March 18, 2023

Typewriters, Telephones, Cell2Jack, and Henry Dreyfuss

 One of the smartest looking typewriters, in my opinion, is the 1948 Royal Quiet De Luxe:

Casually known as the tuxedo model, it was produced for just two short years, until Royal decided to take on a new look for the '50s.  This particular iteration of the QDL was the brainchild of the famous industrial designer, Henry Dreyfuss.  You may not recognize his name, but you will surely be familiar with his work.  He designed the Western Electric Model 500 telephone, the Princess telephone, the Hoover vacuum cleaner, the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera, and many more iconic products.

Speaking of telephones, if you were to make a Venn diagram of typewriter collectors and telephone collectors, I would fall smack dab at the intersection.  While I do have a Model 500, a Princess, and a Trimline phone (also designed by Dreyfuss), I chose to pair this 1948 QDL with a matching 1948 Western Electric Model 302:

This particular model is known as the Lucy Phone, because it is the phone that Lucy always used in the television series I Love Lucy (not to mention Ricky, Fred, and Ethel).

Wait a minute - a rotary phone?  Is that just a prop?  A decoration? 

No, it actually works, and I don't even have a landline!  Several years ago, our POTS (plain old telephone service, i.e. analog landline) switched to digital.  It stopped supporting rotary dial, digital compression took away the signal quality, it no longer worked properly if the power went out, and the price went way up.  So, I cancelled the service.  Why is it that we always seem to lose more than we gain, in the name of "progress"?  By the way, did you know that the opposite of PROgress is CONgress? 😉

What to do, then, with all these old, wired analog phones?  Cell2Jack to the rescue!

This little box lets you take any cellular phone with a Bluetooth connection (Android, iOS, or other) and turn it into your own private POTS service.  You can plug any analog phone (rotary dial or Touch-Tone) into the RJ-11 phone jack and use it just like a landline.  Add an extension or two if you want.  It will ring the phone(s) when a call comes in.  Pick up the receiver, and you even get a dial tone!  This thing is amazing!

Of course, you don't get the same audio clarity as with an end-to-end analog connection.  Your calls are still routed over the digital network.  But, the sound quality coming through the analog telephone is still a heck of a lot better than it is when holding a slab of glass to your ear.  I've also been told that it sounds very good on the other end as well.  And there's that authenticity of an actual, mechanical telephone bell ringing that just can't be simulated with a tiny smartphone speaker.

One unexpected surprise was to discover how many people today have no idea how to use a rotary phone.  If you're over 50, that may seem incredible, but it's true!  Some don't even know what a dial tone sounds like.  Have a look at these:

As a public service, here is a 1940 instructional film from Bell Telephone that details how to use the new-fangled rotary dial:

Finally, you can use a more modern Touch-Tone phone and forego the rotary dial altogether.  Imagine putting some of those novelty phones of a few decades ago back into service!

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