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Telephone Surprises!

In my quest to find that perfect vintage rotary telephone I have purchased many, many phones—mostly from eBay but also from other sources. When I arrive home to find a package waiting for me on the front porch it’s like getting a birthday present, or a Christmas present all year! I find it exciting to open a box and see just what I have bought this time. I like them dirty (not broken) and wonder about the history of the telephone. I wonder where the telephone sat or hung for all the years—while in service and since someone decided to unplug it and get a more modern instrument. So opening up that box is the first step of the process of restoring and returning the telephone into service.

Along the way there have been surprises. While walking from the porch to my kitchen table with the box left by the UPS person, or the Postal Service employee, the first sign that things aren’t going to be good is when the contents move around inside the box—-Not Good. Before I even bend open the box top I am holding my breath knowing that something inside may be broken. There have been times when there were more pieces laying in the box than expected. And in my opinion it’s never the fault of the service that brought my package to me…it’s been because of faulty packaging. But that’s another story. Carefully I examine the telephone as I unwrap bubble wrap, or push aside foam peanuts to get to the good stuff. First I take a look at the case of the phone, checking the corners as they are the first thing to break. Then I look at the dial. Did I get a bonus? To me bonuses are things like a vintage number card in the center of the finger wheel. I’ve had double bonuses when removing the card only to find another underneath the one that was displayed. Maybe someone changed numbers. I have seen handwritten phone numbers displayed only to find an original card below with Letters and Numbers, like WEbster9-1234. Now that is exciting!

When buying from eBay it is often the listing with the fewest words describing the telephone that are the best buys. I have been treated to a real find on a phone that had very little description. I trusted my instincts by looking at one small, dark blurry photo and asking a couple questions. But the surprise that sticks in my mind more than any other happened while unpacking a vintage 1960’s wall phone—a Western Electric model 554. The telephone itself was nothing too unusual. It was a typical rotary dial wall phone—a cherry red one. I was optimistic after my initial exterior examination. But something distracted me and I set the telephone down on the kitchen table and didn’t return for several hours. When finally I was able to look inside to see what was what in there, such as ringer bell dates (I’ve even opened phones to find NO ringer bells), network block date, dial date and color code, etc. I was excited about what a nice telephone I had purchased. I decided I would begin my restoration process immediately.

Rather than take the telephone from my kitchen table to my work bench I started dismantling the phone right then and there. I took a screw driver and removed a brass ringer gong. As I did I felt something crawling on my hand. Looking down as I lifted the gong away from the phone I saw small spiders spilling out of the gong, up my fingers and all over the top of my hand, making their way to my wrist. They were so small that they were nearly invisible. Those little spiders were light colored and looked like they had just been born. But they were quick! I ran to the kitchen sink and was able to run my hand and the gong under water to remove those pesky spiders! Yikes! I went back to the phone and removed the other bell and examined the entire phone quickly. No other spiders were found. The telephone had originated in a southern State where it was much warmer than here in Michigan for that time of year. It was not a pleasant experience to say the least. I did learn a few lessons from that experience however. One was to keep those dirty old phones off the kitchen table. Secondly I learned to open the phones carefully–who knows, there could be anything inside of there. In fact I have since opened other phones that had been in boxes in barns and garages with remnants of dead insects inside.

So be careful when opening up a “new” phone.  Surprises do happen!

Oh look, there’s a box on my porch. I wonder what’s inside?………………………

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