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Western Electric 554 A/B


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#1 notyourtim

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Posted 11 September 2005 - 01:27 PM

While enjoying the tailgating area at a recent hamfest, I stumbled across what appeared to be a Western Electric model 554 A/B telephone. I couldn't help but pick it up to experience the deliciously analog sensation of operating the old rotary dial, and admire the leisurely measured pace of the dial as it returned itself to its original position. The sounds of the phone's mechanical working coupled with the considerable weight of the unit itself gave me a sense that the device was actually accomplishing something significant---it was exactly the feeling you do *not* have when you push a button on some cheap digital appliance and when nothing seems to happen immediately, you shake it and wonder if it's working or not. When I noticed that the phone had *cloth* insulation covering its handset cable, I knew it had to come home with me.

So now that it's mine (...ALL mine!...), I have to admit my complete lack of phone knowledge and beg for some answers to some basic questions:

1. Inside the case, the phone is marked "A/B 554 9-58". Does this indeed indicate that the phone is a model 554 A/B? Can I take the rest of it to mean the phone was manufactured in August of 1958?

2. If I make a little adaptor cable and connect this phone to my house's phone system, should I expect it to work? There was some debate at the Hamfest about whether or not the ringer would work due to changes in the electrical characteristics of phone lines since the phone was made. Will rotary/pulse dialing still work? Even if the above two things don't work, might I still be able to receive calls upon hearing some other phone in the house ring?

3. I found some schematics on Bell System Memorial that seem to indicate that I should connect the Ring (RED) wire to the phone's L2 connector, Tip (GREEN) to L1, and Ground (YELLOW) to G. Is this right?

4. With a little help from the family, I managed to clean and polish the case with some alcohol and cotton swabs. Is there a better way to polish the gloss black parts of the case?

5. The unit seems to be missing the little clear plastic circle that was meant to hold your phone number tag on the center of the dial. I assume there's no easy way to replace this. Is there?

Thanks in advance for any help. I'll try to attach some pictures.
Attached File  closed.jpg   12.15KB   13 downloadsAttached File  open.jpg   46.55KB   17 downloadsAttached File  diagram.jpg   8.02KB   11 downloads

#2 P(?)NYB(?)Y

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Posted 11 September 2005 - 01:41 PM

1.  Inside the case, the phone is marked "A/B 554 9-58".  Does this indeed indicate that the phone is a model 554 A/B?  Can I take the rest of it to mean the phone was manufactured in August of 1958?

2.  If I make a little adaptor cable and connect this phone to my house's phone system, should I expect it to work?  There was some debate at the Hamfest about whether or not the ringer would work due to changes in the electrical characteristics of phone lines since the phone was made.  Will rotary/pulse dialing still work?  Even if the above two things don't work, might I still be able to receive calls upon hearing some other phone in the house ring?

3.  I found some schematics on Bell System Memorial that seem to indicate that I should connect the Ring (RED) wire to the phone's L2 connector, Tip (GREEN) to L1, and Ground (YELLOW) to G.  Is this right?

4.  With a little help from the family, I managed to clean and polish the case with some alcohol and cotton swabs.  Is there a better way to polish the gloss black parts of the case?

5.  The unit seems to be missing the little clear plastic circle that was meant to hold your phone number tag on the center of the dial.  I assume there's no easy way to replace this.  Is there?


1. that would be correct. except august is the 8th month. other than that, yes.

2. as far as i know, youwill be able to make and recieve calls.

3. i have no idea

4. get bigger cotton swabs

5. find a new one. try ebay.

#3 spoekalb

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Posted 11 September 2005 - 02:07 PM

I like the non-modular cloth handset cord. I've never seen a 554 with that. How much did you pay for it?

#4 notyourtim

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Posted 11 September 2005 - 04:28 PM

How much did you pay for it?

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It was $5US. The gentleman selling it had all sorts of interesting things, including what looked like a newer rotary wallmount phone with a plastic handset cable, a touch-tone desktop phone with a plug that looked like a doll-furniture table (4 big brass conductors for legs), and a bizarre "Matrix" machine that was once used to record osilloscope output onto color film (as in Kodak film). He begged me to buy all the phones, but they were so heavy I didn't think I could carry all three and still enjoy wandering around the rest of the hamfest. Now I kind of wish I had bought them.

#5 Strom Carlson

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Posted 11 September 2005 - 06:37 PM

1.  Inside the case, the phone is marked "A/B 554 9-58".  Does this indeed indicate that the phone is a model 554 A/B?  Can I take the rest of it to mean the phone was manufactured in August of 1958?

That's correct.

2.  If I make a little adaptor cable and connect this phone to my house's phone system, should I expect it to work?  There was some debate at the Hamfest about whether or not the ringer would work due to changes in the electrical characteristics of phone lines since the phone was made.  Will rotary/pulse dialing still work?  Even if the above two things don't work, might I still be able to receive calls upon hearing some other phone in the house ring?

Oh for chrissake, single-party line ring voltage is still 90vAC at 20Hz and has been for something like seventy to ninety years. It'll still ring, it'll still dial, it'll still work. Anyone who says otherwise has no clue what they're talking about.

3.  I found some schematics on Bell System Memorial that seem to indicate that I should connect the Ring (RED) wire to the phone's L2 connector, Tip (GREEN) to L1, and Ground (YELLOW) to G.  Is this right?

Correct.

4.  With a little help from the family, I managed to clean and polish the case with some alcohol and cotton swabs.  Is there a better way to polish the gloss black parts of the case?

Novus plastic polish.

5.  The unit seems to be missing the little clear plastic circle that was meant to hold your phone number tag on the center of the dial.  I assume there's no easy way to replace this.  Is there?

It's not a plastic ring on a metal type seven dial; it's a metal ring, a metal plate, and a clear plastic circle. Phone collectors tend to have extras of these parts lying around.

#6 BlackRatchet

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Posted 11 September 2005 - 10:48 PM

You know, I typed up a nice reply to this right after you posted this question and it seemed to have gotten dropped into the bit bucket. I probably forgot to hit Post or some such nonsense. :cry:

Anyway, it was almost exactly what Strom said, but I will toss in a few things I thought of:

1.  Inside the case, the phone is marked "A/B 554 9-58".  Does this indeed indicate that the phone is a model 554 A/B?  Can I take the rest of it to mean the phone was manufactured in August of 1958?

Also, check out the other bits too. Nearly EVERY part will have similar date markings (bells, clapper, dial, etc etc etc)

5.  The unit seems to be missing the little clear plastic circle that was meant to hold your phone number tag on the center of the dial.  I assume there's no easy way to replace this.  Is there?

Yes, you should see if there is a kind soul willing to give one up on either the Antique Telephone Collectors Association or the Telephone Collectors International mailing lists. If not, it will probably come cheap, they are a good lot.

#7 notyourtim

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 07:35 AM

Thanks for all the answers, everyone!

I wired the phone up according to the above specification last night and was generally pleased with the results: I can dial out to make calls, and I can receive calls, too. The only problem seems to be that the phone does not ring on any of the manual loudness settings. The spec seems to indicate that there are several different ways to wire (configure) the ringer depending on the type of service (including a ringer-off configuration), so I'll have to open the case back up and try to debug that later.

Thanks again!

Edited by notyourtim, 12 September 2005 - 08:16 AM.


#8 Alkali Jack

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 04:53 PM

3.  I found some schematics on Bell System Memorial that seem to indicate that I should connect the Ring (RED) wire to the phone's L2 connector, Tip (GREEN) to L1, and Ground (YELLOW) to G.  Is this right?

Correct.


I thought that the yellow lead was part of a second ring/tip pair, along with the black lead, for a second phone line. Why are you hooking it up to the ground?

#9 Strom Carlson

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 08:09 PM

3.  I found some schematics on Bell System Memorial that seem to indicate that I should connect the Ring (RED) wire to the phone's L2 connector, Tip (GREEN) to L1, and Ground (YELLOW) to G.  Is this right?

Correct.


I thought that the yellow lead was part of a second ring/tip pair, along with the black lead, for a second phone line. Why are you hooking it up to the ground?

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If you're doing two loopstart lines on quad-conductor cable, you can forego the ground connection on yellow and use it as a second pair. However, if your phone is a single-line phone, and especially if it's a ground-start phone, it's a good idea to connect that ground wire.

#10 notyourtim

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 08:28 PM

I thought that the yellow lead was part of a second ring/tip pair, along with the black lead, for a second phone line.  Why are you hooking it up to the ground?

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Good point, that probably wasn't the right thing to do nowadays. I was mindlessly following the old Bell System spec document I found. It told me to attach the yellow wire to the ground and "insulate and store" the black wire. Perhaps that was the proper use for the 2nd pair back in the day? The next time I open the phone up, I should probably disconnect the yellow wire and tape it up with the black one. Thanks for the tip.

While I'm posting, take a look at this sticker from the top of the phone:

Attached File  label.jpg   14.16KB   8 downloads

VA 8-4305... I guess they didn't have 10-digit dialing back in 1958. Anybody know where this exchange was physically? I didn't have any luck on the web with "kkightdale" or "knightdale" in VA, USA.

#11 spoekalb

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 09:26 PM

VA 8-4305... I guess they didn't have 10-digit dialing back in 1958.  Anybody know where this exchange was physically?  I didn't have any luck on the web with "kkightdale" or "knightdale" in VA, USA.

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That was an EXchange Name.

#12 Strom Carlson

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 09:33 PM

I thought that the yellow lead was part of a second ring/tip pair, along with the black lead, for a second phone line.  Why are you hooking it up to the ground?

View Post


Good point, that probably wasn't the right thing to do nowadays. I was mindlessly following the old Bell System spec document I found. It told me to attach the yellow wire to the ground and "insulate and store" the black wire. Perhaps that was the proper use for the 2nd pair back in the day? The next time I open the phone up, I should probably disconnect the yellow wire and tape it up with the black one. Thanks for the tip.

While I'm posting, take a look at this sticker from the top of the phone:

Attached File  label.jpg   14.16KB   8 downloads

VA 8-4305... I guess they didn't have 10-digit dialing back in 1958. Anybody know where this exchange was physically? I didn't have any luck on the web with "kkightdale" or "knightdale" in VA, USA.

View Post

VA 8 is the name of the exchange. My exchange, 666, used to be NOrmandie 6 (written in shorthand as NO 6), and dialed locally on a seven digit basis. The number on the sticker on your phone was probably spoken as VAlley 8-4305 and dialed 828-4305. Eleven digit direct distance dialing only really became widespread during the early to mid 1960s; before then, long distance calls were handled via the operator.

Does your phone have a telephone company name on the base of it? Do you know what state it was in service in? I can try and hunt down VA8.

#13 BlackRatchet

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 10:48 PM

Knightdale, NC according to google.

#14 Strom Carlson

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Posted 13 September 2005 - 12:00 AM

Knightdale, NC according to google.

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828 looks like a prefix in the downtown Raleigh building; knightdale NC is COngress 6 (919-266)...

#15 notyourtim

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Posted 13 September 2005 - 08:46 AM

Does your phone have a telephone company name on the base of it? Do you know what state it was in service in? I can try and hunt down VA8.


Unfortunately, there are no further stickers or markings other than the "BELL SYSTEM, made by Western Electric" stamp on the plastic case and "Western Electric, Made in USA, G1" on the handset. (It's not often I see "Made in USA" on my toys these days.)

828 looks like a prefix in the downtown Raleigh building; knightdale NC is COngress 6 (919-266)...

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That's pretty amazing; how do you guys know this stuff? Is this information archived somewhere online, or is this something you pick up informally over time from other phone phreaks?

Edited by notyourtim, 13 September 2005 - 08:49 AM.





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