Crosley's CR56 "1950s" Retro/Antique/Old-Fashioned "Pay" Phone Is the Best ("Coolest/Funnest") Corded Phone in My Collection
Mar 10, 2010 (Updated Mar 17, 2010)
Review by henry_thoreau
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:This 18-inch-tall (yet relatively lightweight), easy-to-install, "1957," "pay" phone looks/works great in my billiard room.
Cons:Some reviewers have fussed that this "retro" phone should be made of metal, not plastic.
The Bottom Line:
Though the chrome-plated-plastic coin return looks slightly cheaply inauthentic, it's nonetheless nice. Overall, this functional, corded phone charmingly recaptures the look-and-feel of the once-ubiquitous, 1950s/60s pay phone.
Recommend this product?
I was recently revisiting the January 2010 issue of Game Room magazine, and I noticed (on page 35) a captivating photograph of one gentleman's notion of a "fifties/sixties" retro game room featuring pinball machines; Coca-cola and A & W signs, and a vintage jukebox. However, what really caught my eye was his wall-mounted "pay" phone--which is not only a duplicate of the unit that I installed in my billiard room but also the subject of this review.
Certain fellow Epinioners are, by now, well aware that I've reviewed a plethora of corded phones over the past couple of years. In fact, I've amassed a veritable collection of desktop models that are generally "integrated" insofar as they embody not only "speakerphones" but also "answering machines." However, this most recent (and, possibly, final) addition to my "corded" collection includes no speakerphone, answering machine or internal "phonebook/directory." Instead, it simulates that most memorable and ubiquitous pay phone configuration that was manufactured from 1957 through about 1964 and remained in use throughout much of the sixties.
But this Crosley product features certain tastefully and discreetly achieved modifications allowing it to work splendidly for you, the 21st-century consumer-- provided you're using it as a supplement to your "message-taking" phone and provided you haven't totally abandoned landline-phone service (as more and more folks are doing in this "mobile"--and cost-cutting--era).
I'm on record opining that virtually "every" American home should still have at least one corded phone in case of service outages during (for example) conceivable national emergencies when electricity and even cell-phone service might be disrupted. [Note: I pay about $28 monthly for my basic landline service from AT&T.] And if you simply want a corded phone to make and take "live" calls (i.e., you don't need a corded answering machine and/or speakerphone), for my money this Crosley product amounts to the most "charming" option available.
Dimensions & weight
Basically, this phone measures (in inches): 18 (H) x 6.25 (W) x 5.5 (D). However, if you factor the silvery "coin return" (at the lower-left corner of the phone), the overall depth increases to 6.25 inches.
The handset's black "curl cord" is fully six feet long even when it's un-stretched. [Don't be fooled by the (prototype?) photo atop this Epinions.com page, where the length of that curl cord appears shorter. In reality, whenever the handset is resting upon its cradle on the left side of the phone, the curl cord dangles a whopping 36 inches!] Hence, I guesstimate that its maximum length is virtually 12 feet, making for the next best thing to the freedom of a cordless handset.
Including the handset, this phone weighs somewhat less than eight pounds, making it significantly lighter than any genuine, public pay phone of this configuration. [You'll appreciate this when you're mounting it to your wall.]
General appearance and noteworthy features
As the photo atop this Epinions.com page suggests, Crosley did a great job of reviving the general appearance of the "black-and-silver" pay phones that were ubiquitous during my childhood. [Also note that Crosley markets this phone in three other (not so nostalgically "authentic") hues: "brushed chrome;" "red;" and "hot pink." (I'll resist my wayward temptation to respectively "categorize" the appropriate consumers for those unconventionally vivid ‘pay phone' colors!)]
Perhaps surprisingly, the overall "fit and finish" of this "made-in-China" phone is admirable. You'd nearly need a magnifying glass to spot any "sprue burrs" or other irregularities on its various, molded, thick-plastic sections. Essentially, all areas of the main, rigid-plastic body look attractively, appropriately and authentically beveled or rounded.
A few customer reviewers elsewhere have somewhat denigrated this "retro" phone simply because--unlike the genuine pay phones of the fifties and sixties--it's made almost entirely of plastic, not metal. Now, though I won't dispute that some of its "chrome-plated" portions (e.g., the upper coin slots and the lower-left coin return) evince a slightly "toylike" (some might say "cheap") quality, those silvery portions of this phone actually don't irritate my somewhat picky sensibilities. And regarding the glossy black, high-impact plastic constituting the bulk of the phone, I think it looks fully fine. Besides, whereas this relatively lightweight "retro" phone is easily mountable on virtually any wall, an authentic pay phone from yesteryear would've been mucho heavier, such that you'd be absolutely compelled to attach it to a stud (not mere drywall).
That said, this "retro" version inexorably juts out virtually six inches from the wall and seemingly invites the nearest klutz to bump into it. Hence, I strongly suggest you attach it securely to a stud if there's one anywhere near the spot where you'd like to install this phone.
Near the upper-right of the phone, a faux "coin-release" button functions as a redial key (only the most recently dialed number is--automatically--stored in "redial" memory).
If you insert a quarter, dime or nickel into any of the three respectively sized, ersatz "coin slots" at the top of the unit, the coin(s) will simply fall (with a modest, mundane sound--i.e., not with the impressively "charming/jingling" tones that some reviewers elsewhere reported) into a compartment that can only be opened with a special, included key. While I myself don't (so far) use this phone as a "glorified piggy bank," I surmise that more than a handful of consumers do.
At first glance you might suppose the captivatingly old-fashioned face of this phone signifies rotary dialing. But if you peer at the area just within the conspicuous, pseudo-authentically red numbers and black letters forming the perimeter of the dial face, you'll discern a smaller circular array of round, almond-hued pushbuttons for dialing calls. [Note: A rear switch allows you easily to set this phone to "tone" mode or to "pulse" mode.] I found this circular array of buttons somewhat more awkward to use than the conventional "block" of closely adjacent buttons on your typical phone. Nonetheless, I had no major difficulty making calls; moreover, being old enough to recall how much more tedious it was (as a youngster) to use a real rotary dialer, I'd say this Crosley faux rotary dialer amounts to a forward leap (despite its obvious lack of legitimacy to a presumed handful of vintage-phone aficionados in mysterious zones).
At the center of the faux rotary dial face, there's a circle (1 & 3/8" in diameter) comprising the following, center-aligned, "authentic-looking" text:
Directly below that, there's a chrome-and-black-framed rectangle (measuring 4.75" by 4.25") comprising the following, center-aligned, "pseudo-authentic," black text (printed upon a realistically "antiqued" label evincing gratifying gradations of "yellowing"):
Wait for dial-tone.
Wait for party to answer.
Drop in coin.
Deposit coins as requested by operator.
The foregoing "text rectangle" is not only framed but also beautifully covered by a thin, transparent (presumably acrylic) pane.
Beneath the aforementioned text, there's a fake "service-access" keyhole that nicely bolsters the illusion of a public pay phone.
Still farther below (within a four-inch-square, mirror-like panel near the bottom of the phone) there's a second keyhole, which does have a (minor/occasional) function that I'll discuss in the next section.
Near the lower-left of this phone is a conspicuous little chrome "coin return" whose exterior bears the following center-aligned, raised text:
That coin return's configuration encompasses a short, spring-tensioned protrusion that you can pull downward-and-forward to expose an inner compartment where (unlike, alas, the public analogs of my childhood) you'll never gleefully discover a disregarded dime. I'd be remiss not to mention that my particular specimen of this phone has a coin return that leans (ever so slightly) to the right; but this is only marginally noticeable, and perhaps I'm picking nits.
More to the point, I would caution you not to continually manipulate that invitingly pivoting coin return, lest you eventually break or disconnect its inner, hidden, tensioning spring.
Directly beneath the coin return (at the extreme lower-left of the phone), there's a little (1.0" x 1.5") chrome rectangle bearing the following raised text:
The black-plastic, eight-inch-long handset is comfortable to use and sounds quite good. (More about its tone in a later section.) The smoothly pivoting, "chrome-plated" handset cradle appears to be fashioned of suitably thick, durable plastic; however, given that it's not a metal cradle, I wouldn't fully trust it to remain intact if I were hot-tempered enough to bang the handset repeatedly downward into it.
One irreplaceable key
Along with the straightforwardly functioning telephone per se, the product box includes a clear plastic bag containing not only a teensy, rudimentary, and scarcely necessary "user manual" but also one metal key. That key is for unlocking the aforementioned coin-storage compartment, which can function rather like a piggy bank. The shaft of that wee key doesn't appear very strong at its narrowest (middle) point, and I suspect that frequent use (within the slightly stubbornly turning lock) could cause the key to break. Fortunately, it's unlikely most users will be opening that "coin" compartment frequently.
Just for the heck of it, I initially attempted to get a copy of that key made. But no store in my vicinity--including the best and oldest locksmith shop--could copy that weirdly shaped, dinky key (which looks downright toylike). Hence, if you buy this phone, I advise you to take special care not to lose that "irreplaceable" key.
Though this product's flat, wide and deep base provides the option of simply setting and using it on a tabletop, this telephone's configuration (not to mention the history of the actual, 1957 pay phone that inspired this "retro" incarnation) virtually compels you to seek a suitable location for wall mounting. Ideally, you'll attach it securely to a stud; however, attachment to mere drywall is also possible, provided you use not ordinary screws but appropriate "wall anchors" of some sort. Two plastic "molly" anchors (of that most basic type ubiquitous in sundry consumer products nowadays) are included and might actually suffice; however, I'd seriously consider substituting some metal "toggle" bolts (from any respectable hardware store).
That said, I myself was determined to forgo any such "second-rate" (drywall-only) installation; and I was glad to discover a stud conveniently near the framed, 36-inch-wide entryway between my billiard room and a smaller "vanity" room. Thus my faux pay phone--with its extra-long "curl cord"--is now within easy reach whether I'm shooting pool, playing video games, watching TV, or lolling on a beanbag (with a book/magazine as classical/jazz music plays).
I ran 25 feet of thin, beige, "GE" (brand) phone cable (from Home Depot) "invisibly" beneath the baseboards such that I could locate this phone on the wall adjacent to the wall having the phone jack. I also used tubular, self-adhesive "Cord Hider" conduit (from Lowe's), whose off-white (almond) plastic sufficiently matched the color of the wall such that I didn't need to paint the conduit. However, on yet another wall, I attached the same kind of conduit to hide a TV cable, and in that instance I opted to prime (with Bull's Eye brand primer) and topcoat that conduit with the same Benjamin Moore latex paint I'd used for the wall. The latter procedure produced even more satisfying results, and I recommend it to anybody installing this corded phone on a painted wall.
There are only two screws (one above the other) that serve to mount this phone snugly to the stud. [A provided, printed, paper "template" (i.e., a page from the "user manual") greatly assists with positioning those two screws accurately on your wall; and the screws shouldn't be inserted fully inward; instead, their heads should stick out about a fourth of an inch so that the slotted rear of the phone can slide tightly down onto, and rest snugly upon, those "supports."]
Note: I found the two included screws to be of inferior quality (with easy-to-bend shafts and easy-to-burr heads); hence I substituted two comparable--but stronger--screws from the hardware store.
Given this type of mounting; and given how far out from the wall (5.5 inches) this phone protrudes, I can easily imagine that more than a few wall-mounted specimens of this product will eventually get broken around those two points of attachment.
On a more reassuring note, despite my continual carefulness I have already inadvertently bumped my phone moderately (e.g., with the butt of a pool cue) on several occasions, and it's still fully snug against the wall.
Confessedly, though, I do get slightly uneasy whenever some energetic young guest is standing, yakking and blithely gesticulating too near my precious, vulnerable "pay" phone!
Nonetheless, I can't imagine that the majority of prospective owners would prefer using this phone on a desktop. Its history and configuration cry out for wall mounting!
How does it sound?
This phone's ring tone is pretty typical for a present-day, corded, home phone. Its factory-set tone strikes me as being "just right": pleasingly high-pitched, and sufficiently--but not excessively--loud.
In fact, the ringer sounds so "mundanely modern" that some other (evidently aging) reviewers have grumbled that it doesn't duplicate the tone of its 1957 antecedent. While I won't deny that I'd prefer an "absolutely authentic" ringer, I must say that I'm more than satisfied with this "retro" phone's nice-sounding, "early 21st-century" version.
The dial tone that I hear through this phone is satisfyingly loud and distinct.
Regarding "transmission," callers have reported no trouble hearing me clearly during typical conversations.
Regarding reception, the sound of this corded phone is altogether excellent. However, at least with my particular unit, if I listen very carefully I can detect some extremely slight background static that's not so perceptible as to make me deduct even half a "star" from my rating of this product. It's possible that that "barely audible" noise is entirely due to my local installation and/or phone service (not the phone itself); in any case, it shouldn't dissuade any prospective consumer from buying and relishing this unique "retro" phone.
How to order
I bought this phone via Amazon.com for around $68. The product box was "adequately" packed and shipped inside a slightly larger cardboard container. The colorfully printed product box itself includes protective "egg-carton-like" inserts that pretty well cushion the phone during transit (though I wonder if Styrofoam would've been even more protective). Delivery to my Kansas City suburb (via Amazon's "free-shipping" option) took no more than about seven business days.
Like the majority of phones (not to mention other products) nowadays, this easy-to-install "retro" telephone is made in China. Considering that (like most other modern-day phones) it's made almost entirely of plastic, I certainly won't declare that its durability fully rivals that of the 1957 antecedent that inspired it. Nonetheless, the owner who handles this product prudently can reasonably expect it to last many years, perhaps even decades.
Along with the compatibly black-and-white bamboo "8-ball" curtain and the huge, framed, glass-covered print of W.C. Fields (roguishly wielding an eightball) that closely flank it, this wall-mounted phone is one of the first things guests notice upon entering my new billiard room. It's hard for some folks to resist fiddling with its shiny, spring-tensioned coin return; and they generally inquire, "Does this phone really work?" I always reply, "Lift the handset and listen." Upon hearing the strong, clear dial tone while continuing to gaze at this faux antique, they nearly always nod and smile.
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