Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Batman phone

Old telephones are one of my favorite garage sale items to flip. Not just any dusty, old phone though. I am talking about those classic telephones the phone company use to "lease" to customers back in the day. The Bell phones are a "must-have" for many collectors who use them as an accent piece in their home. Not only do they look good, but you can actually make a phone call on them! Making a telephone call on an old Bell phone just feels good. The click, click, click of the rotary dial. The heaviness of the handset when you hold it. They're solid, substantial and always dependable. There's no doubt when you're talking on a Bell phone, the person at the other end hears you loud and clear!

Ma Bell phones were built to last!
The old "Ma-Bell" phones were manufactured by Western Electric and were built to last. In fact, I still have a Western
Electric wall phone from the house I grew up in. It's in the classic "avocado green" color that was all the rage back in the Seventies. I can still picture my mom sitting at our kitchen table every day and talking to her sister on that phone. The phone finally came down off the wall after my father made some kitchen renovations. Prior to Bell's breakup, the phone would have been returned to the phone company. But this was long after, so I grabbed it for future use. Some years later, I hooked it up in my basement adjacent to my workbench. Keeping my mom's tradition going, I would endlessly yap away on it. I still have that phone today, although it's been disconnected and relegated to the closet. But I keep telling myself that one day I'll hook it up again. While it's unlikely that I will, I am definitely not going to sell it. How could I possibly get rid of my mom's telephone, right?

I am not the only one who has a deep, abiding affection for the old Bell Phones. Lot's of people like them. Even upscale retail stores like Pottery Barn sell knock-offs of the old Bell phones. But nothing beats an original, so when I see them at a garage sale, I buy them. You have to be somewhat selective however. For example, black rotary dial phones are aways a winner. You can usually snag one these phones for around five bucks at the yard sales. Flipping them on eBay will typically earn you around thirty to fifty dollars. Beige or "bone" color phones are a different story however. They seem to attract only lukewarm interest on eBay.

The Batphone...so cool!
But in my overall experience, the most sought after color is the red Bell phone! Red phones are a rarity at yard sales, so it's the old supply and demand theory at work. Because there are fewer red phones available, prices on eBay are higher. All that makes sense, but I also have another theory as to why red phones are popular. Many of us baby boomers vividly recall that Commissioner Gordan always used the red "Batphone" to summon Batman for help! That's the real reason for the red phone's popularity! Yes, I am 100% certain that's why people seek out red rotary phones! Most definitely it was Batman! What's that you say? My pathetic Batman fixation, which I've clung to since youth, might be clouding my thought process? Very well then, ummm, (clears throat) okay, let's just go back to red phones are really, really hard to find.

Whether it's the red Batphone or other popular colors, I am always on the lookout for vintage Bell phones. Not long ago, my quest paid off at a moving sale. The seller had tons of boxes spread out in his driveway. Buried inside one of the many boxes, I found Bell's illusive red wall phone. I pulled it out and asked the buyer how much? He quoted me two dollars and I didn't even dicker with him.

After cleaning up the phone with some Windex, I posted it on eBay with a starting bid of $20 dollars. By the end of the first day, the phone had already reached $25 bucks. Not a bad start, considering there were still six days to go in the auction. But then things got even better. I received an e-mail from a potential buyer who begged me to end the auction immediately. In return, he offered to flat out pay $130 dollars, plus shipping for the phone! Normally, I don't like ending an auction early. Instead, I prefer to let the bidding run it's course and let competing bidders decide the price. I usually feel bad about canceling bids. It sort of feels like your pulling the rug out from underneath bidders. But I didn't feel bad this time. For one thing, I've kept track of many of my previous sales and know that I've never made $130 on a single phone. By continuing the auction format, I didn't see any chance of even approaching $130 in bids. In fact, the guy may have been able to buy it for less if the auction continued! So I had to jump on the guy's offer right away. Realizing this would be fast, easy money, I knew what had to be done. The auction was shut down! (Sorry eBay bidders, no hard feelings-business is business.) Once cancelled, I immediately re-listed the phone for a Buy-it-Now price of $130. Within minutes of posting the BIN auction, the guy bought my phone! Just that fast, I turned two dollars into $130 dollars...a new personal best for me!

Bell phones all in a row!
The following day the phone was in the mail to the buyer. It arrived at his mailbox two days later. The guy loved the phone!
We exchanged several e-mails, mostly from the buyer thanking me for selling him the phone. In addition to his extreme generosity, the buyer turned out to be a great guy. He explained that he collected old Bell wall phones and had almost every color except red. That was until he found my auction. The red model finally completed his collection. He even sent me a photo proudly displaying all his phones on the wall. He pointed out that every single one of his phones actually work! Can you imagine what that sounds like when a call comes in? All heck breaking loose!

If only every garage sale flip could be that sweet. A huge profit and a grateful buyer. What more can you ask for in a phone? I mean, other then maybe calling Batman on it?

Have you ever flipped an old Bell phone? If so, which model and how'd you do? Share your story in the comment section below...






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18 comments:

  1. Awesome flip!! When I find phones, I take them to the mother house where the nuns from our church live to test them. We haven't had a landl ine in years. The sisters know that I sell on eBay to help supplement my husband's income, and they're happy to let me test on theirs. About a year ago, I brought tan one and a black one down to the mother house to test. One of the sisters hurried over with that elusive red phone. She asked if I thought I could sell it, too. I informed her that there were a lot of collectors who would love to have it, and I wouldn't have any problem selling it at all. She insisted that I take the phone for free and get what I could for it. The red phone sold immediately, the black phone sold shortly thereafter, and I'm still waiting on a buyer for that darn tan phone :)

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    1. Kimberly-I never thought about the land line issue, but you're right, with cells people are doing away with a hard line into their house. We still have ours, so I can test most of the phones myself. That's neat that the nuns let you use their line to test them. The whole event is probably very entertaining for them when you stop by-that's great.

      Thanks for sharing the great story. Hope you get that tan phone sold....Dude!

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  2. I haven't run into many and those I do want 20+ for them. I remember my grandma had a beige 1. Great flip of all the colors the red is definately the prettiest :)

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    1. Grace-I usually pay around $5. I remember one of my very early eBay flips, I snagged a red rotary phone for only ten cents! Just bought a black rotary phone this past Saturday for a fiver. The guy also had one in beige for the same price but I passed. They just don't bring in the bids.

      Red does look great though, doesn't it?

      Thanks for checking....Dude!

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  3. I found a hamburger phone on Thursday. You know like the one in Juno. Here I thought I found something great but when I checked Ebay, those darn Chinese sellers have driven the price down ($15 plus free shipping) I decided to keep it since I have a landline.

    I also found one of those Victorian reproductions from Radio Shack. When I got it home to test it, the ringer didn't work. I returned it but now wonder if it would have sold to a collector?

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    1. I remember that hamburger phone in Juno. Funny! I read in another blog that China is pretty much knocking off anything they find out is collectible-it's unbelievable!

      I don't know about Radio Shack, but there's a certain company that reproduces old retro phones that seems to sell well. I think it's Crossley? They make a retro pay phone that sells like gang busters on eBay. Found two and flipped each for around $100. I think they may make those reproduction french princess desktop phones too.

      The ringer can be an issue, but buyers might okay with it, as long as there's another phone in the house that will ring. Also, the ringer obviously doesn't affect anything else, you can still make a call on it. So when I have a phone with no ringer, I just let them know in the description and try to minimize it. Basically I say, "Hey your other phone will ring-what's the big deal?

      Thanks for sharing the Hamburger story!...Dude!

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  4. I've sold a couple of old black rotary phones in the past couple of months but they were ITT brand. One I paid $3 for and it sold fairly quickly for $20 so the next one, which I got free from my mom I listed for $25 and it sold pretty quick too.....looks like I'm not charging enough! ~~Pam

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    1. Pam- THe ITT phones can do well too. I think they're a little newer then Western Electric phones. I guess you did BIN? That's why I lean towards auctions. As long as there's enough interested bidders, the true value of the item will develop as the bidders drive the price up. .

      Thanks for writing in...Dude!

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  5. I sold a phone like that in avocado. I packed it in a medium flat rate box with bubble wrap, but the box got smashed and the phone arrived broken. Luckily I had a a good buyer who sent me photos. I put in an insurance claim and got my money back. That was in the pre-defect days, thank goodness. :-)

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    1. Lorraine - Ouch! It's pretty hard to break an old Bell phone, so the post office must have run over it or something. At least you got your money back.

      Thanks for sharing the story...Dude!

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  6. I just found an old black phone but the receiver is made of an embossed ornate "victorian" metal. It's very cool, and one I've never seen before. Someone commented on my Instagram that their grandfather had received one as a service gift from Texas Instruments. http://instagram.com/p/tLllQcuEM1/?modal=true

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    1. Wow, that is cool. Almost medieval looking. I've never seen something like that. If you sell it, I'd use a few "buzz words" in the title like Victorian, Medieval and Steampunk. Let me know how you do with it...Dude!

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  7. What a great story - glad your buyer was able to complete his collection. I happened to buy a cute push button phone at a yard sale this week. The color is adorable - turquoise / aqua! Not sure if I want to sell - it's really growing on me!

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    1. Ree Cee - Thanks, I am glad you enjoyed it.

      It's tough to sell some of our finds, isn't it? As hard as it is, I try not to get attached to what I bring home. I look at it this way-My house is just a way station. The stuff is just passing through on it's way to a good home. Ha!

      Thanks for writing in...Dude!

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  8. What a great flip! I saw that phone sell in the completeds and immediately took a snapshot to put into my BOLO folder. Love the color too!

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    1. Very cool, right? If you spotted it in the completed, you have a good eye!

      Thanks for writing in....Dude!

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  9. COngrats on the sale and thanks for the lesson!

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    1. Anny- You are very welcome. Thanks for the shout out...Dude!

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