Video Sundays: Design Line Phones

Am I the only person who has a problem with post WWII consumer objects? When it comes to phones I think they should be black, all the same and weigh 10 pounds. I think the cringe-worthy phones in this film from the fascinating AT&T history channel, prove my point. Some background:

For much of the company’s history, AT&T rented phones to users. But in the 1970s, the company tried a novelty line of phones that customers could actually buy, in stores. For these “Design Line” phones, the users were essentially buying just the housing — the working guts of the phones were still under the Bell System maintenance and ownership contracts.

These phones were not cheap — prices in 1976 for these phones ranged from $39.95 for the basic Exeter to a whopping $109.95 for the rococo Antique Gold model. That’s about $150 to over $400 today. Not that much more than a smartphone, but, of course, no touchscreen. No ringtones.

My mini-rant on the tyranny of choice aside, that “Telstar” model is pretty cool. Add a cat, a swiveling modernist chair and you’re a James Bond villain.

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  1. I loved the décor and fashions. I anguished over wanting a Princess phone, but it was not something I wanted to pay for each month. My favorite phone was my yellow wall phone with its 21′ cord. I still have it, the only phone that never left the house. It is packed away, but someday I would like to use it again. Or, I could sell it as an antique.

  2. I have the Mickey phone. A relative gave it to my daughter in the mid-80’s. Unfortunately there was a little design flaw in the movement of the arm that holds the receiver. I was able to fix it several times but then the part finally wore out so the phone is now a piece of pop culture and is always prominently displayed. He’s so cheerful. The only one I would trade it for would be the Snoopy phone!

  3. The video was cringe-worthy indeed!

    I wondered why an apparently sane, respectable looking adult woman would want to have a Mickey Mouse telephone in her house, but then I thought back to the 1970’s. To my shame, I well remember ripping out “old-fashioned” 1910-era wooden molding and replacing it with bright red fiberboard junk that matched the lava lamps in an attempt to “modernize” our home. I was definitely a supporter of the chainsaw + stucco school of renovation.

    How things change. We are now in the process of ripping out 1960’s junk trim, carpeting and fittings in an attempt to restore our current house to something like its original, 1920’s dignity. We’ve still got the lava lamps though. Purely for ironic use, you understand!

  4. Definitely a walk down memory lane to a kinder, gentler time when phones were part of the décor and not a necessity of life. The Sculptura would be my pick today, but for functionality and style you can’t beat the old black wall phone tucked into a corner of the kitchen which was the real family room of our house.

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