Someone recently asked me why I collect telephones from the late 1960's to the middle 1970's, and I responded because that is the period when I worked for the phone company. However that isn't quite the right answer.
This morning I got to wondering what the true reasons were and I came to the following conclusions.
My father was a professional portrait photographer. He inherited my grandfather's business when he died in 1942, and my father continued in the same studio in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. In the late 1950's, the business essentially dried up. I found out many years later, that for the year 1959, my father's entire gross income was $15. In 1960, he found a job as a photographer with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC so we moved to Northern Virginia. From this story you can get an idea that, at that time, we were fairly poor, and as a result dad was very careful with his spending.
In 1965, after dad had recovered his finances, we moved to a new house about 20 miles away. To save money, our phone service was a party line and we had a standard black rotary 500 telephone set in the basement rec room. Dad splurged and got a second phone for the kitchen upstairs, again a black rotary 554 wall set. Our service for the 2 sets was about $10 a month, still for us, a big expense. As a comparison, the mortgage on the house was about $125 a month. Touch Tone service was available at the new house but that cost an extra $1 a month. Colored sets were also available but cost another $1 month, so we had no Touch Tone or colored phones in the house. I begged several times to get Touch Tone service, but dad wouldn't spend the extra money on something he considered a luxury.
Something that was cool and just out of reach, is always desirable to someone who can't have it. And these sets being push button and a new technology made my desires to have them even stronger.
When I began working for the phone company in 1972, I was surrounded by all those neat gadgets that were so much desired. With an employe discount, I was able to get a second phone line installed in the house, along with Touch Tone service and a beige 2 line 2555 wall set in the kitchen. However, most of the really nifty stuff was still out of my reach. Multi line office phones, speaker phones, answering machines, card dialers etc. were candy in my eyes but just too expensive for a fellow earning only $1.60 an hour, even if that was the highest paying job I had until about 1980.
Then, of course, the Bell System was broken up and Western Electric went out of business. By the time I could actually afford those fancy phones, they were no longer available... until recently when I discovered E-bay.
I like to collect Western Electric phones from the late 1960's and early 70's because those were the last generation of phones produced before electronics began to come into individual sets. In these phones, you can still SEE the circuits and how they worked. In the next generation of equipment the individual wires began to disappear, being replaced with integrated circuits. While the newer equipment offers many more features and simpler manufacturing and service (throw it away and buy a new one) I like being able to trace the wires and to follow exactly how the circuit works.