March 29, 2011Your Vintage Princess Phone – A Cleaning And Repair Tutorial
Let’s say your hanging out in your living room, on the world’s greatest Heywood-Wakefield two tier end table from 1956 that’s right next to that great Danish Modern eight foot long sofa. Or maybe you’re more like me and you have some pretty decent mid-century stuff even though it doesn’t have a real “name” attached to it. In either case, the phone rings and you reach out for your (horrors !) silver plastic wireless phone made in China.
I’ve just lost the mood.
Know what you need? An aqua colored, 60’s Princess phone from Ma Bell. (for you younger folks, Ma Bell is what we used to call the phone company)
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. “How am I supposed to get one of these?” and “Do they work very well?” and “I have modular outlets and look, this thing uses some prehistoric connector!” Stop worrying, Uncle Dave is here to help you. Princess phones are available on the online auction sites averaging in price from $20.00 – $50.00. The one I’m going to use as my example was just bought on March 1st and I paid $20.50 plus $7.70 shipping. When your Princess phone arrives it will probably be dirty, the ringer may or may not work, it might have those prehistoric connectors on it, and the light probably will not work.
Here’s how to change the cord so it will fit into your modular outlet and a trick to make the ringer work if it doesn’t.
First let’s look at the bottom to see what we have. This one’s in fairly decent shape. You can see the ringer loudness control, the socket for the light bulb, and a plate with some information.
Let’s have a closer look at that plate. This is good information to have for when you start looking for your own princess phone. This phone is a Bell System (that’s the phone company) Model 702B. It was manufactured in November of 1964. And best of all – it’s a Princess®. Model 702B means it has a built in ringer. The 701 did not. If you want a phone that rings, go for a 702B.
Now let’s see what it looks like on the inside. You’ll need to remove two screws, one from either end of the phone.
Take the top off and this is what you should see. On the left is the ringer bell. This is what makes it a 702B. If this were a 701 there might be a chunk of steel acting as a weight there, or it might just be empty space, but there would not be a bell. You can also see the wiring.
Let’s look closer. This is the phone before I changed anything. These are the wires you’ll be working with when we put on our new cord. You can see raised letters. These are identifiers to tell you where the wires go. On the left you’ll see two green wires under a screw, and to the right you’ll see a red and a yellow under another screw. There will also be a black, white and yellow wires with the old wall cord.
Loosen the two screws and remove the red wire and the green wire that are part of the old wall cord. The black, white and yellow wires may also be unscrewed from their connectors, but nothing will go back in their place. The black, white and yellow wires are for making the light work which requires a separate transformer that plugs into a wall outlet. I don’t have the transformer to show you now. That may be a future article. If you can’t get to the screws for the black, white, and yellow you may snip them with wire cutters but leave their ends long so that we may use them in the future.
I showed you what tools you’ll need but neglected to tell you that you’ll need an RJ-11 modular phone cord. I bought mine at W-Mart for $3.47 and it’s 12 feet long. Clip off one of the clear plastic ends, split the plastic covering exposing 4 wires (red, green, yellow, black) and strip about an inch off of the red and the green exposing the thin copper wire inside. I used a match to melt the red and green covering off as the wires are so thin it’s hard to strip them in the conventional manner.
In this picture you can see how I routed the new wall cord in through the side of the phone. You can also see the new red wire connected the screw marked L2.
In this picture you can see my new red and green wall cord wires attached to connectors L1 (green) and L2 (red). You’ll also see a black wire attached to L1. Following it back you’ll see it also connects to a connector labeled “G”. This black wire is what I added to make the ringer work. I can’t tell you why the ringers don’t work in these old Princesses, but this is the trick to try if yours doesn’t ring. You’ll also see in this picture the snipped ends of the black and white wires I mentioned earlier. I completely removed the yellow one. It was easy to get to.
Put the top back on, tighten up the two screws on the bottom of the case and it should now look like this. Notice that nice clean modular wall cord. There are ways to make the old aqua colored wall cord work, but this is what I did. I like the idea of no shorts in the wiring.
You may want to clean the case of your Princess. Sometimes the yellowing on an old plastic case just can’t be completely removed, but for scratches and polishing I like Novus plastic polish and scratch remover. It comes in a 3 step process and can be researched under the key work Novus Polish. It gets pretty cruddy under the dial sometimes. You can remove the dial to clean under it. You’ll need a paper clip. Straighten the clip. Now rotate the dial as far to the right as it will go. Insert the paperclip into the tiny hole between numbers 4 and 5 and press. You should feel a springy clip push in, when you feel it turn the dial further to the right and it should pop off into your hand.
Now you should have a fairly clean, working, dialing, and ringing mid-century modern Princess phone. They come in many colors to add to the completeness of your mid-century interior.
Now if I could just find one of those cool old wire telephone stands.