A perfect, no-bullshit black rotary telephone that works

So you want a rotary telephone. You don't want a cheap plastic copy. You don't want it to be $300. You don't want it to be a sickly green, to have a nicotine patina, or be otherwise ghastly. You want the real thing. In enamel black. But you do want it to Just Work with modern exchanges. And you want it to ring a real damned bell. Well, for seventy bucks, here you go: Retro 1970s Style Desktop Telephone - Upgrade Ver [Brando] Thanks, Mark! P.S. How hard would it be to wire it up to a cellphone concealed within, with a gigantic battery that lasts for months?

About Rob Beschizza

Rob Beschizza is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing. He's @beschizza on Twitter and can be found on Facebook too. Try your luck at besc...@gmail.com  
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29 Responses to A perfect, no-bullshit black rotary telephone that works

  1. markfrei says:

    I actually don’t like rotary phones – they are slow to dial. But I’ve had the same old black Bell push button phone most of my adult life (with a real bell). No idea if they make them anymore, but it’s lasted 20 years already.

  2. Anonymous says:

    You also want it to be every bit as heavy as the official phone company phones of 40 years back as well.

    The problem is, these are ergonomic marvels. Most modern cell phones can’t touch them for their simplicity. It hangs up without pushing a damn button, it picks up without pushing a damn button, and you can dial the thing while actually hearing a dial tone .

    Jitterbug hasn’t got it yet, for the oldtimers crowd. Ma Bell had it.

  3. kidfunctional says:

    a skype phone would be nice in this format too – had to use a crappy plastic voip phone in my last office which never really worked. Could be a project for the weekend.

  4. Halloween Jack says:

    Will this thing’s receiver withstand vigorous pounding on the kitchen counter after my ex hangs up on me because I’ve drunk-dialed her? Given its crapvendor origin, I have to wonder, claims of “Stainless Steel material” notwithstanding.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Awesome. Now can you find me a brand new replica pushbutton Ericofon?

  6. acb says:

    That looks like a replica of a British rotary phone. At the price, it’s not much cheaper than a real one goes for in a posh London vintage shop either.

  7. dculberson says:

    You mean if it ain’t polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, it ain’t worth buyin’. Right??

  8. Daephex says:

    My toddler pointed at the picture and said: “Look, it’s a telephone!”

    Not sure how he knew this, considering that we haven’t had a landline since before he was born!

    And yes, a Skype-phone like this would kick ass…

  9. Jack says:

    I have a vintage one I bought and cleaned and it works great.

    The big negative: No touch tones so voice mail systems be damned. But otherwise, everyone compliments me on how clear it sounds.

    Never gonna give it up!

  10. thermosiphon says:

    Hulger makes great retro bluetooth headsets that can also be used for skype. i’ve been using one and it work well but can be an annoyance to carry around. Much better for long conversations since you can use your should to hold the phone like your mamma used to do.


  11. porkrind says:


    And a star and pound spot on the dial?

  12. Simon Greenwood says:

    ACB, it is indeed a replica GPO 746 table telephone, complete with the GPO issue label on the dial by the looks of it. They are easily converted to run on any phone system that provides a 5V DC current to power the bell. Here’s a nice picture of the guts of one: http://www.telephonesuk.co.uk/images/746_inside.jpg

  13. luthier58 says:

    We live in a house built shortly after WW2, and in the central hallway there is a lovely little nook built into the wall specifically for a phone, with a shelf below it for the directory. We have wedding pictures in it, since our phone(s) have always been in the kitchen, until we got one of these four-handset wireless jobbies, now they’re all over the damn house. I would love to have one of these to put into that nook, but I suspect I can find one in my parents’ or grandparents’ place for free. The only real problem I see is I don’t actually know anyone’s number anymore; everything is either speed-dial or callerId/callback, I almost never actually enter an entire number, and the part of my brain that used to remember those things is now used for *%#&@ website passwords. And truthfully, cool as it may be, I really don’t think I could function without caller ID.

  14. Alli says:

    I’ve 2 of those old Bakelite phones. The black one is the family phone from the early 70s; until recently it still had the original phone number, with the 2 letter exchange (DE? I can’t remember). The red one I took from an old job when they went to throw it out.

    I bought an adaptor, and we use the red one on occasion as it looks very much like the Batphone (cept with a rotary dial of course). Can’t seem to let go of the black one, for sentimental reasons.


  15. dove says:

    funny, i picked one of those up at a yard sale for $3. it gets a dial tone, though i’ve never tried calling.

  16. gwizah says:

    “P.S. How hard would it be to wire it up to a cellphone concealed within, with a gigantic battery that lasts for months? ”

    Um, isn’t that just what Sparkfun electronics did?


    Sure, it’s $199 but all you do is slide in a SIM card.

  17. Nelson.C says:

    You don’t want one with a nicotine patina? I don’t know, that sound pretty authentic to me.

  18. monstrinho_do_biscoito says:

    will it work in the uk?

    i’ve wanted one of these since seeing the matrix

  19. lectroid says:

    I am frankly and honestly shocked I have not seen more than one person talking on one of those sparkfun units in san francisco.

  20. simonjp says:

    @Monstrinho, you can pick them up from Abdy Antiques – I had my old phone (a 706 rather than this 746) refurbished by them and Karen, my contact, could not have been more helpful.


  21. microcars says:

    um, I bought one of those SparkFun phones when they were first available in August 2005 and it was pretty bad.

    the idea was great, implementation was very poor.
    sound through the handset- very bad, reception poor.

    I had to return it, at least they gave me my money back.

    They took it off their store after I returned mine, now that they are apparently back maybe they fixed them so they work?

  22. paulj says:

    Thinkgeek has been selling a retro-style bluetooth handset for a while. I got one for Christmas last year, and it actually works pretty well. I haven’t tried it while walking down a busy city street, though. I’d want a camera crew to follow me to get reactions shots: http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/cellphone/8928/

  23. dculberson says:

    This does look like a copy of the GPO phone, but that itself seems to be a copy of the old Western Electric model 500 phone. The model 500 was designed by Henry Dreyfuss and sold beginning in 1949, about ten years before the 700 series GPO phones according to Wikipedia. There are subtle differences, but to the untrained eye they look identical at a glance.

  24. Ito Kagehisa says:

    The WE-500 on the desk next to my elbow works fine on a US POTS line.

    It was modified slightly 20 years ago; the wire with gigantic male 4-pin plug was replaced by a modular RJ female so I can use regular phone wires, and a paper-clip was connected between two screws so the bell would ring with only two wires.

    Been workin’ fine since fifty-nine!

  25. DeWynken says:

    If it ain’t Bakelite it ain’t worth buyin.

  26. dhuff says:

    Or just buy one here in the States at Oldphones.com. Fully restored, or in a few cases new in the box, old phones from the 1920’s thru the 70’s.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I bought a rotary phone from a local thrift store about 10 years ago. It has outlasted 4 cordless phones so far and is generally used more than the cordless ones. It is 70s green and has been Sharpied to look like Frankenphone. When my son’s friends come over for the first time and try to call home they always freak out because they don’t know how to work it or know what the cord is :)

  28. nixiebunny says:

    Shoot, I have a couple boxes full of black WE 500s in my storage room. Also the 2500 touch tone version. I even converted a red 2500 to be cordless by adding a set of VTech phone guts and some custom circuitry, and rewinding the bell to run on 3.6V.

    This thing doesn’t look very authentic, but I’m not familiar with the GPO746 (I’m American) so I wouldn’t know.

    The important thing about authentic old telephones provided by The Phone Company is that when they broke, it cost *them* to repair it instead of costing *you*, so they were built like tanks.

  29. technogeek says:

    I’ve got one old rotary phone in beige from the generation shown above, with what for the time was a “fast dial” — and a black one that is much older; metal case rather than Bakelite and more pyramidal in shape rather than having the handset hooks moved toward the back.

    Last time I checked, both “just worked”. Telco doesn’t _like_ people using rotary phones — or “switch-hook dialing” for that matter — because it ties up their routing equipment for significantly longer than touchtone does — but as far as I know, pulse dialing is still accepted. (Private equipment is a different matter, of course, and of course you can’t navigate most phone trees with a pulse dial.)

    I did disconnect the bell on the older unit, since it predates “ringer equivalency numbers” and is the piece most likely to put a strain on modern equipment.

    Haven’t hooked either up in a while. I wonder whether a pulse-to-tone adapter is available as a plug-in unit… I could build my own, but telco really doesn’t like homebrew equipment attached directly to their lines; I’d need an isolation box.

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