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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

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A Vintage Metal Telephone with Gilt Detail, Denmark
Apr 24, 6:00 PM AEST
A Vintage Metal Telephone with Gilt Detail, Denmark
by Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers
Est: AUD40- AUD80
AUD303 Bids
AC Spark Plug Telephone
Apr 20, 10:00 AM CDT
AC Spark Plug Telephone
by Donley Auction Services
Est: $50- $75
$252 Bids
TELEPHONE FROM THE RAF SCAMPTON WATCH OFFICE
Apr 26, 10:00 AM EDT
TELEPHONE FROM THE RAF SCAMPTON WATCH OFFICE
by Alexander Historical Auctions LLC
Est: $300- $400
$1601 Bid
MVMT Wireless Charging Pad
Apr 20, 7:00 AM PDT
MVMT Wireless Charging Pad
by California Auction Company LLC
Est: $0- $0
$101 Bid
Heavy Duty Braided 6 Foot Lightning Cable Phone Charging Cord
Apr 24, 9:00 PM EDT
Heavy Duty Braided 6 Foot Lightning Cable Phone Charging Cord
by Weatherham Estate Treasures
Est: $20- $30
$150 Bids
Heavy Duty Braided 6 Foot Lightning Cable Phone Charging Cord
May 02, 9:00 PM EDT
Heavy Duty Braided 6 Foot Lightning Cable Phone Charging Cord
by Weatherham Estate Treasures
Est: $20- $30
$150 Bids
A Vintage British GPO 300 Series Red Bakelite Telephone, the handset moulded PAT. 328926 SIEMENS BRO
Apr 20, 11:00 AM BST
A Vintage British GPO 300 Series Red Bakelite Telephone, the handset moulded PAT. 328926 SIEMENS BRO
by Wilkinson's Auctioneers
Est: £300- £500
£1800 Bids
Kellogg Oak Wall Phone
May 06, 9:00 AM EDT
Kellogg Oak Wall Phone
by Atlee Raber Auctioneer
Est: $10- $1,000
$100 Bids
A Vintage Astral Pink Wedgwood Jasperware Telphone with press button dial.
Apr 20, 11:00 AM BST
A Vintage Astral Pink Wedgwood Jasperware Telphone with press button dial.
by Wilkinson's Auctioneers
Est: £50- £100
£300 Bids
A Vintage Vibrant Green Bakelite Telephone, British GPO 300 series , the handset stamped P&T 606. te
Apr 20, 11:00 AM BST
A Vintage Vibrant Green Bakelite Telephone, British GPO 300 series , the handset stamped P&T 606. te
by Wilkinson's Auctioneers
Est: £300- £500
£1800 Bids
1950's Ericofon 'Cobra' Rotary Dial One Piece Telephone
Apr 27, 10:00 AM EDT
1950's Ericofon 'Cobra' Rotary Dial One Piece Telephone
by Atlanta Auction Gallery, ltd
Est: $50- $100
$500 Bids
LOT OF TOY TELEPHONES
Apr 20, 10:00 AM EDT
LOT OF TOY TELEPHONES
by Milestone Auctions
Est: $100- $200
$500 Bids
2 Early telephones
May 06, 9:00 AM EDT
2 Early telephones
by Atlee Raber Auctioneer
Est: $10- $1,000
$100 Bids
Oak Wall Phone
May 06, 9:00 AM EDT
Oak Wall Phone
by Atlee Raber Auctioneer
Est: $10- $1,000
$100 Bids
Kellogg Oak Wall Phone
May 06, 9:00 AM EDT
Kellogg Oak Wall Phone
by Atlee Raber Auctioneer
Est: $10- $1,000
$100 Bids
A Vintage British GPO 300 Series Ivory Bakelite Telephone, the handset moulded PAT. 328926 SIEMENS B
Apr 20, 11:00 AM BST
A Vintage British GPO 300 Series Ivory Bakelite Telephone, the handset moulded PAT. 328926 SIEMENS B
by Wilkinson's Auctioneers
Est: £100- £200
£600 Bids
Brass Floor Standing Vintage Rotary Phone
May 06, 9:00 AM EDT
Brass Floor Standing Vintage Rotary Phone
by Atlee Raber Auctioneer
Est: $10- $1,000
$100 Bids
3PC Modern & Vintage Rotary Style Phones
Apr 24, 10:00 AM EDT
3PC Modern & Vintage Rotary Style Phones
by Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers
Est: $60- $200
$250 Bids
A collection of mobile phones (7).
Apr 26, 10:00 AM BST
A collection of mobile phones (7).
by Hannam's Auctioneers
Est: £20- £40
£150 Bids
Wandtelefon
Apr 21, 11:00 AM CEST
Wandtelefon
by Auktionshaus Schwerin
Est: €0- €0
€200 Bids
A Collection of Miscellaneous items including a Dial Back Telephone
Apr 22, 2:00 PM AEST
A Collection of Miscellaneous items including a Dial Back Telephone
by Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers
Est: AUD40- AUD60
AUD200 Bids
An Ericsson No.16 Skeleton Telephone,
May 01, 1:00 PM BST
An Ericsson No.16 Skeleton Telephone,
by Flints Auctions Ltd
Est: £200- £400
£1600 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Telephones


Atlee Raber Auctioneer

Atlee Raber Auctioneer

Wilkinson's Auctioneers

Wilkinson's Auctioneers

Weatherham Estate Treasures

Weatherham Estate Treasures

Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers

Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers