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Western Electric Model 500 – Is It Really From 1957? #3

In my last post I pointed out some clues revealed by an eBay listing photograph. We are trying to determine if a Vintage Rotary Phone is actually from 1957 as the listing advertises. Based on our clues in posting #2 we are skeptical. Today we will examine a couple more pictures and the text of the listing to confirm our suspicions that the telephone is actually a refurbished phone with parts and pieces that span a decade. In a case like this, the buyer must do some research in order to know more about the item than the seller—or at least as much.The view of the back of the phone confirms that the feet are indeed round and plastic. An indication that they were added much later than 1957. Also the plastic housing has had a corner notched at the back to allow for a modern modular jack, so a new 4-pin telephone line cord could be plugged into the phone. But what else can we learn?Here we see another photo that the seller has provided of the bottom of the phone. A sticker identifying the phone as once being the Property of New England Telephone & Telegraph Co. As always “back in the day” the phone company owned the phone, the user just leased it. But right there is the refurbish date. In August of 1977 the phone was refurbished at a Western Electric refurbishing center. At that time the phones were updated. If the Original phone had leather feet and one may have been torn, all were removed and replaced with the most modern foot pad of the day. In this case in 1977 the most modern foot pad was the round plastic foot. The plastic was then updated with a notched housing. The G1 handset would have been changed for a lighter G3 plastic handset with a modular plug and the modular cord. Often the dial mechanism was also changed. In this case it appears as though the original was left in place.

This is what the seller had to say about this telephone:

This Western Electric 1957 Black Rotary Phone has a metal dial and a modern plug. It is desk style with a Bakelite body, metal gears, volume control for ringer and metal base. Marked on the bottom C/D 500 9/7. Also has a sticker that reads Property of New Eng Tel & Tel Co. On the back of the phone under the handset rest it reads Made By Western Electric. The hand set is marked Bell System Property Not For Sale Western Electric. Plastic cover for dial is missing. I plugged the phone in, it gets a dial tone and you can dial out. When I called in to house phone from my cell phone, it did not ring. I don’t know if the volume was turned off or if something is wrong with the ringer. When I called my cell phone from it, my cell phone did ring. It is in very good condition with no chips, cracks or repairs to the body. I do not know if repairs have made to the mechanical workings of the phone.

I believe the seller was not being dishonest in his/her listing, perhaps mistaken. If we look at the second sentence the seller says it has a Bakelite body. These phones never had a Bakelite body, it is a plastic body…but again it was the seller’s belief that it was Bakelite, not an attempt to mislead. People often want to believe they have something special on their hands. The word “rare” is used very often in the eBay community. It’s use is certainly not rare. The seller indicates the phone has on the bottom C/D 500 9/7. I believe one digit was worn away and it actually was the original date of the base of the phone—-September 1957. Something made this seller believe the phone is from 1957. When a seller says the phone will not ring that is not reason alone to keep looking. Many of these older Western Electric model 500’s need only the movement of one wire to make them ring. They were originally wired for party line use and that is why they do not ring without the movement of the wire.

In my next posting I will write more about dates, where on the phones internal parts dates are located. I will show another photo or two from actual eBay listings that point to other clues that will help the reader to find the best phone possible.

Come back tomorrow when once again we will ask, Is It Really From 1957?

9 responses to “Western Electric Model 500 – Is It Really From 1957? #3”

I got a rather scruffy (some paint spots etc) 500 all the way from Michigan, no handset or line cord, the phone was cheap but these babies aint light on postage, the post being twice what the phone cost, at least they wont slide all over the table like a trimphone!

I had a rubbishy modern set with linecord and handset, plugged it up and nothing, so then I looked at the pins in the modular plugs, all bent out of shape, then I had to track down a replacement set for the handset, form e-bay again, in fact the guy sent 2 for the price of one, nice fella!

Then I had to figure out how to replce the jack, its not as easy as it appears. Once all that was over plugged it all in and hey presto a dial tone, and could dial out.

No ring though. What now?

As you said you need to adjust a silly little wire on the bellset, I only got the info from a US messageboard, originally I assumed it was a difference in UK/US operating voltage or just not enough REN here to power the bell.

So now it rings and dials, but the replacement handset cord was poor quality and coming away from the plug, so another e-bay search and I find a coms dealer who sells coiled black cords, I ordered two different lengths, longest being up to 15ft.

Pulls the cords out, plugs them all back and nothing, so I put it to one side till I could be bothered trying to figure this one out.

Couple of months later its annoying me so I gets it out the box, plugs up and still nothing, maybe the UK cords are wired different to the US plugs?

Nope, just a look at those pesky pins revealed they had bent out of line again, tweaked them with a scalpel, plugged back in, and hey presto I now have a lovely (if rather scruffy) 500 with a 15ft hand cord which works perfectly, with The Rockford Files type ring.

I’d exercise caution when changing line cords as those pins seem a might fragile!

I’ve probably spent more on it, than buying a pristine converted one from the US!

Thank you Scot for taking the time to share that story with us. What you went through to make your phone work is part of the fun of owning a Vintage Rotary Phone, at least for me! Taking something that was once a common, everyday article and making it so that it can be used on a daily basis again is very rewarding.

The modular plugged cords that you describe are why I enjoy so much the older cords. They were “hard wired” and connected internally with screws. That kept such things from bad contact and plugs pulling away from taking place. However for convenience and as a cost-saving measure the modular plugged cords were inevitable. Thank you again for sharing your story!

Thanks Dennis, maybe gonna get a coloured version next, hopefully witn no tinkereing about.

The bell ringer adjustment was really annoying, so simple, but nothing like a GPO set.

Can you recommend a cleaner for the paint flecks etc, might try and rub it up as new looking.


I generally recommend Novus #2 plastic polish. However you may not be able to find it locally. It is available off eBay. Perhaps another brand of plastic polish/scratch remover will work just fine. I just apply liberal amounts of polish and use a soft cotton cloth, like an old athletic sock (not acrylic) to rub in the polish until the paint specks disappear. Sometimes the heat from the friction of rubbing in the polish helps the paint to come off faster. Good luck!

Now Dennis, i found a site that told me how to remove the dial from the 500, and it invovled a pin and rotating the dial till a click was heard, I tried it but mine was stubbornly fixed.

If I want to wash the outer casing I need to remove the dial, thanks for the cleaning tips, sure will find it on e-bay.

Thanks again,



Those finger wheels often get stuck on the clip on which they are mounted. Sometimes it take a little work to get them off. It has to be done carefully in order to avoid breaking any of the plastic that is on the back side of the finger wheel. If you don’t the positive gain is worth messing with it, then it is probably well enough left alone. I get frustrated with them sometimes and I have removed hundreds of them.

Let me know how things work out with the phone!

Hi again Dennis, just bought a 500 wallphone, all the way from Kansas, plain black but identical to the one in Fight Club used by Brad Pitt at the Paper St. house. (well the one in the film is white paint spattered, don’t want to go that far)

Im unsure if its modular or hard wired, as it has a white handset cord, I have a spare black coil I ordered for the 500 desktop, but if its hard wired can you suggest where to get a replacement?

Love your site, I’m getting really fond of your US phones, after all we in the UK see 500’s in practically every US film from the late 50’s onwards, love that mellow ringtone, even though its on UK phase1

Thanks again,


Oh bother! Do I need to buy a wall mount back plate to mount the thing Dennis?


The wallphone I have been able to obtain a replacement black fat colied spaded cord

Cant seem to find any black spaded line cord as yet.

This is taking second place to my Western Electric1c2 payphone I have just obtained and need to connect a line to.

Should be easy enough,have a cord, just need to strip it and crimp new spades on the wires.

Dont ask how much that was, all the way from California!

Bit off-topic but thought I’d keep you updated.

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