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Accoson Sphygmomanometer

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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 new.

 

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…    


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                1983?

Original Price         £10?

Value Today           £5 (0416)

Features                 Folding cover, alphanumeric keyboard, ringer/mute, last number redial, silent LED call alert, base-mounted line switch

Power req.                     n/a (line powered)

Dimensions:                   150 x 80 x 75mm

Weight:                          225g

Made (assembled) in:    Taiwan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  7


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