Widget Of The Week
Penguin Phone PG-600, 1983?
On the dustygizmos scale of quirkiness, with
10 being weird to the point of certifiable insanity, the PG-600 Penguin Phone
doesn’t score more than a 4 or 5, but it does have one thing going for it. It
appears to be unexpectedly rare and intermittent checks on ebay and a trawl
around the phone collector websites drew a complete blank.
That’s not to say that telephones and penguins are entirely unconnected. Quite
the contrary and there’s more than 27,000 penguin-themed mobile phone cases on
ebay, not to mention a dozen or so penguin-shaped phones, but none of them are
exactly like this one. No doubt the Taiwanese factory that churned it out made
many more of them but for some reason they either didn’t sell very well, or
when the owners eventually tired of them, they ended up in the bin.
The lack of a makers name, documentation and online
references makes it difficult to be precise about when it was made or the
original price, but it is possible to take a semi educated guess at its likely age.
The internal circuitry suggests early to mid 80s, and to back that up it
doesn’t have convenience features, like a multiple number memory, LCD display,
selectable ringtones or any of the other fripperies that adorn most novelty phones
made in the last 25 years. In fact the only things that could be even vaguely
described as extras, over and above what is required to make and take
phone calls, is a pair of red LEDs. These are mounted behind the penguin’s eyes
and are supposed to light up when the phone rings. They’re actually quite
useful as it has a switch to turn off the ringer (and mute the microphone
when a call is in progress). Still on the subject of the ringer, when it is
switched on it definitely won’t be ignored, especially by dogs and bats. It
emits a very loud, high-pitched tweeting noise that someone somewhere probably thought
sounded a bit like a penguin…
Otherwise, apart from the shape, the rest of the
phone is fairly ordinary. The line switch is mounted on the underside, so
when you pick it up the call is answered. The penguin’s back flips open to reveal the alphanumeric keypad, ringer/mute switch,
microphone and earpiece, Shutting the lid and putting it down ends the call. It
has a long curly lead and a BT type plug, and it still works, and that is really
all that needs to be said about it, from an operational perspective.
I found this one at one of my favourite haunts, one
of the regular open-air antique fairs held at the South of England showground
in Ardingly. It was in a box of household clearance items, priced at £1. This
was the only thing worth having – trust me… -- and as you can see it is in very
good condition and only needed a quick spring clean to have it looking like
What Happened To It?
Novelty telephones have been with us, almost since
the day after Graham Bell/Elisha Gray/Thomas Edison (depending which expert you
believe) hung up on that first historic phone call in the mid 1870s. However,
in the UK at least, the market for, shall we say ‘distinct’ phones began
unofficially in the late 1970s and really took off in the early 80s following
the privatisation of British Telecom. Up until then private subscribers were
generally compelled to rent telephones from the GPO but there were plenty of
unauthorised and sometimes quite dodgy phones being sold that could be connected to a phone line
using the then, newly introduced, BT 6312 socket (the one we still use).
In the early days of privatisation it was possible to
buy a few selected phones, tested and approved by BT,
though it is extremely unlikely that this was one of them.
It does have US FCC conformity marks, but that was never a guarantee (on cheap Far Eastern phones)
that it actually met any technical standards. It is
possible that it was never sold in the UK, and may even have been a souvenir
from a US holiday, either way, it seems clear that there isn't very many of them
around. In the normal course of events that should make it quite
collectable but in this case scarcity doesn’t help the value. I suspect that even on a good
day it might only fetch between £5 and £10 on ebay so it’s going back into the
loft for future generations to admire, and hopefully a time when late twentieth
century novelty telephonic apparatus receives the appreciation it
so richly deserves…
First seen 1983?
Original Price £10?
Value Today £5
Features Folding cover, alphanumeric keyboard, ringer/mute, last number
redial, silent LED call alert, base-mounted line switch
Power req. n/a
x 80 x 75mm
Made (assembled) in: Taiwan
Hen's Teeth (10 rarest): 7