A few weeks ago, the local Homesteaders Museum was having a yard sale fundraiser. I haven’t been to any sort of yard sale in 10 years, but this one seemed to be buzzing (by small-town standards anyway) and everyone was leaving with something. So I convinced my dad that we should stop.
It was typical as far as fundraiser yard sales go. Lots of glassware and old VHS tapes, some homemade crafts, etc. Nothing special. But on my way out, I spied something more my speed on the counter by the door. A box of old local telephone books.
I don’t collect old telephone books. In fact, I don’t collect “old books” in general. But much like that delightful vintage “How to Manage Housework in Canada” booklet that I featured in last year’s post “To Clean, or Not to Clean“, if it’s vintage and has SOME sort of personal connection? It’s going into my collection.
Not surprisingly, the phone books were not donations for the yard sale. They were “extras” from the museum’s collection. Everything at the sale was pay-as-you-please, but the phone books were a firm $1 each.
There were only ten or so to choose from, and a few were not quite vintage enough (1970s) for me. But then I spied one from June of 1945, and one from July, 1952.
I almost came away with the one from July, 1953 too, but somebody *coughDADcough* gave me the usual “Do you really need BOTH the ’52 and ’53? You don’t want to leave one for somebody else to enjoy?” spiel. *sighs* No, dad, I don’t want to leave it, but yes, fine, you’re right. I didn’t need them both, and had *I* been that “somebody else” coming in after I’d been there, I’d have appreciated being able to get one.
Note: I’d just like to add that later the same day while browsing through the 1952 book, somebody remarked, “These are so cool. Maybe you should have gotten the 1953 edition after all.” Mhmm. I’ll just leave this here. ;P
So what good is an old telephone book, you ask? Simple. They’re like a little snapshot of history. They not only show you who was around, but what was around. There are ads and illustrations throughout the books, and it’s amazing to see what businesses are still around today. And because these are local, they have a personal connection for me. One side of my family has lived in the area since the ’30s, and it was interesting to realize just how much of a “luxury” item a home phone was in 1945. One set of great-grandparents — dad’s mother’s parents — (who lived just on the other side of the mountain where I live now) still didn’t have a phone in ’45. We’re about 10 miles from town out here, and at that time, obviously it just wasn’t considered a “necessity” for a rural farming family to own a telephone.
The other great-grandparents — dad’s father’s parents — were also in the area in 1945 (in the country on the other side of town), but again, their area was so rural that the telephone either hadn’t made its way out to them yet, or they couldn’t afford it.
My grandpa (who would have celebrated his 93rd birthday on June 5), started working for the telephone company right after the war ended, in either late ’45 or very early ’46, and worked with them until 1953. It was an important but terribly under-appreciated job. Long, hard days and a lot of time spent away from home. He’s been gone for 43 years now, and paging through these old phone books makes me wonder what he would think of how the telephone has changed. From the days of running hundreds of thousands of miles of wire, to nearly completely wire-LESS.
The most interesting thing about the 1945 phone book was the number of times a particular ad appeared.
The Symington Funeral Home and Ambulance Service Ltd. ad appears seven times in this 64-page phone book. I guess they were looking to DIG UP some business. ;D I can’t help but think how unfortunate it must have been back then to have the funeral home show up in an “ambulance” to take you to the hospital though. Talk about putting someone into a terrible mental state. You’re already sick and probably scared, and you’re basically riding around in a HEARSE. Think about that the next time you’re riding in a medical ambulance and be grateful!
And yet despite their numerous ads peppered throughout the book, in the Classified Business Directory at the back, there is only one business listed under “Funeral Parlors”, and it’s not Symington.
So what does this tell us? Could it be that Perrin’s (still in operation today, btw) paid a hefty price to ensure that they were the only funeral business listed in the Directory, and to make up for that, the publishers gave Symington’s extra representation in the rest of the book?
Or perhaps Symington’s bought the extra-super-special-deluxe package that included so many reassurances of “Dignity and Sincerity” that Great Aunt Mina, who opened the phone book to find the grocery store’s number, would instead be enticed to call up her son to insist that when she pass on, she would settle for nothing less than what Symington’s had to offer?
Orrrrrr maybe I just have too much free time on my hands and I think way too much about this stuff. Yeah, I think that’s it. ;P
Oh, and don’t forget to pick up a casket from the Cobalt Manufacturing Co. — makers of quality caskets, and exclusive manufacturers of the spycol finish. I’m sure their caskets were good and noise-proof too. You know, to hide the sound of Aunt Mina coffin, er, coughing. (Sorry, that one was a stretch, I know. #NotSorry)
You wouldn’t know it from today’s phone books, but back in the day, they were a lot of fun to flip through.
Moving on to the 1952 book (I’ll bet you didn’t think I could really spend this much time droning on about old telephone books, did you? Surprise!), I wanted this one for two main reasons. 1) My dad was born in 1952. And 2) This phone book has not only my great-grand parents listed, but also my grandma and grandpa as well.
I don’t know why it made me so happy to see grandpa listed here, but it did. In a sense, it’s history — family history. It proves that someone was in a particular place at a particular time, and I don’t know… I just like that.
The 1952 edition has some lovely ads. My favourite has to be this cute telephone company ad featuring an illustration of a pretty operator, explaining the importance of party lines.
Here’s one that you probably won’t see in your new 2016 phone book!
If you really want to mull over something interesting, let’s look at these long distance rates. Even at equal value, these prices are much higher than you’d ever pay today. For comparison’s sake, most people pay about $30/mo and get unlimited long distance. I pay 5¢/minute, 24/7.
Now remember, this ISN’T equal value. According to an online inflation calculator, $1 in 1952 would be like paying $8.92 in 2016. Wow, let’s break this down. I talk to my grandma every night on the phone and have for more than two years now. She pays $20 per month for unlimited long distance calling in Canada. According to this phone book, a call between her and I would cost .70¢ (person-to-person) or .45¢ (station-to-station — see the photo for explanation). But that’s only for a 3-minute conversation. On average, a call for us lasts between 20 and 25 minutes. That means every night, a 21-minute station-to-station call would cost $3.15. In one 31-day month, that’s a whopping $97.65 phone bill! And that ONLY covers the calls between her and I. There’s still the monthly fee just to have the phone, as well as any other calls you might make.
So the next time you feel like complaining about your phone bill, remember: In 2016, one year of daily 21-minute night-time long distance calls to grandma = $240. In 1952? $1,171.80. Maybe this is why I have an inherent love of writing letters. #Cheap
Today, people think that you have to spend a lot of money to have a good time. But look at what my investment of a measly $2 got me. These telephone books are so much more than just something cool to display on a shelf. They brought me hours of enjoyment as I flipped through the brittle pages, looking for mentions of family and friends. They inspired me to write this blog post and share some wonderful vintage advertising, which I know some of you also love. They taught me that having a phone is actually something of a privilege, and that my nightly calls from grandma are not something to be taken for granted.
But most importantly, they made me grateful that if I dial 911, the driver won’t mistakenly take me to the cemetery instead of the hospital.