Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Vintage BT Telephone

Anyone living in the UK is probably familiar with the old style BT telephones. The first versions date back to the early 1920s when you rented the handset from BT (then known as the GPO) and had it hard-wired into your house. 

This cream Bakelite version is part of the 700 series made from 1959 to the late ‘80s. I found it languishing at the bottom of a tea chest in an old house my parents are renovating, aside from the copious amount of dust covering it it seemed to be in relatively good condition so I took it home to clean it up. This is what it looked like when I first uncovered it:

I started by unscrewing the case and lifting it away from the base. I took the speaker and microphone out of the handset and using a pair of pliers, twisted and pulled the flex free. I managed to remove most of the dirt from the Bakelite components by washing them in hot soapy water. I read online that liquid metal polish can be used to remove ingrained grime and restore the original shine, so I liberally applied Brasso with an old household sponge, left it to dry to a film before buffing it off with a soft cloth. If you use this technique yourself I strongly recommend doing it in a well-ventilated area (preferably outside) or investing in a gas mask. I foolishly did it on the kitchen table and nearly passed out from the noxious fumes. After much polishing it did leave the case clean, smooth and shining like new though.


Next I had to unwire the line in and line out cables from the base unit. Faced with a bewildering mass of tiny wires I drew a quick diagram showing exactly what went where before disconnecting them. I dusted the electronics carefully with a paintbrush and a soft cloth. Cleaning the cables presented a bit more of a challenge, while the straight line in cable was pretty simple –I just held it taught and rubbed it with a lightly abrasive scouring pad- I didn’t want to risk pulling the curled cord out of shape so I used another tip I found online, submerging it overnight in a solution of warm water and biological detergent. When I rinsed it off in the morning it came out brilliantly clean.

I tackled the dial next. Not only was it covered in dust but it was running slowly so I removed the cover with a piece of tape, dismantled the dial and lubricated the turning mechanism. Bakelite Gal’s blog was invaluable in explaining the whole process clearly and simply. I cleaned all the plastic dial components although the original paper dial label was beyond saving so I created a new one based on the original design (yes, it does match my blog!), resized it and printed it on lightweight card. I then reassembled the whole dial, rewired the electronics and slotted the case back into place.

This is how the finished phone looks. Although I can’t help but be a little disappointed that it came out more of a vanilla creamy shade rather than ivory/off white I’m still really happy with it. What do you think? 


1 comment:

  1. Hi Leanne,

    Excellent restoration job! I collect these telephones myself ( I have about five in current use in my house ) and have often gone through a very similar process. Good tip about the curly cord, though!

    F.Y.I., these are not actually made of Bakelite, but simply plastic. The old Bakelite phones were the ones that preceded these ( GPO Model 302, if I remember correctly ), with the cup-shaped mouthpiece, and if you go back far enough, with a receiver cord that was not curly but rather consisted of some sort of brownish cloth-like material. As a matter of interest, I don't know how fussed you are or whether you would want to go to the trouble or expense, but the stuff I've always found most effective for cleaning the casing is Greygate Plastic Polish ( also used, I believe, to clean scratches out of aircraft windscreens, so pretty effective! ). You may find you would need to give it two or three treatments, but by and large, with a bit of elbow grease, I've found that it restores the colour pretty well. Unfortunately, the ivory-coloured versions of this telephone discoloured just in normal use with age and sunlight exposure, but even then I've found the Greygate stuff gets the worst of it out and isn't hideously expensive.

    It looks like you've got one with the newer type microphone, which was something of a find. I'd be curious to know if you still have the phone in use and how you find it performs.

    If you need any further help as regards restoration etc., you're welcome to e-mail me at

    Enjoy your phone!


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