Salt Lake Telephone Directory, Spring 1923

Old out-of-date telephone directories probably rank as the dullest and most unwanted books in the history of publishing....or are they?

Thanks to demand from genealogists attempting to trace relatives, and collectors looking for detailed pieces of history, AbeBooks.com has sold more than 200 secondhand phone books, including some published as recently as the 1980s, over the past four years.

Inventor Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the original US patent for the telephone in 1876 and the first rather slim telephone directories began appearing two years later. Prior to the emergence of the phone directory, books called city directories listed residents and businesses in US towns.

Old telephone directories, packed with lists of businesses and residents, are a useful tool for genealogists but they also appeal to collectors. For instance, telephone directories for San Francisco prior to the 1906 earthquake and fire are scarce and in demand.

Prices rise with age. A 1923 phone book from Salt Lake’s Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company is listed for sale at $302. A 1905 Bell directory for Toronto and its suburbs is being offered for $120 – it lists names, addresses and occupations of phone owners and one ad slogan reads 'Do You Appreciate Your Wife? With her never-ending household cares and social duties she needs a telephone to save her time and energies.'

Most expensive telephone directories sold by AbeBooks

1. Santa Clara County Telephone Directory from January 1904 - $200
An extremely scarce telephone directory from the early days of the area that became known as Silicon Valley covering from Palo Alto to Gilroy

2. Queens Telephone Directory from 1943 - $189
A piece of wartime history from the Big Apple’s most populous borough

3. Manhattan Classified Telephone Directory from Fall-Winter 1945 - $163
This directory includes an illustration on the front cover urging customers to buy war bonds

4. Djkarta (Jakarta) Telephone Directory from 1950 - $150
Printed in Dutch, this directory for the Indonesian capital was published in the year that Indonesia gained independence.

5. Taipeh, Taiwan Telephone Directory from 1951 - $125
Most listings are printed in Chinese but government and public agencies are listed in English. This is one of the first directories produced with Taipei as the capital of Taiwan after the Kuomintang (KMT) government fled from mainland China in December 1949.

6. Manhattan Telephone Directory Summer 1935 - $114
A depression era directory from the year that Babe Ruth hit his 714th home run

7. Brooklyn Telephone Directory from 1962 - $100
The year Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a single basketball game and Marilyn Monroe died

8. Singapore and Johore Bahru Telephone Directory from 1950 - $100
This directory covers two neighboring Malaysian cities - nine years later Singapore would become a self governing state.

9. Hope, Arkansas Telephone Directory from 1928 - $95
Bill Clinton's birthplace, Hope is apparently the watermelon capital of America.

10. Air Ministry Telephone Directory from June 1939 - $80
Printed just before the onset of World War II, this British phone book came from the wing of the government responsible for the Royal Air Force.