These phones get their power to operate when cranked to activate a magneto, or small generator, and they also require batteries to make them functional. Earlier models like Two Box phones were also "local battery" units like these. Old wall phones that do not have batteries but instead get their power through telephone lines, like some Fiddleback phones, are known as "common battery" phones and they operate similarly to modern telephones.Many companies made Picture Frame Front wall phones including Western Electric, Couch, and Century from the early 1900s through the 1930s. The example shown here is one of the earliest versions of the Western Electric model 317 phone. The back has an arched top where line terminals are attached. Collectors refer to this as a "cathedral" top. This phone came with a standard pony receiver like the one shown here. According to AntiqueTelephoneHistory.com the first doors on these models were hinged to open left to right but interfered with the magneto crank, so later versions opened right to left instead. The following generation of Picture Frame Front phones eliminated exposed terminals as well, and were made without cathedral top backs.
Most Picture Frame Fronts are made of oak, but they can occasionally be found crafted of other woods. Writing platforms vary slightly in size and slant from model to model and maker to maker just as with Plain Front phones.
Values vary depending on the cosmetic condition and whether or not the phone is in operating order, although some people use them as decorative objects rather than working telephones. Collectors also value phones that are as original as possible with few reproduction parts used when they are restored. Most Picture Frame Front phones sell in the $100-$400 range.
About the Example Shown Here
This Western Electric Picture Frame Front telephone dates to 1907. It is the first model 317 produced by this company. The oak cabinet has the original paper wiring diagram inside. Measures 24" tall. Condition graded by the selling auction house as excellent. Sold for $150 (plus buyer's premium) by Morphy Auctions in June, 2012 in spite of a $200-300 pre-auction estimate.
Other Types of Antique Telephones