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Novelty Telephones in the Home
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

The tremendous popularity of the wireless phone hasn't relegated the home phone to telephone history. To the contrary, the demand for old fashioned home phones has kept manufacturers adding oodles of new lines as well as facsimiles and variations of models developed over the century. And for the antique connoisseur, there are old phones that really function. Because telephone connections to the house didn't change over the 20th century, antique phones from the 1920's era or later will actually work today once they're connected into the wall jack, according to Marshall Brain, Still, anyone considering an authentic antique phone should note that early desk telephones required a separate box for the ringer and calling device because the first totally complete desk phone didn't come out until 1937.

Self-contained, however, was one of the earliest telephones from around the turn of the century. The Western Electric battery wall phone was not often found in homes, but in shops or drugstores. Today, you can buy updated replicas of this model as ringer boxes, country junction phones, and classic wall phones.

The single box wall phone prevailed until 1914, when Bell manufacturers began making the first desk phone, coined the candlestick phone because of a characteristically long pedestal that held the transmitter on top and the receiver to the side. Note that the rotary dial first appeared on the 1919 model candlestick phone. Candlestick phones were originally made of brass and painted with a black varnish, but you can find shiny new versions in brass, pewter, and black for $90 at Stereo 2000 in the Galleria.

To encourage phone sales in the 1920's the Bell Telephone Company commissioned Henry Dreyfuss to design a phone with a more modern look. In 1927 Dreyfuss came up with the first single hand set that could receive and send messages and would fit over a small device having a round base. Replicas of that telephone are today called the Gatsby phone or, simply, decorator phone, and sell for around $50.

Implementing few new designs, notably the princess phone in '59, the touch-tone phone in '64, and the trimline phone in '65, Bell began introducing a series of new art deco phones in the 1970's. The first decorative phone was a candlestick style phone created in 1975 for the bicentennial; it was available in black or red, white and the bicentennial stars and stripes motif.

In 1976 came the Snoopy and Woodstock phone, the first novelty phones based on popular cartoon characters. Afterwards, many character phones were developed. Many of these original designs have been perennially popular and are still available, for instance Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Kermit the Frog, which comes as a candlestick version and a desk model.

The donut shaped phone introduced in 1978 represented the phone as an object d'art. Other elegant phones, namely the cradle phones cushioned in receivers of various ornate appliqu?, were also introduced in the 70's. But elegance gave way to sports motifs and innovative camouflage, such as phones hidden in potted plants in the late 80's and 90's, according to Bruce Bradford, director of sales with TXU Communications.

One of the most recent phone styles resembles the old field phones in World War II, according to Larry Falck, manager of Edge Communications Store at Valley View. These phones have quite an industrial look, shaped like a wooden suitcase with silver metallic sides. With speaker phones, they sell for $70. And they're very popular.

Kids generally go for character type phones; especially appealing is Mickey Mouse to the seven to ten year olds, according to Carla Belleli of Stereo 2000. Teenagers prefer sports items or else they think it's cool to get a cordless phone with all the features.

Novelty phones do not carry multiple lines or many of the service features found on the business or standard phones. And they all come with cords.

"It's really hard to impress both of these themes collectively," said Bradford. Cost is the limiting factor because adding features drives up the costs tremendously.

Telephone manufacturers are very slow to put out new combinations of phones until the price point of what the average consumer is willing to spend goes up a little and the price to sell the item comes down to where the potential for marketability looks successful, according to Falck. And while customers for mobile phones are looking into features, people buying novelty phones generally purchase the design.

Apples and oranges at $30, a violin at $60, and model cars are just a few of the many novelties that contain phones at Stereo 2000. A black grand piano phone at $70 plays a note for each number dialed on the keyboard. And somewhere inside the starship Enterprise model space craft lies a phone. Among the variety of old fashioned decorator phones are phones of crystal and porcelain for $150 and a French brass phone for $130. But don't accidentally try to use the pay phone; it's a replica that doubles as a savings bank. The phone costs $100 and also helps with savings because novelty phones generally cost less than the cordless varieties.

Stereo 2000, once a designated phone store before it added other electronics, still maintains the largest supply of novelty phones in the area. But Edge Communications Store was the only designated phone retailer this shopper could locate. Although not currently in the area, TXU Communications expects to open a retail outlet in Dallas sometime later in the year, according to Bradford. Most phones in the area are sold at discount stores and office suppliers, which carry a variety of models, but not necessarily the novelty phones.

Sleek, small, and portable appears to be the main focus of the phones in 2000, according to Bradford, who sees a trend toward phones that are handy and easy to answer. With more and more people working out of their homes, home phones of the future will include--the wireless headset. Wearing a wireless headset around the house frees up both hands and eliminates the need to rush to the phone.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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