenphone or a faux antique. Fakes may contain parts that were specifically produced to deceive somebody in thinking it was antique. Coloured GPO 300 telephones are notoriously faked by using an Indian made housing and combining it with an original GPO dial, cords etc. And there are a lot of candlestick telephones around that are totally of partly made up of new parts. Deception is of course a vital ingredient of this category and a telephone itself is not deceptive. It is largely the way it is presented that makes the difference between a replica and a fake. The biggest fake I bought so far was a metal German wall phone for the city of the Hague. At least, that is what I thought it was. And somebody did their best to make it look like it was.
People love them, people hate them!
Despite being not real and often obviously so, some people absolutely love them. They appeal to them and although such phones may not have much value to a collector, they may fetch very reasonable prices at auction and antique markets. Having talked to people about them and having sold some these I have found that certain people are really smitten with them. Like Ria, who bought this candlestick telephone. She was told it was an original antique and payed quite a lot of money for it. I helped her out with a pulse tone convertor for it and explained to her it was not an antique. It was, lucky for her, well made and she was very happy with it anyway.
The same as with many collectors, these are not quite to my taste. Whenever I have one of them, it is not supposed to take up a permanent place in my collection. I do not very actively seek them out, but as I buy bunches and small lots of telephones, every once in a while I end up with the odd one. This is especially the case with Danish D30s and RTT 56s.
To my amazement a lot of the questions and repair requests I get through Facebook and my website are about these non-genuine telephones. They often claim it belonged to this old man for years and years or their granny already owned it when they were kids. It is a valuable family piece that has been in the family for ages.
But unfortunately it is broken. Of course it is, the build quality is awful. And they want their priceless heirloom repaired, no matter what. And while I am at it, they want the ugly curly cords changed for a cloth covered one.
So I have to break it to them gently. And I really really do my best to tell them gently that their incredibly expensive ancient artefact is not as old and valuably as they thought. And to substantiate my claim, I point out certain characteristics that show the telephone is not old, like various parts made of plastic, the use of marble, etcetera. And if, after that, they still want their telephone repaired and upgraded with cloth covered cords, I give them a quote with my prices.
After that there are 3 possible outcomes. Some simply deny my assessment of their coveted piece of telecommunications equipment from the olden days. I apparently do not know what I am talking about and in a few cases wishes have been expressed for me to attract a nasty disease.
I particularly remember this women very well, who, after I told her her candlestick was not that old, got angry and raised doubts about my expertise. So I pointed out to her that the telephone had a paper label on the dial with 1876 – 1976 CENTENARY OF THE TELEPHONE on it and provided several links to internet pages with similar telephones after which she told me to contract cancer.
Thank you, madam.
Others swallow twice and politely decline to have it repaired, stating that they will think about it because the price is somewhat high even though they stated earlier that they wanted to have their very dear piece of antiquity repaired at all cost.
But from a lot of people I never hear again. Not even a thank you and goodbye. Probably too shocked to hit the reply button. I quite understand. No hard feelings.