In junior kindergarten, our playhouse had one of these things set on the Corcan table covered in a plain cotton cloth next to the cot in the bedroom. It never rang, but the rotary dial telephone was heavy when we "called" our friends.

The Bakelite telephone's development commenced in 1927, after Bell Telephone offered $1,000 to ten designers to design a new telephone that would combine the speaker and mouthpiece within a handset. The one design specificaiton it carried called for it to be "rugged, durable, phenolic resin" or Bakelite.

Industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss was consulted, however his ideas were deemed impossible to work with as he wanted to work closely with Bell engineers to redesign the awkward prototype that had been developed for the project. After the other tendered designs were deemed unsuitable, Bell Telephone returned to Dreyfuss and he in turn he defined "phone" as we knew it until the onset of the digital era.

With Bakelite's rigidity and strength, users gained the freedom to change positions while using the phone. It allowed more privacy than an ear and mouthpiece set and two hands were not required to operate the set. A Bakelite phone can be dropped without shattering or cracking and its black colour made it stand out as a modern object in anyone's home. Its design made itself as an essential object in our day to day lives..

All I really remember about the phone is that it was heavy. We knew better than to swing the receiver around by its cord and we avoided those who did.

I have a couple of Bakelite phones myself (and just one Touch-Tone for checking voicemail) and really enjoy them. Picked them up at garage sales and antique shops. Then had them re-wired and/or fixed by a guy here in Portland who worked for the phone company for a couple of decades.

One of the first things you notice when you are using a Bakelite phone is its weight. Bakelite is less like today's plastics, more like smooth black river stone. Heavy. As you're talking into it, part of your brain is chewing on the fact that this thing will outlive you. These are definitely the types of phone where you don't want to be hit with the receiver a la Dial M for Murder.

Unlike present day phones, when an old Bakelite phone rings, brother, you know it — for, if you're unaccustomed to it, you may be wearing whatever you were just drinking. Loud; using actual bells and a hammer like that obscenely loud alarm clock your brother used to use when he really had to get up early.

The only downside the Bakelites seem to have is when you have two lines. While normally you get that "click click" to indicate someone on your other line, on a Bakelite phone it feels like someone just flicked your eardrum with their finger. I guess that perhaps it's the pressure change in the little earpiece diaphragm thingie, or maybe it's just the volume, but yikes it ain't pretty.

Note: Depending on the phone, sometimes you can open them up and slip one of those "replacement erasers" (like you put on the end of a favorite pencil who's eraser is all gone leaving just the paper-ripping ring of metal) over the hammer; this will reduce the clang-iness of the ring.

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