Cranston auction yields $32,000 for rare 1800s telephone

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From a perky pink princess phone, to trays of photo albums and keepsakes called ephemera, the Bruneau and Co. auction featured two collections from the Museums of the Telephone Pioneers of America (one in Rhode Island and one in Brooklyn, N.Y.).

The telephone items included enough nostalgia to conjure up images of Lily Tomlin and one ringy-dingies throughout the auction house.

In addition to phones, there were undersea cable wires, switchboards and even a piece of the floorboards from Alexander Graham Bell's office. Although much of the purchasing of auction items are done online, many still braved the rainy day to bid in person.

Taking place inside the expansive Bruneau and Co. auction house on 4th Street, off Elmwood Avenue in Cranston, while outside there was a driving rain, over 300 lots in the 11 a.m. auction followed a lower price point auction at 10 a.m. As with all their auctions, the pace was fast, moving from one item to another, with an occasional "thank you" to all bidders.

Just as bidding was going over the $20,000 mark for a rare 1876 Bell Butter Stamp Magneto Telephone, cell phones could be heard going off throughout the building, beeping and blaring with their messages on the emergency broadcast system warning of incoming floods and maybe even a tornado.

The irony of our modern-day iPhones and Androids, each a sophisticated computer unto itself, calling out while telephone wares of another day's technology were being sold as fascination and investment was not lost to the crowd. The auctioneer spoke louder over the sound of the rain pelting down on a flat, metal lined roof.

The day ended around 3 p.m. just as the rain was winding down. When all was said and done close to 500 items were claimed and next week they will begin to take their place scattered around RI and the country, as the items find their new homes. Total money exchanged at the auction totaled more than $100,000.

In 100 years perhaps, those flood-alerting cell phones will be taking their place in a telephone auction of fascinating history, too. 

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