The goal of these wiki pages is to gather and arrange knowledge related to the use of payphones in the US back in a days, and how to bring them back to life. Knowledge database will be continuously updated, drawing from our own experiences, as well as insights from dedicated Facebook and Reddit groups focused on payphones. The primary issue we aim to address is the lack of a structured knowledge base. Existing websites are no longer kept up-to-date, and exploring information in social media groups can be challenging over time. Additionally, some content, such as manuals, tends to be repetitive or unhelpful, creating a false impression of having more information than there actually is.
We are actively seeking contributors for this project! If you're interested in contributing, please reach out to Peter: peter at telesfor dot org.
Coin-line vs. COCOT payphones
Before the deregulation in 1984, all payphones were considered “dumb” phones, not having any advanced electronics. The rate, charge and return of deposited coins were controlled by the central office, and they required a special “coin line” with specific features - a voltage of 130V was applied between Tip and Ground to charge or return the coin. Dumb phones were typically owned by local telecom companies.
COCOT (Customer-Owned Coin Operated Telephones) did not need a dedicated payphone line. They had rate tables within the phone itself, eliminating the need for interactions with the central office. COCOTs were usually owned by private companies.
Differentiating between the two from the outside is relatively straightforward:
- all three-slot payphones are dumb phones
- single-slot payphones with coin return on the left side are usually dumb phones (so called “Western” housing - including original Western Electric 1A/1B/1C and AE 120a/b). However, in the early 90s, some were retrofitted with smart boards, operating either on a coin line or a regular B1 line. A popular board was Protel 8000.
- single-slot payphones with coin return on the right side (GTE/Quadrum housing) are COCOTs.
From the collector's point of view, preferences vary
- Some collectors prefer coin-line phones as more authentic and they can work on a regular phone line without any modification. However, to fully experience coin collecting and refunding, a special line controller is required.
- Others favor COCOT phones since they can work on a regular line and offer a complete experience with voice prompts and coin charging. However, programming them requires certain effort and specific hardware such as a modem, PBX, older computer, etc.
We are looking for:
- Elcotel PNM DOS software (not the PNM plus running on Windows), Elcotel rate tool (rateutil)
- AT&T Private Phone Plus software (called CoinSoft and CoinRates)
- Fortec 2000 booth
- Protel 4000 manuals
The Payphone Appreciation Group (Facebook)
Reddit payphone group
Payphone411 - great resources, but doesn't seem to be maintained anymore. This site will be updated in the future (from the owner).
The Pay Phone Directory - allegedly run by El Jefe
telephoneworld.org/pay-telephones/ - another interesting website
payphone.com (G-TEL) - supplier of payphones and parts. Unfortunately, expensive shipping.