[2010-05-04] Mix-and-match Model 500 rotary telephones

This is an idea I'd been meaning to try for a long time: Find some ubiquitous manufactured product having a standardized design, with interchangeable parts, available in a wide variety of colors, then buy two or more of them and mix-and-match the bits to create "custom" case options. The Model 500 telephone (Wikipedia), manufactured in basically the same form for over 30 years, fit the bill to a "T." I picked up these two old rotary Models 500 on eBay for about $35 altogether. It occurs to me this could be an interesting business model, as I'm sure I could sell the resulting mixed-and-matched "Bumblebee" set for a heckuva lot more than I paid. Anyway, you can see what they looked like when I received them below.

The work I did consisted mostly of swapping the bits around. As you can see, the handsets have been swapped, ditto the mouth- and ear-piece covers, the handset cords, and the base-cases. I replaced the black handset cord, which was missing the little plastic "ear" on one plug, with a modern one, and bought new all-black wall cords for each phone. They both still work, perfectly. (And yes, I still have rotary-dial service available on my land-line.) An unexpected advantage of the black/yellow combination was that age-related yellowing of the originally white numbers and letters on the black phone ended up matching the "new" yellow case that dial ended up with pretty well.

Aging of the older black phone's clear dial cover plate was more problematic. I'd read about people cleaning up old yellowed computer hardware and Lego elements using peroxide, so I tried an overnight soak of the old dial cover plate in saturated sodium percarbonate (aka OxyClean). The results, pictured immediately above, speak for themselves.

Getting those dial plates off and on again is a real pain, BTW; here's a handy PDF that explains how it's done. While I had them off, I replaced the original circular number cards with an awesome bumblebee motif that I cut out of a box of "Bee's Honey Toasted" cigarettes years and years ago. I traced the design in Illustrator and printed it on my run-of-the-mill inkjet printer using photo paper and software presets. It took a few experiments to match the yellow of the phone to the yellow from the printer. If you want to use the design for something, you can download the raster version above, or there's SVG here.

last modified 2010-05-04