SAN JOSE -- Remco Enthoven's appearance Saturday morning at the Telephone Collectors International Club's swap meet in San Jose gave new meaning to the term "long-distance."
The Dutch telecom worker and old-telephone buff had traveled 5,483 miles from his home in Nijkerk to the church hall at St. Francis Episcopal on Pine Avenue. And he'd arranged his vacation to the United States so that he could join his fellow phone freaks to savor each other's collections -- more than a century's worth of things that ring.
"It's sort of uncertain why I started collecting," said Enthoven. "All I know is that 13 years later my whole house is now full of hundreds of old telephones."
Whatever bug he caught back in 1991 was shared with the 100 or so phone fans at this year's regional meet-up of the 500-member club, an ode to obsolescence in a valley obsessed with that other kind of telephone -- smart, digital and nary a wire in sight.
"This is a peek into another world, a time when there was a totally different kind of communication than what we have today," said Wayne Merit.
He's a retired AT&T computer guy and self-described "Bell-head" who now serves as curator at the invitation-only JKL Museum of Telephony near the foothill town of San Andreas. "I had a group of high-school students visit the museum and they were all blown away, taking pictures of the old phones with their iPhones.
"I asked one girl to pick up the receiver and dial one of the older phones,'' Merit said. "She looked at it, and she was a very bright girl, but she didn't know what to do.''
The collectors on hand Saturday beamed like excited children, circling long tables overflowing with telephonic relics, most of them in working condition, each part of a cultural adhesive that has bound humans together like no other invention before or since. There were desk phones you last saw in episodes of "Father Knows Best" -- and candlestick telephones that practically scream "film noir." There were enough Trimlines and Princesses to warm the hearts of every Baby Boomer within the 408 area code. And there were "silver dollar pay phones" that ran on, yep, silver dollars.
"I bought this one on eBay and didn't really know what I had until I started researching it," said John Fehl, a Sacramento collector who -- three guesses -- works for the phone company. He was referring to his prized 1936 Model 302 desk phone, made of see-through Lucite that revealed the guts of the thing in all its colored-wire glory. "It was a laboratory prototype made for the 1939 New York World's Fair, and it has a ton of unique qualities, like this wider cradle where the receiver rests.''
It's a beauty all right, an exquisitely fossilized creature frozen in a milky-white amber. Except it's really a telephone and would probably sell today for $15,000.
Sue Mundy is a 59-year-old retired schoolteacher from Twain Harte who also doesn't really know why she started collecting phones more than 40 years ago. Maybe it was that antique wood-box "ring up" model that her girlfriend growing up had in her bedroom.
Or maybe not.
"I just love the history of the telephone," she said. "To me, the telephone is a metaphor for what's happened to America from a technological standpoint over the past 100 years. The technology kept changing faster and faster. And it's all laid out here like a timeline on these tables."
Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689 or follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc.