What to Collect…What Not to Collect

Collecting telephones is a great hobby, however there are downsides to collecting and it lead to negative consequences, such as excessive collecting (hoarding), excessive spending (could lead to divorce) or lead to social issues (such as being called a “geek” even if its trendy at the moment.

I compare collecting phones like collecting Apple computers. True Apple fans can’t collect every known computer or device owned by Apple. There are some that are worth possessing (like an Apple Lisa or a NeXT Cube computer) then there are some you just don’t want to collect (like the literal firey PowerBook 190/5300 series or the various types of Macintoshes made in the early 90s that had different names but had the same guts inside.) You want to collect something that triggers something from your childhood or something that was in pop culture (like the Twentieth Anniversary Mac that was featured in the last season of Seinfeld.)

For phones, follow these little guidelines

Know what you’re collecting. Knowing the manufacturer, the history, where it’s made is one good place to start.

If it had a mass cultural value, own it. Phones featured in movies or TV shows if it meant something to you, is another good example for collecting

Record where you purchased it. It’s good to know where you got the phones (like yard sales, eBay purchases, etc. If you got good database skills, keep track of it in an asset management system. This would be ideal for insurance purposes or to keep tabs on your precious gear.

Office Telephony Guidelines

Most office telephone systems made from 1980 onwards are typically not phones, but basically endpoints to a mini computer. The keys and keypads are essentially a keyboard and technically calls made and received are done through its “control unit” or “brain” which could be in a closet or data center. When collecting these devices

  • Decide if you want to keep the phone as a paperweight. If you want it to actually work for show off purposes read on
  • Know the vendor, the manufacturer and the type of system. Some phones made by the same company are not cross compatible. While the Nortel Norstar looks like a Meridian, they can’t be plugged into the ether system, one or the other. With the advent of the Web, and more and more ancient telephony resources are slowly coming on the pipeline, this makes it much easier to find this out.
  • Again, was this system inspired by your younger days in school or work? Having some sentimental value is a great case for acquiring such systems
  • Smaller, Key systems are the best option for cost and access purposes. Larger office systems like a PBX are closed and proprietary to the vendor or the reseller and most often these systems can’t do the factory defaults like a Cisco Router.
  • Voice Over IP collection is not a bad thing, though the most earliest generation of all VOIP hardsets made in the late 90s to mid 00s used proprietary protocols, which can’t be used on a system like an Asterisk.

Cell and Mobile phones

Don’t expect the “brick” phones to work or any analog or first generation cell phones to work. Also most phones made from 2000 onwards can dial to 911. Ensure you keep these phones away from children, because even hitting a softkey could dial to 911. If you got an iPhone, you can reuse it as an iPod Touch with help of “jailbreaking”, an unsupported practice of reloading operating systems to Apple devices.