This is a cream coloured plastic telephone from the mid 20th century, of a design which could have been found in most domestic and office spaces.  It is formed from two elements: the hand-held speaking and listening headset, designed so that while the receiving element is near the ear, the microphone element is near the mouth; and the connector element which sends and receives the message to the rest of the world via telecommunication cables, and allows the user to dial the number of the recipient.  The two pieces are connected by a spiral, plastic covered cable, which allowed the user to move away from the unit to perhaps sit down while calling, and acted like a elasticated bungee.

Digits are printed at intervals around the dialling plate, which is perforated by finger-sized holes.  The idea was that the recipient’s telephone number could be dialled one digit at a time, by placing a finger in the hole aligned with the required number, rotating in a clockwise direction until reaching the metal buffer bar, then releasing, allowing the dial to return to its original place before dialling the next number.  (In the early years of telecommunication, individual dialling codes would be a combination of letters, indicating the exchange, and numbers – PML667 – for example might stand for “Pimlico 667” – and the dials would be printed with groups of letters as well as numbers.)  This practice was stopped in the 1966, when STD numerical codes came in.  The fact that this particular telephone has no letters printed on its dial, suggests it comes from the 1970’s.

There is a paper printed disc in the centre of the dialling plate, which had two functions.  Firstly, it reminded the user of the numbers to dial for the emergency services and the operator.  Secondly, it featured the unique telephone number of that particular unit – i.e. your own personal identification number.

This style of model was ubiquitous over a number of decades, with few changes in the design.  It was eventually taken over by the press button version in the 1980’s/90’s, which did away with the need for a dialling plate and therefore altered the look of the telephone.


Key theme(s):

Home & GardenWork

More information:

Date 1950s, 1960s, 1970s
Material(s) MetalPlastic
Item number MBPO163

Questions to help you remember using this item

  • What differences do you remember there being between using a phone like this as opposed to a modern mobile phone?
  • Do you recall a time when you had to use a phone in an emergency?

User Stories

I remember being absolutely embarrassed when I got my first boyfriend in the 1970’s, and I would try to have a conversation with him on our home phone.  Firstly, I needed to ask permission to call him.  This would involve me having to explain why I needed to speak with him, and why it couldn’t wait until tomorrow when I would see him at school!  Then, if I achieved said permission, I would have to conduct the whole conversation within earshot of not only my parents (keeping an eye on how long we’d been talking) but also my little sister (hoping to pick up anything with which to tease me later.)  No wonder I didn’t attempt this very often!

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