Buying or selling Vintage GPO Telephones?

Things you need to be aware of when you are buying or selling Antique / Vintage British Bakelite Telephones.

This website has been put together to help you buy or sell vintage GPO telephones, so that you can have enough knowledge to make the right decisions.

Original Vintage telephones are "superb" pieces of British Design and Engineering, not to be confused with the infinitely poorer quality replicas you see for sale on the high street.

Although this information has been deliberately simplified for the novice we have also included links to more detailed information about these old telephones where appropriate.

The vintage telephone information on this website has been compiled with the help of 3 retired GPO telephone engineers (Technical Officers) with a total of 112 years experience, dating from 1937 onwards.

First lets dispel a few Myths about Vintage Telephones.

All British vintage Dial phones will still work on ALL UK telephone providers!

It is surprising how many people think that some "Land Line Telephones" have changed to Digital. As of 2018 there are no current plans to move away from analogue telephones. Every telephone that you buy today (new or old) is still based on good old fashioned "Reliable Analogue".

Surprisingly you may have noticed that the sound/audio quality of an old analogue land line telephone is more often than not far superior to a modern Digital Mobile Phone. Plus these old telephones will still work in a power cut because they take their power from the telephone exchange.

The confusion that arises with compatibility of old telephones is because back in 1980 BT moved away from "Hard Wired" telephones to a more versatile "Plug and Socket" wiring system. This house telephone wiring change means that for vintage telephones to work reliably for incoming calls the telephones electrical and mechanical ringing circuit should be converted and adjusted for this plug and socket wiring. If done correctly this does not damage or intrinsically alter the telephone.

Pulse Dialling vs Tone Dialling?

Another area of confusion is caused by the fact that in the late 1980's and 1990's telephones started to use push button "Tone Dialling", whereas the older telephones with rotary dials used "Pulse Dialling".

Again there is another myth that some Telephone Providers do not support older Pulse Dial Telephones. As of 2018 ALL land line telephone providers in the UK still support dialling out by both pulse or tone dialling and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.

Any Problems with Pulse Dialling?

However, from our experience we believe that the telephone exchange equipment used by some telephone providers is not equal and many people with pulse dial telephones have told us that they are less reliable dialling out on TalkTalk Telephone Exchange Equipment.

Why can Pulse Dialling "sometimes" be unreliable on some vintage phones?

In simple terms if the vintage telephone dial is calibrated correctly it will dial out reliably on all UK land lines (including TalkTalk) however, as telephone dials are mechanical that calibration may drift slightly over time. Normally this slight change in calibration is not a problem however we believe that if you are with TalkTalk you MAY need your dial recalibrated periodically (this could be required in several years or several months).

Should I buy a Pulse to Tone converter?

It is our belief that pulse to tone converters are NOT required on a standard telephone line, regardless of who your telephone provider is.

In fact we believe that they introduce a significant extra point of failure, as modern electronics (used in pulse to tone converters) are many more times more susceptible to damages caused by electrical surges (seen on a normal telephone line) than a vintage telephone. The modern electronics in pulse to tone converters were really only designed and built to be used in the protected environment of an internal business/office telephone system (PABX).

Why should I avoid replica Vintage/Retro 746 telephones?

At first glance Replica 746 telephones (the iconic 1970's telephone) look good, however, in reality they are vastly inferior foreign made copies of the original 746 phones. Apart from the general shape they have almost nothing in common with the superb sounding, high build quality original British 746 telephones.

The good news is that for a few pounds more you can still buy original GPO refurbished 746 telephones that were made in the 1970's.

Thoughts on buying a Vintage Telephone

If you do your homework Vintage Telephones are a joy to own and use. However, a telephone looking good on the outside is only a small part of the story. It is very important that the internals have been serviced and calibrated correctly. ALL telephone restorers have different levels of skills and expertise and these can vary wildly. That’s why if a vintage telephones look the same (in the photographs) taking the cheapest option is not always the wisest option.

Take your time and if possible rely on personal recommendation or if this is not possible use the guidance below and talk to the restorer who worked on the vintage telephone. If they are passionate and knowledgeable about what they do they will be happy to talk to you.

Side Note: Rare 200 series telephones only

WARNING , with reference to rare 232 British Bakelite telephones there has been a recent trend in a very worrying practice (only by less knowledgeable dealers). See Bakelite 232 Telephone Problem Details Please read this article carefully, although at first this sounds like a small problem fixing this can be Expensive. The solution to this is to make sure that you check the reliability of your vintage telephone restorer before you buy and as always be very careful if you buy your telephone via ebay or at auction.

OK Now to the Bakelite Telephone Buying/Selling Advice

Basic questions you should ask when looking at Buying or Selling Antique Telephones are:

  1. Is it a British Bakelite Telephone?
  2. Is it an Original Chrome Telephone Dial?
  3. Condition of the Bakelite body of the Telephone
  4. Braided Handset cords
  5. Pull out Telephone Drawers
  6. The main Bakelite Telephone Models
  7. Conversion Restoration and Servicing

Whenever buying antique telephones always take your time and research these classic telephones fully, to make sure you get the best deal for can for your money.

1) Is it a British Bakelite Telephone?

The first thing to be aware of is that there is a massive difference in quality between the classic British made Bakelite rotary dial GPO telephones and the foreign made vintage telephones, which can look very similar at first glance. This is particularly true of the poorer quality Indian versions of these Bakelite telephones made for the Indian market in the 1950's.

Because most of these foreign inferior quality Bakelite Telephones were made in the 1950's and 60's in the same basic shape they look like genuine British GPO telephones. They can even be advertised using terms similar to "Genuine 300 series Bakelite Telephones". So one tip is "Always ask and check with the seller if the telephone is actually British, this applies to both the telephone case and the telephone handset".

The quickest way to identify a British Bakelite telephone is to look at the markings impressed into the Bakelite on the underside of the telephone handset, half way between the mouth piece and the earpiece. For more details please select the "Bakelite Handset Markings" page.

Please note you should also check the vintage telephones Bakelite case, as it could be a foreign telephone base with a British Bakelite telephone handset.

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2) Is it an Original Chrome/Steel metal bodied Telephone Dial?

The single most important (and valuable) mechanical part of these old GPO telephones is the original metal bodied chrome dial (£20 to £40 of the value). The quality and superb engineering of these original metal bodied vintage dials means that they can be serviced and if required repaired to last and last.

Unfortunately rather than service these classic metal bodied dials some old telephone restorers and dealers go for the quick/easy option and replace them with more modern, lower quality (£2 to £7 in value) chrome/steel fronted plastic body dials. These plastic bodied dials were really designed for the cheaper more modern plastic telephones of the 1960's 70's and 80's. Although some of these plastic bodied dials are still good quality compared to modern telephones they are only worth a fraction of the metal bodied vintage GPO originals.

Thankfully it is easy to spot these plastic bodied "fake" chrome dials on Bakelite GPO telephones (even in a photograph) if you look at the shape of the chrome (steel) "finger stop". For more details look at the "Original Chrome GPO Dials" page

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3) Condition of the Bakelite Body of the GPO Telephone.

Once you have established the authenticity of the vintage telephone the next most important thing to look for is the condition of the Bakelite. These old GPO telephones are made of Bakelite a thermosetting plastic, which means that once heat and pressure had been applied to the mould it can not be reversed. This makes it almost impossible to successfully repair any cracks in Bakelite phones. Antique Bakelite dial Telephones are a little bit like pottery, any cracks (even hairline cracks) can make a big difference to the telephones value. So always make sure!

Cracks in Bakelite

As mentioned cracks even fine hairline cracks reduce the value of Bakelite telephones significantly. Although larger cracks may show up in photographs, hairline cracks may not be immediately visible on these old vintage telephones. To look for fine hairline cracks it is often necessary to examine the Bakelite of the telephone closely under a bright light, or in direct sunlight. See the "Cracks in Bakelite GPO Phones" page.

Chips and nibbles

Whilst small chips (nibbles) below a few mm on certain parts of these vintage/antique telephones are to be expected, and are regarded as consistent with usage, large chips above 4mm reduce a vintage GPO telephones value (although not as drastically as cracks).

Dull and faded Bakelite.

Correct and sympathetic restoration of black Bakelite GPO telephones can often restore much of the original shine, without damaging the Bakelite. This is important as the sheen of a vintage Bakelite phone does impact on its value. IMPORTANT make sure the telephone restorer has NOT use any coloured polishes (such as black shoe polish) or black dyes or waxes, as these just hide the problem and will eventually wear off. We believe coloured pigments and waxes should never be used in Bakelite telephone restoration.

Colour fading is particularly important on ivory, red and green antique telephones, as any fading caused by exposure to direct sunlight (over long periods of time) on these coloured antique/vintage telephones can't be reversed.

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4) Braided Handset Cords.

Although nearly all British Bakelite GPO telephones started life with a braided and plaited handset cord (between the telephone and the handset) they proved to be a weak point electrically and so the GPO replaced them over time (usually in the 1960's) with more reliable plastic curly handset cords. Due to reliability issues with original braided handset cords most telephone restorers replace the originals with replicas. However the quality of these replacement braided cords can differ enormously from telephone restorer to telephone restorer. If you are not sure its always a good idea to ask to see close up photographs of the braided cords that your telephone restorer uses.

The choice of original plastic curly cord or braided handset cords is down to individual preference and only has a very small impact on the collectable value of the antique telephone.

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5) Pull out Telephone Drawers.

Most of these classic Bakelite GPO telephones contained a pull out drawer (aka a cheese drawer) to keep important numbers, such as local dialling codes handy. However the contents of these drawers often jammed the telephone bells so the GPO routinely replaced these drawers with drawer blanks. On later model GPO Telephones and Bakelite telephones produced for office use these drawer blanks were fitted as standard in the factory.

In general if the antique Bakelite telephone contains a pull out drawer it will be worth slightly more than a similar telephone with a drawer blank.

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6) The main Bakelite Telephone Models

Please see below for the main type of Bakelite telephone antiques

200 series Bakelite Telephones (1929 to 1957)

200 Series Bakelite Telephone

1/232's predominantly from the 1940's and 1950s. These Art Deco telephones were designed to use external bell sets, so they do not contain internal bells.

Be aware that without the matching "Bell Set" these Bakelite telephones will not ring. Some antique telephone dealers fit small modern ringers inside the telephone case, although because of there small size these modern ringers do sound a bit tinny.

For more details on 200 series telephones see the website 200 Series GPO telephones.

300 Series Bakelite Telephones (1937 to 1960)

300 series bakelite telephone 332's Predominantly from the late 1940's and 1950s although some were produced in the early 1960's. These were the first British Bakelite telephones to have bells inside the telephone body, a revolutionary idea at the time. The Bakelite 300 Series GPO Telephone models were:
  • 332 - Standard 300 series Bakelite Telephone
  • 312 - Call Exchange (Single chrome button)
  • 328 - Bell ON/OFF chrome buttons
  • 314 - Bell ON/OFF buttons and Call Exchange

The order above also indicates increasing rarity and potential value. For more details about 300 series Bakelite telephones see these Youtube videos Vintage GPO Telephones.

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7) Conversion Restoration and Servicing

10 years ago the market for antique telephones was largely limited to "collectors" such as ourselves however by far the biggest market for these vintage telephones today are people who want to own a retro telephone or classic British icon of design and engineering.

The big difference today is people now want to use these old telephones on the modern telephone system. The good news is that this can be done sympathetically (without damage to the telephone or its antique value). However it needs to be done properly so that the telephone does not intermittently interfere with the other phones or Broadband, otherwise telephones may fail to ring on occasion or test incorrectly from the telephone exchange. For example as a minimum it usually requires very careful mechanical adjustment of the bell and the vintage chrome telephone rotary dial.

If you are buying a Bakelite telephone please make sure the seller has had this conversion and servicing performed by a professional, alternatively only pay the amount you would expect to pay if it was an unrestored and unconverted telephone (approx 60% 75% less).

Side Note: Key phrases used when looking for vintage telephones

Some of the key phrases used for vintage telephones are: Deal Or No Deal Telephone,GPO telephones for sale, Vintage Telephones,TV Burp Telephone,Antique Telephones,GPO Engineer, Classic Telephones,Post office Telephones,BPO Telephones,Telephone Repairs, British Telecom,1930's Telephone, 1940's Telephone, 1950's Telephone, 1960's Telephone, 1970's Telephone, 1980's Telephone. GPO Spares.

Other phrases you may see are BT Dial Phones, Old BT phones, Dial Telephones, Old Telephone, Vintage Telephone,Antique Telephone,Old Telephones,Ivory Red Green Bakelite Telephone, Rotary Dial, Nostalgic Telephones,Candlestick Telephone, Batman Telephone, Broken Telephone, Bakerlite Telephone, Rotary Dial, Bakelight Telephone, Broken Telephone Repair,and Ashes To Ashes Telephone.