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Telephones

The telephone was invented in 1876. Most people are familiar with Alexander Graham Bell and his famous first words to his assistant, Thomas Watson, over the telephone: "Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you." What most people do not know is that another inventor, Elisha Gray, had also invented a device that could transmit speech electronically. Both Bell and Gray rushed their designs to the patent office on the same day, and Bell was awarded the patent first. Gray initiated a lawsuit over the invention of the telephone, which Bell eventually won.

The first telephone exchange and switchboard were introduced in 1878. Early telephones were battery operated or used a cranking device to generate power. They were primarily used by businesses. In the 1890s, the candlestick telephone was invented, making telephone use much easier. After Bell's patents on the telephone expired, telephone use in the United States exploded, and by 1914, the United States led the world in telephone ownership.

The rotary dial phone was introduced in the early 20th century. Telephones changed in appearance and function to accommodate improvements in technology and changes in home fashions. Touch tone dialing was introduced in the '60s. The first cellular phone call was placed in 1973, and today, cell phones have overtaken landline telephones as the primary method of communication.


Quick Facts

  • In 1876, plagued by lawsuits, Bell offered to sell his patent rights to the telephone to Western Union for $100,000, but Western Union said no
  • Disney's famous Mickey Mouse phone was introduced in 1976 and sold throughout the '80s. A Mickey Mouse phone in excellent condition currently sells for $50 to $100
  • An L.M. Ericsson desk telephone from 1895 sold at auction for $19,200. This model had a cylindrical shape and ornate lithographs, earning it the nickname Coffee Grinder

Recommended Items at Auction

See all items

A vintage Ericsson Cobra rotary telephone, with original colour coded cord, and wall plug. height 20.5cm.
Mar 04, 7:00 PM AEDT
A vintage Ericsson Cobra rotary telephone, with original colour coded cord, and wall plug. height 20.5cm.
by Bargain Hunt Auctions
Est: AUD0- AUD0
AUD505 Bids
LOT OF THREE ROTARY PHONES
Mar 04, 6:00 PM EST
LOT OF THREE ROTARY PHONES
by Atlee Raber Auctioneer
Est: $0- $0
$253 Bids
RED AND GREEN VINTAGE ROTARY PHONES
Mar 04, 6:00 PM EST
RED AND GREEN VINTAGE ROTARY PHONES
by Atlee Raber Auctioneer
Est: $0- $0
$203 Bids
A Collection of Phone Accessories, Marked Quad Lock
Mar 12, 6:00 PM AEDT
A Collection of Phone Accessories, Marked Quad Lock
by Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers
Est: AUD0- AUD0
AUD403 Bids
A Collection of Phone Accessories, Marked Quad Lock, Untested
Mar 12, 6:00 PM AEDT
A Collection of Phone Accessories, Marked Quad Lock, Untested
by Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers
Est: AUD0- AUD0
AUD403 Bids
Antique Brass Floor Rotary Phone
Mar 09, 10:00 AM EST
Antique Brass Floor Rotary Phone
by Premier Auction Galleries
Est: $200- $400
$302 Bids
Telephone Emergency Call Box - ALARM Fire & Police
Mar 09, 10:00 AM EST
Telephone Emergency Call Box - ALARM Fire & Police
by Premier Auction Galleries
Est: $100- $200
$302 Bids
COBRA rotary dial Ericsson rotary dial telephone in cream. With flex and phone plug. Height approx 21cm.
Mar 04, 7:00 PM AEDT
COBRA rotary dial Ericsson rotary dial telephone in cream. With flex and phone plug. Height approx 21cm.
by Bargain Hunt Auctions
Est: AUD0- AUD0
AUD252 Bids
Oak Wall Stromberg-Carlson Telephone, 9 1/2 x 12 x 22 in. (24.1 x 30.5 x 55.9 cm.)
Mar 03, 2:00 PM CST
Oak Wall Stromberg-Carlson Telephone, 9 1/2 x 12 x 22 in. (24.1 x 30.5 x 55.9 cm.)
by Asselmeier May Auctions
Est: $0- $0
$352 Bids
A Collection of Phone Accessories, Marked Quad Lock, Untested
Mar 12, 6:00 PM AEDT
A Collection of Phone Accessories, Marked Quad Lock, Untested
by Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers
Est: AUD0- AUD0
AUD402 Bids
A Collection of Phone Accessories, Marked Quad Lock, Untested
Mar 12, 6:00 PM AEDT
A Collection of Phone Accessories, Marked Quad Lock, Untested
by Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers
Est: AUD0- AUD0
AUD252 Bids
Vintage Public Pay Rotary Telephone
Mar 10, 10:00 AM EST
Vintage Public Pay Rotary Telephone
by World Auction Gallery
Est: $100- $150
$501 Bid
Chinese Mother of Pearl Enameled Telephone
Mar 03, 10:00 AM MST
Chinese Mother of Pearl Enameled Telephone
by Monarch Auction and Estate Services
Est: $0- $0
$101 Bid
LOT OF THREE ROTARY PHONES
Mar 04, 6:00 PM EST
LOT OF THREE ROTARY PHONES
by Atlee Raber Auctioneer
Est: $0- $0
$51 Bid
LOT OF THREE ROTARY PHONES
Mar 04, 6:00 PM EST
LOT OF THREE ROTARY PHONES
by Atlee Raber Auctioneer
Est: $0- $0
$51 Bid
LOT OF THREE ROTARY PHONES
Mar 04, 6:00 PM EST
LOT OF THREE ROTARY PHONES
by Atlee Raber Auctioneer
Est: $0- $0
$51 Bid
LOT OF THREE ROTARY PHONES
Mar 04, 6:00 PM EST
LOT OF THREE ROTARY PHONES
by Atlee Raber Auctioneer
Est: $0- $0
$51 Bid
YELLOW & BLUE VINTAGE PHONES
Mar 04, 6:00 PM EST
YELLOW & BLUE VINTAGE PHONES
by Atlee Raber Auctioneer
Est: $0- $0
$51 Bid
PASTEL VINTAGE ROTARY PHONES
Mar 04, 6:00 PM EST
PASTEL VINTAGE ROTARY PHONES
by Atlee Raber Auctioneer
Est: $0- $0
$51 Bid
A Collection of Phone Accessories, Marked Quad Lock, Untested
Mar 12, 6:00 PM AEDT
A Collection of Phone Accessories, Marked Quad Lock, Untested
by Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers
Est: AUD0- AUD0
AUD151 Bid
A Collection of Phone Accessories, Marked Quad Lock, Untested
Mar 12, 6:00 PM AEDT
A Collection of Phone Accessories, Marked Quad Lock, Untested
by Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers
Est: AUD0- AUD0
AUD151 Bid
A Collection of Phone Accessories, Marked Quad Lock, Untested
Mar 12, 6:00 PM AEDT
A Collection of Phone Accessories, Marked Quad Lock, Untested
by Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers
Est: AUD0- AUD0
AUD151 Bid
Heavy Duty Braided 6 Foot Lightning Cable Phone Charging Cord
Mar 20, 9:00 PM EDT
Heavy Duty Braided 6 Foot Lightning Cable Phone Charging Cord
by Weatherham Estate Treasures
Est: $20- $30
$150 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Telephones


Auction Team Breker

Auction Team Breker

Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers

Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers

Atlee Raber Auctioneer

Atlee Raber Auctioneer

Bargain Hunt Auctions

Bargain Hunt Auctions