Collectors refer to these as Plain Front telephones because of their flat front devoid of decorative routing in the wood around the mouthpiece. In comparison, the Picture Frame Front phones produced a few years prior to these are a bit more ornate looking although the functionality is largely the same.
These phones get their power to operate when cranked to activate their 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 Plain Front wall phones including American Electric, Western Electric, Kellogg, and Stromberg-Carlson through the 1930s when phone styles began to shift dramatically to more modern-looking designs. Most Plain Fronts are made of oak, but they can occasionally be found crafted of other woods. Standard pony receivers, like the one shown here (but more often in black), are commonly found with these phones. Transmitters, or mouthpieces, can be either long or short and have marked or unmarked faceplates. Writing platforms vary slightly in size and slant from model to model and maker to maker.
Values vary depending on condition, whether or not the phone is in working order, and unusual components that may be present. Collectors also value phones that are as original as possible with few reproduction parts used in restoration. Most Plain Front phones sell in the $100-$400 range.
About the Example Shown Here
This American Electric Plain Front telephone was made around 1910. The cabinet Is oak and marked with the American Electric shield name plate. The transmitter base is also in the shape of a shield and the hook has shield cut outs on each side (click on the photo to see a larger view). The pony style receiver is also marked American Electric. Measures 20 ½" tall. Condition graded by the selling auction house as excellent. Sold for $120 plus buyer's premium by Morphy Auctions in June, 2012 in spite of a $200-300 pre-auction estimate.
Other Types of Antique Telephones