Kingston, Ont. ,
This is a business dialing back time in Kingston.
“The company is Oldphoneworks. We started in a garage about 22 years ago,” said general manager Matthew Jennings.
“In 20 years, it has turned into a really great company to work for.”
Jennings responded to an ad at Oldphoneworks a decade earlier to repair the phone.
“I showed up and they’re telling me about the situation and mentioned that it was for antique phones instead of cell phones,” he laughed.
“I thought, I’m not interested in this, but I want a job, so I’m going to take it.”
Before long, Jennings’ obsession with vintage phones grew.
Now, he leads a venture that safeguards the phones of tomorrow and the phones of tomorrow.
Matthew Jennings, general manager of OldPhoneWorks in Kingston, repairs an old model in one of the company’s many rooms filled with old and antique phones. (Joel Haslam/CTV News Ottawa)
“The oldest we have is probably 1905 and the newest we have could have been built a few months earlier,” Jennings said.
The vintage phone market—especially from the 1950s and 1960s—is hot right now. Customers are calling for orders for Rotary Dial Phones in Fleming Orange, Olive Green and Bright Blue colours.
“The most popular is a variant of the Western Electric 500 which is a common phone of the fifties, sixties and seventies with all the vibrant colors. Those phones are extremely popular with customers right now,” Jennings said.
Customers can plug the phones into their landlines, or Bluetooth-optimize them to use with their cell phones.
“We have a device that can be connected to a phone and basically it connects to your cell phone via Bluetooth. That way, you can make and receive calls on an old phone, a telephone provider without coming off a separate line from home,” Jennings said.
Jennings says he can’t fully explain why vintage phones have become so popular again, but he guesses it’s related to the pandemic; People craving the simplicity and comfort of nostalgic memories.
“It didn’t really explode until the last few years, as far as sales go for us,” Jennings said.
“When you talk to someone on a corded phone, you can’t go anywhere. Your sole purpose is to talk to the other person, so that you can have a really good conversation with someone.
“The most common reason I hear is ‘That’s what I grew up with.’ So, it brings back a lot of memories for people.”
The phones sold here are completely refurbished by a team of experts at Oldphoneworks.
None of them ever expected to breathe new life into an antique phone.
“Never, but it worked great. I love it,” said Jeff Martin.
Jeff Martin renovating a phone at a workshop at OldphoneWorks in Kingston. (Joel Haslam/CTV Ottawa)
Martin has been with the company for eight years. He is busy working on an antique telephone cord making machine.
“So, right now, we’re taking the copper conductor and feeding it through the machine and covering it in cloth, like they used to do back in the day,” Martin said.
Reproduction cords and other antique and vintage phone parts available at Oldphoneworks are in hot demand with collectors.
“The machine is running for about eight hours every day,” he said.
“I send them all over the world, as far as Australia.”
Michael Blair is also polishing off this nostalgic chapter of the past, using a polisher to buff away blemishes from each phone.
Michael Blair polishing the headset of an old phone. (Joel Haslam/CTV News Ottawa)
“I’m smoothing out imperfections in pristine plastic. Scratches, dents cigarette burns. I’m using buffing machines to bring out the shine of the product,” Blair said.
It’s a “product” he never actually used, or saw growing up, but he loves it.
“This is phenomenal work. Mind-blowing,” Blair said.
Employee Jamie Emerton studied history at Carleton University and electrical technology at St. Lawrence College.
“So, I am uniquely interested in this old technology. It was wonderful to work with, so I jumped right in,” Emerton said.
Emerton has seen the market for used phones explode.
“These are very popular phones again. Yeah, it really blew up over the years.”
Emerton said customers prefer rotary dials, old-fashioned ringers and customized dial cards.
“We actually use old typewriters to type people’s custom dial cards and numbers on their telephones. This is a big request. Most people want their custom number, or a number they used to have growing up. ,
Jamie Emerton uses an old typewriter to type a custom dial card for a refurbished old phone. Many customers request dial cards typed in using their past phone numbers. (Joel Haslam/CTV News Ottawa)
There are pieces from every era of history here. Oldphoneworks supplies a number of vintage and antique phones to the film industry, ensuring that the pieces used in the film fit the time period.
The company has also designed a retro hotel.
“We supply shooting films all over the world,” Jennings said.
There’s also a wide array of quirky and colorful novelty items built into plastic dinosaurs, wine bottles, toy killer whales, and plastic helicopters.
“You name it, we got it,” Jennings said.
Perhaps the biggest innovation of all is seeing new generations try to use rotary dials, Jennings said.
“We have customers who buy these phones specifically so that their kids can see what it was like to dial the phone back in the day. They always call back and tell me how it happened and it’s always the same thing, Jennings said.
“The kid came to the phone and instead of trying to turn the rotary dial just puts his fingers through the hole and tries to dial. It’s the same thing every time and it’s wonderful,” Jennings laughed.
To learn more about Oldphoneworks in Kingston, Ontario, visit oldphoneworks.com, @oldphoneworks on Instagram or call 1-800-843-1320.