How to Make an Antique Phone Work

By Michelle Nesbit

Antique Phones

If you have found an antique phone from an estate sale, auction or in the attic, you may be wondering if you can use it in your house and whether it will work. The good news is that residential phone service still recognizes pulse dialing phones, so the answer is yes. If it was made after 1920, it shouldn't need any conversion, but prior to that, it can be converted to work on pulse dial. The type of phone you have can also determine what steps are necessary to make it work. Phones have common main components, such as a cord, dialer, speaker and microphone (known as the receiver) and switch, besides the cabling necessary to plug into the jack to pick up the signal. Antique phones may also have a battery that is held behind screws, since they were meant to be changed once a year, and a bell to indicate incoming calls.

Original Condition

Whenever possible, it is best to keep an antique phone in original condition versus updating it with new components. Some phone restorers put a touch-tone dial pad on the back side of the phone to keep the front appearance intact. It depends on what condition your antique phone is in as to the extent of the conversion necessary. It is worth much more if you can keep it in original condition. If your phone has a four prong cord, it is possible it may work without any alterations on today's phone system.


Whether you have a candlestick phone, wooden box crank phone or the older black desk style phone, there are different parts to convert them. Some common antique phones are Western Electric 202, 302 and 500 models. Antique pay phones are popular, too.


The best restoration of an antique phone involves disassembly, sanding and re-staining or painting to original condition. Polishing brass and cleaning metal parts is important and removing any rust. Restoring an antique phone to original condition makes it worth more and gives it more historic value. If you repair using newer parts, it will lose some of its uniqueness. For example, if it has a brown cloth cord, then you should replace it with the same and not a plastic coil cord.

A Professional

Sometimes, antique phone restoration is best left to the experts, and there are antique telephone repair services that can get an antique phone as close as possible to its original condition. If you are interested in preserving its antique value, this may be worth the investment.


The things that antique phone collectors look for in phones are completeness, condition, authenticity, scarcity, uniqueness and attractiveness. The higher your antique phone scores in these categories, the more it is worth. You should keep this in mind during any attempts to make your phone work as a normal phone. If it is high in these categories but would need alterations to use it as a regular phone, then it may not be worth the decrease in value and should be considered as an antique investment instead.

About the Author

I am Michelle and I am the mother of a wonderful 5 year old daughter who is the light of my life. I'm an Entrepreneur (work-aholic) always looking for something else to do. I am the Founder and former CEO of Just over 3 years ago, I was diagnosed with Staqe 3C Ovarian Cancer, with a prognosis from the that I would not live for more than 2 years if I didn't undergo the poison of Chemotherapy. For some reason I do believe he was wrong or I am writing in spirit one, as I am here and still have not had a sick day in my life. Healthy living and eating properly will fight off anything! I have lived through numerous experiences in my life that lend me the ability to speak and write on a variety of subjects. I have taken professional writing courses in business and for writing for children. I have written and published a book that teaches the basics of real estate title search and I am currently working on book about beating cancer with healthy living.