So you have a nice old telephone, but how do you care for it? Here are some hints and tips for the telephone owner. These will help you to enjoy your vintage telephone for as long as possible.
Please mind that a telephone was expected to last for a “mere” 10 to 20 years. Nowadays these same old phones are expected to last longer than that. Often these telephones are worth quite a bit of money or have sentimental value, because it used to belong to grandma. Naturally it is therefore important that it keeps its value and can be passed on to future generations.
So please take the following into consideration with regards to owning a vintage telephone.
Where do I put my desk phone?
Back in the day you could find the desk telephone in all kinds of places throughout the house and in the office: on desks of course, side tables, on wall furniture, but also on specially made wall brackets which facilitated the use of a notepad and storing the telephone book too. They used to make telephone tables too. Please mind that often old plant tables are offered as telephone tables. These are narrow and high, however, which makes them prone to toppling. Not a good place to put your telephone.
Only from the 70s onwards it became more common to have a second telephone in the bedroom. In many other countries, like the USA, this happened much sooner.
In the office environment here in the Netherlands it was quite common to have a telephone on a swinging arm, to facilitate 2 or more desk.
In a modern setting these old telephones are meant to be a thing of beauty and a decorative item. Because of that they are often in a prominent place. It is however important to avoid direct sunlight. UV radiation affects the old paint and Bakelite adversely very quickly and it yellows the plastics of which these phones are made.
So make sure you put them in a safe place with a least direct sunlight as possible. Moisture and dust are also bad for a telephone, so a dust free and dry environment is advisable.
Where do I hang my telephone?
Wall telephones used to be placed in the hallway. This was in part for historical reasons: early telephones had big, heavy components and big dry cell batteries. Hanging the telephone on the wall was the only practical option and the hallway was simply the best place for it. On the other hand, here in the Netherlands, many people did not have their own telephone. So it was quite normal to go to the neighbour’s house to make a phone call or to call to the neighbour’s house if you wanted somebody. So for privacy reasons it was desirable to have the guest callers in the hallway, rather than in the living room.
Before desk telephones were common and telephones still had big battery boxes, wall telephones could also be found in offices and studies. Here is a famous photograph of Lenin at his desk with no less than 2 telephones behind him on the wall.
In the average house the wall telephone was placed on the small piece of wall under the stairs and sometimes on the wall in the livingroom. Though wall telephones could be found in kitchens in the USA, this was in the Netherlands only the case in big houses with multiple telephones and house hold staff.
The same applies as with desk telephones: put your wall phone in a dust free and dry environment with as least direct sunlight as possible.
In is not uncommon for somebody to accidentally drop the handset on the floor. When placing the telephone, please avoid hard floor surfaces like concrete, tiles, slate etc.to minimise the chances of damage.
Rotary dial telephones can still be used today, although sometimes only partly. Sometimes the dial can no longer be used to dial numbers, but being called on such a telephone is still possible. Please actually use the telephone every once in a while. If you give the telephone some attention in this way, you will keep it in good condition. After all, rest makes rust we like to say in the Netherlands.
The first thing that will happen to your telephone is that it will get dusty. This in itself is harmless, but when a lot of dust gets in the inside of the telephone, it may inhibit it functioning properly. So it is important to dust it regularly and to place it, when at all possible, in a dust free environment.
Polishing your antique telephone can best be done with a clean (!) dry dust cloth, a wiping cloth for cleaning spectacles or a piece of flanel. Avoid liquids like window cleaner, because it will make your telephone less shiny. A stain can be removed with a moist piece of cloth or tissue (with normal tapwater). When dry, polish as above. Dull spots can be made to shine again by putting a little Brasso (brass polish) and let it dry. Rub afterward with a clean dry cloth. Please do take care that the polish does not seap into the telephone. Nickel plate and paint will wear off when polishing too often with Brasso and similar compounds. Please use them sparingly. I am not a fan of using furniture wax or other gloss and shine inducing agents. They are hard to remove from the telephone and touching them will leave prints and dull places on the telephone.
Should you want to store your telephone for an indefinite period, instead of giving it a pride of place, again it is recommended to put it somewhere dry and dust free. Please keep the telephone in something that is closed with a lid, packed with soft material. Please do not put the handset on the cradle and wrap it in soft material too.
Be aware of plastic cords! When the telephone has a plastic curled handset cord or a plastic line cord, it is important that these cords do not touch any plastic parts or painted metal parts. They contain softening agents that affect paint and plastics over time, damaging the telephone itself.
For example, pack the phone in bubble wrap carefully, leaving the cords outside the wrap. In this way you will be nicely surprised when your beautiful telephone re-emerges from storage after a number of years.