Vintage Telephones and the use of plastic

Feb 9th, 2015 | By | Category: Antiques Interest

bakelite phoneEarly telephones were large and cumbersome objects, but the invention and development of plastics had a profound and lasting impact on telephone design.

The first moulded telephones were produced in the mid 1920’s with the improvements in Bakelite manufacture making it a much more practical material to use. At a similar time the transmitter design was improved immensely, allowing the manufacture of handset transmitters.

By the end of the 1920’s the Bell Company was producing plastic telephones with a handset that sat in a cradle in their thousands. These new telephones were available to the public and the response was better than anyone could have imagined.

Siemens Brothers of Woolwich, London first produced their telephones in black bakelite, but shortly afterwards started using a new plastic that could be coloured using pigmentation, and so these moulded telephones became available in red, green, ivory and mottled brown. These telephones, known as ‘Neophones’, continued to be made until the 1960’s.

During the 1930’s the Cubist movement had a strong influence on the design of many objects, not least of all the plastic telephone. The angular and hard lines of these designs are now considered very unattractive, although at the time they were most modern and fashionable.

In the early 1930’s Scandinavia were using a telephone with an integral bell and companies around the world started to manufacture their own designs of telephones using this feature.

The British Post Office were looking for a model they could use in private homes and worked with Ericsson Telephones Limited to produce the 300 series range of telephones in colours of black, red, ivory and green. Eventually several companies were producing these British Post Office specification telephones.

Many events have influenced the development of the telephone, most notably the shortage of wood and metal during the second world war, making it necessary to use plastics more frequently.

The evolution of plastics allowing the creation of the moulded one piece telephone case saw the birth of a design that is still being used today, albeit fashioned towards the trends of the day.

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