Collectibles

Prices on Old Rotary Phones are Up 500%

© Tamoikin’s Auction • SOLD $470 • 1980s DECO TEL Mediterranean Style White Rotary Phone

By Albert Chen | Market Analysis

Vintage rotary phones have been steadily rising in value and liquidity, becoming almost as good as gold. Rare models sell between $200-2000 regularly. Even most basic rotary phones are in high demand. If just a few years ago one could easily buy an average, beige color, standard style rotary phone from the 1980s for around 10 dollars, now the same phone will cost you $50-80.

© Tamoikin’s Auction • SOLD $50 • 1986 Northern Telecom Classic White Rotary Phone
© Tamoikin’s Auction • SOLD $70 • 1980s Northern Telecom Classic Beige Rotary Phone

This same “standard style” phone but in more exotic color, say blue, yellow or red, can double or triple in price. Have a rare shape or model? The price doubles or triples again! Some models are worth as much as ten times what they were only a year ago.

© Tamoikin’s Auction • SOLD $180 • 1978 Northern Telecom Yellow Rotary Wall Phone
© Tamoikin’s Auction • SOLD $150 • 1960s Northern Electric Pink Rotary Wall Phone

What’s happening?

The 80s and 90s generations grew up, bought or rented a bunch of houses, condos, and apartments, started decorating them to their tastes and discovered that they are seriously nostalgic. There are literally millions of 30–50-year-olds that are crazy about the old rotary phones. They all want one or three of these “mechanical dinosaurs” in their homes to remind them of the good old days.

© Tamoikin’s Auction • SOLD $105 • 1970s Northern Telecom Brown ‘Contempra’ Rotary Phone
© Tamoikin’s Auction • SOLD $250 • 1980s DECO TEL Black Candlestick Rotary Phone

The home décor and renovation boom that started during the COVID-19 pandemic only strengthened the rotary phone culture. Now well-known home decorators are getting in the game and scooping up vintage phones from the market (eBay, Esty, Amazon, etc.) in bulk! Their biggest competitors are serious collectors of old phones. Between them and the average folks, who are on a constant lookout for at least one of these classic conversation pieces, prices are heating up.

© Tamoikin’s Auction • SOLD $165 • 1980s Northern Telecom Black Rotary Wall Phone

Limited Supply

Further fuel into the fire is thrown by the limited (and constantly decreasing) supply. When the 90s were over, so were the true rotary phones. Oh sure, you can buy a replica no problem nowadays but that’s the thing – everyone wants an original, from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and, more or less, the 90s. Why? Because they sound, look, and feel different. They have that good-times vibe.

© Tamoikin’s Auction • SOLD $128 • 1980s Northern Electric Princess Style Beige Rotary Phone

People want to call their friends and relatives and tell them that they are calling from a real, classic, vintage rotary phone, just like a grandma used to have. And it’s a conversation piece that’s becoming more expensive than ever.

One home decorator from LA told me that she charges up to $1500 for a single vintage rotary phone installation. Now, mind you, her phones are rare, fully functional, and in tip-top condition but still, that’s a price of a used car! Another antiques dealer, who specializes in vintage phones said, and I quote: “The demand is so high for the rotary phones right now, if you bring me a truck load of these phones, I’ll sell the whole truck.”

© Tamoikin’s Auction • SOLD $175 • Vintage Ericsson LM Hand-Held Yellow Rotary Phone

Supply and demand, ladies and gentlemen. Less and less of these phones are coming to the market while it seems that evermore people want one in their living room. The market is hot!

© Tamoikin’s Auction • SOLD $400 • Vintage Northern Electric Emergency Rotary Wall Phone in Metal Case

Buyer’s (and Seller’s) Guide 2022:

Standard White or Beige rotary phones from 70s-90s are the most common and least valuable ($40-90). Black and Brown phones are slightly rarer but are still considered quite average ($60-100). The real money is in Blue, Green, Yellow, Red, and all other colors. Collectors and home decorators absolutely love them and pay a premium ($120-300).

And that’s just your average rotary phones. Rare models and unique styles (such as: Wall Mounted, Princess, Candlestick, Victorian, Mediterranean, etc.) increase the value substantially so get to know them. Older phones regardless of their style and color are even more valuable. Research all these factors before buying or selling a rotary phone.

Finally, make them work! Fully functional phones sell much better than non-working ones. If your phone doesn’t work, don’t worry. Most likely it’s not broken and just needs to be rewired. There are many DIY videos of how to rewire an old rotary phone on YouTube. So Fix ‘Em, Clean ‘Em, Sell ‘Em!

© Tamoikin’s Auction

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