Bruneau & Co. rings up impressive prices for historic phones
CRANSTON, R.I. – An original model of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson’s very first telephone from 1881 sold for $40,000 and a rare circa 1876 Bell Butter Stamp magneto telephone originally installed at a residence in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1891 brought $27,500 at an historical telephone auction held Aug. 4 by Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers. Absentee and Internet live bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.
Featured were items from two regional chapters of the Telephone Pioneers of America Museum: the William J. Denver chapter #20 museum in Providence, R.I., and the Excelsior Chapter #98 in Buffalo. N.Y.
The metal-and-wood Bell and Watson prototype phone was accompanied by original 1881 patent paperwork and a tag with Watson’s hand-written name and the date August 2, 1881. The Bell Butter Stamp magneto phone was mounted to an easel board and had the original museum label, stating it had been installed “many years ago in the Malvina K. Wetmore residence” in Newport.
The auction presented an exciting and rare collection of historical telephones, photographs, maps, cables, prototypes, ephemera and more, ranging from the first phone/emergency call box ever installed in the Yukon in Canada to the telephone from President Dwight Eisenhower’s Newport, Rhode Island summer White House. In all, over 500 lots crossed the auction block.
“It was a thrill and a half to hammer down the Thomas A. Watson prototype and Butter Stamp magneto telephone,” said Travis Landry, a Bruneau & Co. specialist and auctioneer. “I really don’t know if and when I will be able to handle such exciting yet historical items again, but I know I’ll be ready. It was the best learning experience I could ask for and it was a great sale.”
Bruneau & Co. company president and auctioneer Kevin Bruneau added, “It was pretty neat to hold a telephone that was held by a president before I was even born, or to hold a plank from Alexander Graham Bell’s laboratory. If things like that don’t send chills up your spine nothing will. I am excited to learn more as we work together with the Telephone Pioneers of America.”
The Eisenhower phone he referred to was marked behind the cradle “Bell System” and “Made by Western Electric.” It was used at the Newport home formerly known as the “Commandant’s Residence and Quarters Number One.” An original museum label identified the telephone as “President Eisenhower’s Personal Telephone at the Summer White House”. It went for $1,375.
Following are additional highlights from the auction. All prices quoted here include the buyer’s premium.
A circa 1893 Clark “candlestick” telephone that would have connected to a switchboard capable of controlling 74 lines changed hands for $3,000. The table of the metal and plastic, 15½-inch tall telephone was marked, “Clark Automatic Telephone, Patented May 30, 1893,” while the phone’s speaker was marked, “Clark Automatic Telephone Switchboard Co., Providence, R.I.”
The first phone/emergency call box ever installed at Dawson, Canada, in the Yukon Territory at the time of the Gold Rush around the turn of the century had a tag that said: “Combination Telephone and Fire Alarm Box.” Made by National Telephone Co., Chicago, the phone was removed from its pole at Fifth and Church streets in Dawson in August 1960. It made $2,500.
A late 19th-century Victorian Western Electric vanity phone with a cherrywood case and incised bellflower and scrollwork decoration, accompanied by a museum label reading, “Type used by Alexander Graham Bell for first New York to Chicago call in Oct. 1892,” commanded $2,375.
A large group photograph taken around 1911 of several hundred Henry Street Garage telephone linemen, some shown seated on motorcycles, cars and horse-drawn carriages, measuring 39½ inches by 27¼ inches (sight), and signed “HARE” in the photo’s lower left, realized $2,000.
A mid-20th-century Western Electric experimental side hanger phone breezed to $1,500. In the mid-1960s, Providence, R.I., was selected by Bell Laboratories for a product trial of a newly designed telephone set. The result was this model, which was sent back to the lab for redesign.
A circa 1896 leather-bound Providence, R.I., hand-drawn phone line diagram map book, with a museum label stating, “Record Book, Diagrams of Providence Telephone Company, Main Lines and Branches, 1894-1896”, measuring 7½ inches by 5 inches, showing wear, went for $1,375.
For details contact Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.