The Interrogator

The Interrogator
Sexy Dieselpunk Fascist Girl

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Phones: Western Electric 302 and Western Electric 500

Western Electric Model 302
Vintage telephones are an important visual element to a lot of pin-up type or retro style images and photos, and so having a few is not a bad idea, especially if you are a photographer. I have two presently and hope to add at least a couple more for variety. My first was a Western Electric 302 that I picked up at Mixx Authentik in St-Henri for $75.00. The second one is a Western Electric 500, the model that replaced the 302 in 1954. I picked this one up at a garage sale for $5.00, illustrating that:

A. Some vintage phones are much scarcer than others and therefore more expensive and;

How it looked like before I restored it.
B. That you can usually get things much cheaper in a garage sale than in any store, even a second-hand one as these are things people are eager to get rid of.

Both phones had some cosmetic issues like scratches and things and needed cleaning, which is understandable given their age. The 302 furthermore, was missing the dial center and the line cord was so brittle with age that it broke into pieces from handling. No matter. Collecting vintage phones is a hobby with people and just about any part you will ever need to restore a vintage phone model is available online. I use Old Phone Works in Kingston Ontario, which not only sells both original and newly made parts, but also fully restored (cosmetically and mechanically) vintage phones. 

The most common colour for vintage phones, especially ones manufactured before the 1960’s is black. This can be both a good and a bad thing. Good because cosmetic damage will usually be less apparent, and the colour can be worked effectively into most decors, bad because of the lack of variety. Again, if you’re willing to spend the right amount of money, Old PhoneWorks has phones that have been professionally refinished in a variety of colours.

Western Electric 302 with new dial center from Old Phone Works
The Model 302 was issued by Western Electric (or in Canada, Northern Electric) between 1936 and 1954. Prewar models had a metal shell, while models built during WWII and afterwards had shells made of thermoplastic. Mine is thermoplastic and I’m guessing that was probably made sometime before 1950 as the handset cord is a straight one as opposed to a coiled one. I like the lines on this phone quite a lot and even playing with the dial is lots of fun.  I’m familiar with rotary phones of course, as they were all around during my early childhood in the 1960’s. We didn’t get our first touchtone phone until 1968, though they were introduced in 1964. Most of the young women who model for me who have never done retro have unfortunately, never seen one before.  Fewer still have ever made a phone call with one, and are almost incredulous when I demonstrate how to dial a number.  I have to admit that I probably haven’t made a call with one myself since the 1970’s or so. If you are shooting photos, I think that the 302 is appropriate for anything set between 1936 and the end of the 1950’s. I doubt anyone can tell from a photo if the shell is metal or thermoplastic, and probably few people would know anyway.  The 500 which replaced it, is appropriate for anything from 1954 into the 1970’s.
The model 500 required less cleanup, and was complete, though I decided to replace the badly scratched plastic dial wheel with a brand new one from Old Phone Works. I purchased a few of them, since they are not expensive and I'm sure to be restoring more phones in the future. I also ordered spare dial-center cards. Incidentally, both the 302 and the 500 use and all the dial type phones by Western Electric use the same size dial-center cards.
My collection of vintage phones is in its infancy at this point, and there are a couple of other models that I'd like to own down the line, particularly an Automatic Electric Mod 40 and possibly a Western Electric Princess phone. All that's for the future however as I'm pretty well-served with the two phones I already have insofar as together, they cover period that I tend to emulate in photo.
I replaced the heavily scratched dial wheel and yellowed dial center card with new ones from Old Phone Works

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