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Those Pesky Phone Stickers

It is amazing how many of the vintage rotary telephones from the 1950’s and up until they were discontinued have telephone stickers. You know the type—911 Stickers, Police and Fire Stickers, sometime they’re advertisements—for funeral homes and pizza parlors, gasoline stations and doctor’s offices. There are long ones that glow in the dark that are found on the handsets while the smaller, square stickers seem to always have been placed on the top of the case between the cradle uprights. But not all of them. Some of them are right down in front for everyone to see.

Stickers evolved over the years too. Early stickers were paper based. Like most things older being better they had a better adhesive. Better in that they stuck better, worse because they are difficult to remove. Newer stickers have more plastic in them—maybe vinyl. There are even some that seem to be like bumper stickers—made of aluminum foil. And if one were to look on eBay at this moment at telephones for sale you will see stickers. You will see where the seller has tried to peel off the sticker, unsuccessfully and now only part of the sticker remains. I have purchased phones where stickers once were. Greater damage was done by someone trying to scrape off a sticker with a sharp object than if they’d just have left it alone. A good soaking in warm soapy, sudsy water and the memories of the past come off easily. In a rare case the persistent glue remains, but a good soaking and polishing will remove the residue.

Sometimes I almost hate to remove the stickers. They are “time period correct”. They are a sign of the past just as is the telephone. But off they come. When I first started detailing telephones the stickers went by the wayside without much thought or fanfare. But lately it seems I have given the stickers some thought. Who put it there? Were they ever really referred to before making a call? Do we really need a sticker telling us how to “dial” 9-1-1?

So to those that of you that pick up old telephones in yard sales, or Estate sales with the intention of selling them—PLEASE, don’t use something sharp to remove those pesky stickers—in fact just leave them there. Let the new owner remove the stickers–carefully!

3 responses to “Those Pesky Phone Stickers”

I’ve been thinking about the sticker issue a lot, lately. I’ve been collecting telephones for a while, but I recently decided that I couldn’t collect and keep just everything that came along. I’ve narrowed it down to rotary telephones “as used.” I know that you devote a lot of effort to making the phones look factory-fresh, and I respect that, but I’m interested in how they were used, and why. My favourite piece in my collection is the telephone that was hanging in the kitchen of my family home when I was a kid. It has stickers for police, ambulance, and the poison control hotline. We never had to use any of those numbers, but my father affixed the stickers carefully on the midline of our ivory 554, where they’d be hidden when the handset was in place. It’s so characteristic of his forethought and attention to detail that it means a lot to me. It’s a great demonstration of how the phone was used- a primary link to the outside world in a rural home with a lot of kids and caring parents. So, I’ll leave the stickers in place.


Thank you for your comment and personal story about your family telephone. I absolutely see your point of view on leaving the stickers where they are as a true representation of how the telephones were used in our daily lives. There are many collectors out there that like to leave the phones in “as removed from service” condition. Especially a telephone that was in your family home while growing up. They like to keep the “patina” on the phone giving it the character that it acquired from its longevity.

I think that what really prompted me to write about the removing of the stickers was the fact that I had picked up too many phones where the sellers had tried to remove the stickers in order to enhance the sale of that phone. In their attempts at removal of the sticker they caused greater damage by using an instrument to scrape or pry the sticker damaging the plastic.

Thank you again for your posting!


Many old stickers or remnants will come off easily with Bestine rubber cement thinner. I buy mine at a craft store called Michael’s. It’s in the glue aisle, by the rubber cement. Don’t count on the employees knowing what it is or where to find it.

I just apply a bit of the thinner to a cotton swab, then rub it over the sticker, and around the edges, letting it soak in. Repeat until the sticker starts to lift. A good adhesive may take several applications, but eventually it will let go.

It’s probably impractical to buy a can to remove just one sticker from one old phone, but if you’re doing a bunch, it’s good stuff. I use it to remove stubborn tape and stickers from lots of household items. I won’t guarantee it won’t harm the plastic, but I’ve never had a problem with it doing that.

Thank you Dave for that tip and for taking the time to share it with our readers. There is a Michael’s store near me so I can look for the product there. I have had success with just soaking in warm sudsy water with most of the phones since I have to do that anyway to clean them. Recently, as the previous poster suggested I was asked to leave a sticker in place as the phone had been in his family for years and was part of the memory of the phone. But as you also suggested there may be other applications for Bestine. I’m always looking for new products that make getting the job done easier. Thank you!

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