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Vintage Mahogany Western Electric – They’re Still Out There!

When I first began to buy telephones I was unaware that certain colors are more rare than others. I just bought phones that looked good to me. First a yellow desk phone, then an avocado wall phone. I really like the telephones that I remembered growing up with. To hear the loud ring of my first wall telephone was very exciting. With all of today’s electronic ringing telephones I had forgotten what a great sound the old dual harmonic brass bells made. I looked for deal on phones on eBay and bought one after the other. I learned to tinker with them and learned to fix them up—maybe making one ring that didn’t. One of my purchases was a box full of wall telephones. When I say a “box full” I think there were six wall phones in the box. I got the whole package for twenty dollars plus the shipping cost. There was nothing too spectacular in the box, or so I thought. There was really only one that looked like it had some potential to fix-up and maybe resell again. But I shoved it aside hoping to get back to it later. Well “later” turned out to be over a year later. I picked up the phone and dusted it off. I was planning on cleaning it up and putting it for sale on eBay. I’m sure someone would like a brown wall phone but it wasn’t a color I was excited about. But I wanted to make sure that I called the phone by its correct Western Electric color. Western Electric had official color names. Red is “Cherry Red”, dark blue is “Mediterranean Blue” and there are two tones of beige, “Light Beige” and “Rose Beige”. I did not want to call this brown phone just “brown” so I had to seek the advice of a seasoned telephone collector. I had consulted with all the reference materials that I knew of at the time and could not find the color listed. I had learned that on the back side of each dial there was a “color code” that Western Electric used when assembling the phones. This particular brown phone has a color code of -54. Again, I couldn’t find anywhere that showed the name of -54. So I e-mailed a phone collector and asked if he knew what “they” called -54. He replied very quickly and asked if that was a brown phone that I had. Often times dials were changed and a dial that was originally made for let’s say, a red phone (color code -53) may have later been changed to a different color. So just because someone had a dial marked -54 that did not mean the phone was in fact brown. I was told the color code of -54 was Mahogany Brown. The collector asked if I intended on selling the phone. He asked that should I decide to sell the phone please let him know when it was listed on eBay as he would be interested in bidding on it. He gave me no clue as to what the value might be. In fact the value is dictated on what someone is willing to pay at the time of the sale. A different price may result at different times.

Afterward I spoke with a couple other collectors. I mentioned having a brown, err, Mahogany Brown model 554. Each said the same thing. They said it was rare and in fact in their years of collecting telephones had never seen one in person. The model was discontinued in 1958. It was only made a few short years, maybe four. It was then that I decided to start “collecting” telephones. Specifically telephones from this era—the 1950’s and 1960’s—the years that I was born through my childhood and into adulthood. So the first telephone of my “collection” began with the one most difficult to find. If I sold this phone then I wouldn’t have it anymore, would I? What would be the point of selling it?

Since that time I have picked up some very nice “soft plastic” telephones from the 1950’s. Both desk sets (model 500’s) and the wall version (the 554’s). But the one that really means the most to me is my Mahogany Brown wall phone that came in a big box with six others—at a cost of about five dollars each. It’s not perfect, but it is a Western Electric, it is all original and it is Mahogany Brown. Also since then I have been fortunate enough to pick up its brother, (or sister) a Mahogany Brown model 500 from 1954. I am very pleased to have both of these telephones in my “collection”—albeit a humble one.

The lesson I preach here is these rare colored phones are still out there in America. Maybe in someone’s basement or attic, or out in the barn. To the collector that is the hope that drives them, whether or not they are looking for that rare candlestick phone or a rare colored plastic set. There is a chance that one might be inside this Estate Sale, or yard sale, or with the junk from Grandma’s attic. So keep looking—they’re out there!

I hope you enjoy the photos of my two Mahogany Brown telephones. If you have a similar story to share, please do. Lots of collectors have their first rare find etched into their memories. We’d all love to hear about them!

8 responses to “Vintage Mahogany Western Electric – They’re Still Out There!”

Hi Dennis

I just wanted to say that your restorations are beautiful! I love the way you polish up the bells and the internal components and the general ‘quality’ look to your phones. I have a couple of WE500’s a Black and a Green (both converted to work on our phonelines) which is pretty amazing when you think that I’m in New Zealand! How they got here is anybodies guess 😉

Anyways great stuff, you’re inspiring this Kiwi 🙂

Thank you Stephen for your compliments. It is a nice feeling to know someone is actually reading one of my postings now and then. I really appreciate your comments. Please keep reading and feel free to contribute to my blog anytime!

You should see one of his phones in person, Stephen. The photos look good, but don’t do them justice. It’s a heckuva an operation Dennis has going there – really beautiful work.

I couldn’t believe you had found a mahogany brown phone!!! I never heard of them until I read your article!!! I know brown was available in the Trimlines in the late seventies and ITT had brown touch tone desk phones, but never back that far. I do still have my grandmother’s black rotary western electric 500 with the metal dial dated Feb 1958. It must have set on a shelf for awhile until it went to my grandmother’s house in 1959. That was when dial service came into our area. I couldn’t believe Mom? was getting a phone with a dial!!!! It stayed in her dining room until 1987 when I bought her a touch tone ivory one with volume control headset to replace it. The lady at the AT&T phone center let me buy it for $19.95 and I still use it. It was wired for a party line, but works fine in all the apartments and now homes I have lived. Next year it will be 50 and I will be 51 shortly. Thanks again.

Danny, Thanks for your comment. I was very fortunate to find that mahogany model 554. I didn’t know it at the time but it has become one of my most treasured telephones. I have heard that some collectors have looked for one of those for years with not luck. I guess “dumb luck” was on my side this time. Thanks again!

Hey Dennis! Very cool website. Your work looks incredible. I shudder to think how many rotary phones I have passed up in my garage sailing. Without a doubt I will take a second glance at them from now on. I wish we would have harvested the hang on the wall model from the house I grew up in–back when you actually had to stand or sit in one place to talk on the phone! Nice to chat with you!

[…] Nearly two years ago I wrote an article about a pair of Mahogany telephones made by Western Electric… About a year later I was lucky enough to come upon another example of this color—one that is not commonly found in a set of this vintage. […]

I just found my first Mahogany 500 telephone. It was at Goodwill and I paid $25.00 for it. As soon as I received it I made sure everything was correct on it. The branding. Matching dates on everything 12-56. No rust. Very little dust on the inside. Just a few minor scratches I hope to buff to a brilliant shine (like yours). I would never have looked for this if I hadn’t read your article about this elusive phone. Thanks So Much!
Janette

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