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Western Electric Model 500 – Is It Really From 1957? #5

As I have illustrated in my previous posts on this topic things aren’t always what they appear to be when it comes to a Vintage Rotary Phone. I have shown some “clues” to look for when shopping for a vintage phone on eBay. However those clues hold true when looking for an old phone at antique shops, flea markets or garage sales. Take a close look at the phone and decide what is right for you. If you are happy with a telephone with plastic dial gears, a rusty bottom with cracked plastic feet or a modular handset cord that becomes worn, loose and pops out of the handset when pulled tight then your shopping adventure will be an easy one. On the other hand with just a little knowledge and some time spent looking around you will be able to find a nice vintage telephone—built over a half century ago that will work beautifully for you for years to come. So it’s time to sum up some of the points of my earlier articles to answer the question: Is it really from 1957?

To sum up this series I will again reference telephones from eBay. My purpose is to inform you, the reader so that you can quickly identify a vintage telephone that you will be happy with and excited to use in your own home or office. Many of those clues can be obtained just from looking at the seller’s photos. Let’s go over some of the points.

If the Western Electric Model 500 you are searching for is from mid-1959 or earlier it should have the following key points.

1: The plastic should be the heavier soft plastic, manufactured from about 1950through mid 1959. This will include the original Bakelite handset, labeled G1. On these so-called soft plastic cases the date is stamped inside the cover, along the front edge of the phone. Despite what the date is on the bottom of the phone, you should contact the seller and ask the question. Most sellers will jump through this hoop for you. Simply ask them to remove the cover and look along the inside edge of the phone for a date stamped in ink. this date will appear as, for example 1 15 55 3. The “3” in this case indicates it was made on the 3rd shift of the work day. If the date is not stamped there it is more than likely a later dated case. The date will then be molded into the plastic using the year only. It will also be on the inside of the cover but not along the front edge. It will be in the center of the case.

2: Look at the handset cord. Is it “hard wired” or does it have a modular plug? Is it worn and stretched?

3: What kind of feet are on the bottom? Are they suede (leather covered) or triangular rubber (1958 – the early 60’s), or round plastic feet? Is there any rust?

4: The plungers, or hook-switch buttons. If the plastic was replaced they are probably clear. Original black phones from the 1950’s had black Bakelite plungers.

5: Is the finger wheel black metal or is it clear Lucite? Plastic finger wheels replaced the black metal finger wheels in the early to mid 1960’s. Also make sure the center dial card retainer ring is not missing. There are many phones out there that still have the retainer card ring in the center of the finger wheel.

6: And if the finger wheel was replaced, more than likely the dial was updated. A quick check by looking where the finger stop goes through the plastic will tell the story. A wide opening with a support post under the finger stop indicates the older type dial, a 7C or 7D with nice brass and steel gears. It has a great sound. On replacement and later dials the opening was narrow and the dial inside has plastic gears. It still works, but it’s just not as nice as the aforementioned dial sound.

7: Look at the line cord. Is there an original line cord or has someone attached a modern modular cord?

8: Does the handset ear cap have six or seven holes? This simple test will reveal the time period of the plastic. However early six hole caps were made of the heavier Bakelite and later six hole caps were made of plastic. Sometimes plastic caps on a Bakelite handset will have a brighter color and they are more difficult to screw onto the handset. Almost all parts are dated. You can always ask the seller for clarification on this issue.

Never be afraid to ask questions of an eBay seller. Many sellers will write in their listing that there are no cracks or breaks. If you don’t see that written, ASK! I remember on one particular telephone I asked if there were any cracks or breaks. The response I got was “none that I can see”. So I wrote back and asked, “Are there any I can see??” So pin them down, get a straight answer to all of your questions. 99.9% of the sellers on eBay are happy to help you. They want to sell their item and have a satisfied customer.

If the seller is not willing to answer your questions—move on to another phone.

The items I have talked about are just the basics, to help you get started. I have learned the hard way as I have purchased many telephones through eBay. As a result I have a stock pile of phones and parts—many that I wish I had not purchased. I have had phones come to me with no ringers inside, with spiders inside and unfortunately broken due to poor packaging.

I hope that my tips will save you some money and heartache when making a purchase of a Vintage Rotary Phone. As always you can contact me through the “Contact” tab on the right side of my home page. I will be glad to help you in any way possible. I always enjoy hearing from the reader about their experiences so please, drop me a line and let me know how you did!

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