Mind over Matter: Stuff I cared about at the time

Objet d’art

Western Electric 1013

Not everyone is likely to agree with my assessment of this particular artifact, but in my opinion it is a paragon of industrial design. Perhaps nobody loved the Bell System at the time, but the gear they made (which they owned, and you rented) was made to last for decades, which this example certainly has.

The above photo is of a Western Electric model 1013 Linesman’s butt set, probably from the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. I have a couple of other, more modern sets in my “collection” but this recent addition is really a prized possession for me, for two reasons. First and foremost, this comes from a friend’s father’s collection of tools, and is a beloved memento for that. Second is the rotary dial, which is just one of the most pleasing devices to operate. This is of course what all phones had for the longest time, but the mechanical engineering that went into creating something so reliable is inspiring. This particular rotary dial is mechanically the same as the one that went into Trimline phones, with the slightly odd movable finger stop, that allowed for a more compact design. But because it was a tool that would see heavy use in this particular context, the number plate was done in porcelain. I find it hard to imagine anyone putting that kind of thought and money into a similar product today.

I really do find the design both pleasing and functional. The shape is essentially the same as a traditional handset from the era, which is very comfortable to hold, and to rest on the shoulder for hands-free use. But in something that isn’t much larger than a handset, they have managed to incorporate an entire working telephone. Even the rubber pad on this specimen is still pliable, indicating that care went into the selection of materials. The cloth covered wires are still supple and the colors easily distinguished. And who could fail to love the orange color?



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