Monday, June 15, 2009
The Princess telephone was introduced by AT&T in 1959. It was a compact telephone designed for convenient use in the bedroom, and contained a light-up dial for use as a night-light. It was commonly known with the slogan "It's little...It's lovely...It lights". Its dial was in the base of the telephone. Contemporary advertising demonstrates that this telephone was marketed to women. As a result, a broad range of colors were offered, including pink, red, yellow, moss green, black, white, beige, ivory, light blue, turquoise, and gray.
The designer of the Princess was the famed industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss, working closely with the engineers at Bell Laboratories. Later redesigns were done by Donald Genaro of the Dreyfuss design firm (Genaro redesigned the case so that it could be more easily picked up).
The Princess was unique in two aspects: it required an external electric transformer to power the light-up dial, and when the telephone began production, Western Electric did not have a ringer small enough to fit inside the case; an external ringer was required as in the "candlestick phone" of forty years earlier.
Early versions of the Princess were known as 701 series phones. These required the external ringer. Customers complained that the phone was so light that it would slide off surfaces while dialing, so a lead weight was added.
Later models included the M1A ringer. The rotary dial version was known as the 702B (the modular version would be labeled 702BM). Another model of the Princess was the model 711B, a slide switch /push-button, two line phone with exclusion on line 1. A ten button Touch Tone version was known as the 1702B, while the standard twelve button arrangement was known as the 2702B (modular version was the 2702BM). Several other variations were made and can be viewed on this external site.
The telephone was produced at the Western Electric Indianapolis, and later Shreveport Works plant, also the location of 500/2500 series telephone production. The Trimline telephone is often confused with the Princess because the Trimline dial lights up, even though the dial on the Trimline is in the handset.
The Princess underwent several changes in its production run:
In 1963, the Bell System introduced touchtone dialing, and Western Electric began production of a touch-tone model, with 10 numerical keys (lacking today's * and # keys). The internal network of the Princess was reduced in size the same year, allowing a small, quiet bell ringer to be placed to the left of the touch-tone dial.
In the late 1970s, AT&T introduced "modular" telephone plugs, with the RJ11 standard home telephone jack. Most customers who had Princess telephones were converted to modular dial.
In 1983, AT&T was preparing itself for divestiture of the Bell System. It started American Bell, a separate sales subsidiary of Western Electric and the Bell Operating Companies. AT&T introduced a non-light up dial with white keys to be sold in Phone Center Stores (these sets were marked "CS" on the bottom for "consumer sales"). Post-divestiture colors added after 1984 included slate blue and light green.
In 1993, the Princess was heavily redesigned. Although it retained the same handset & oval shape it has had since its introduction, a new dial was introduced. The dial still required an external transformer for night-light use; a handset volume control was added to the dial pad; phone number "card" was moved from below the dialpad to the location of the rest for the microphone. This model was called the "Signature Princess", and was freely available for lease; only available for purchase at AT&T Phone Centers, which closed in 1996.
In 1994, AT&T ended production of the Princess telephone. It continues to lease the Signature Princess model. Due to its removal from production, and its attractive design, the Princess has become an extremely collectible phone. Princess telephones in pink, turquoise, and black are among the rarest colors of the phones and most valuable.
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Pictured here: Princess Phone, by GE, Model #2-922ONIA, wall or table mount.
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