What to Do With an Old Glass Telephone Insulator?

By John McKenna
What, an Old Glass Telephone Insulator
isolatoren image by Michael Stüning from Fotolia.com

It's no wonder glass telephone insulators are collectors items. With their variety of forms and hues, smooth curves and swirly screw grooves, these old utilitarian objects are quite sculptural and pleasant to behold. Seeing one, you just have to touch it. Finding one, you just have to keep it.


Because these items were designed for public use and not for individual ownership, telephone insulators were never as likely to turn up in someone's basement or attic as old shoes or tennis rackets. In addition, manufacture of the items was completely discontinued by the 1970s, all of which lends to their relative scarcity. Also, these objects have special historic and nostalgic value -- any one of them has "witnessed" numerous phone conversations in the wires and has loomed over passers by on the streets, in an earlier era. Antique glass insulators can range in value from $2 to $400 and upward, as of 2010, depending on their condition, rarity and manufacturer. They are popular enough as collectors items that the National Insulator Association has had more than 5,900 total members, and has averaged 900 active members per year since its inception in 1973.


Simply lining a windowsill with an array of glass insulators will alter the quality of the room's decorative disposition. Choosing all green insulators for a green-oriented room, for instance, will accentuate the colorfulness of the room with a special sparkle as the insulators catch the daylight and infuse it into the space. Even sitting on a shelf, though, away from direct sunlight, an insulator is an eye-catching item worthy of exhibition.


Glass insulators are often used as candle holders. Because of their curved shapes, the insulators will need to be set in a stand--usually the type made from cast iron which allows the candle holder to hang from a top ring by its protuberant lip. An old bedspring can serve as the stand as well. The way, votive and other small candles fit into the insulators, and the way the heavy, sometimes tinted glass beautifully catches the candlelight, it's almost as if the insulators were designed specifically for this purpose. Insulators have also been wired as nightlights, decoratively painted as figurines and hung from trees as bird feeders. Indeed, possibilities for their uses are as broad as the imagination.

About the Author

John McKenna holds a teaching degree from Rhode Island College and graduated from the acting, directing and playwriting program at The Trinity Rep Conservatory. He's been a writer for 16 years and has published two novels. His stories have appeared in "Portfolio" and "Art:Mag." He taught English in China for two years. He continues to work as an actor and a teacher of acting.