AT&T; model 954 office telephones, lot of 3, $3

Telephones are literally all over the place - old and new, corded and cordless. And most of them aren't even be worth bothering with. But there's one type of telephone you must take time to learn about - the office telephone. Certain multi-line business telephones cost a fortune new and bring lots of money used. Now, how do you tell an office telephone from the garden variety residential telephone?

The easiest way to distinguish an office telephone from its residential counterpart is to look for the group of six or more buttons, which are used in the office environment to allow access to the phone's multiple lines. The exact number of buttons may vary, depending on the model of phone, but once you're familiar with the differences between office and residential phones, they'll be easy to tell apart.

In addition to all the extra buttons, the modern office phone also sports a small LCD window that displays information, like the extension that you're calling, the extension you're calling from, the time of day, and various other bits of information. I've discovered over the years that some office phones are worth a bundle, and some aren't worth much at all. I've also learned that looks can deceive when it comes to judging just how much a particular phone is worth by just looking at it. One very loose rule I like to use is that the phones with the LCD information windows are generally worth more than those without, and the larger the LCD window, the newer and more desirable the phone usually is.

Everyone reading this should already be aware how a residential 'landline' type telephone is used. You just plug it into a wall jack and you're instantly connected to the outside world, ready to place and receive calls. The office environment is different, though; it's sort of like a self-contained telephone subsystem with access to the outside world. In an office system, one phone line can call another, several lines can have conference calls, and all sorts of communications can be handled within in the office, all without leaving the building. Of course, the phones can still make and receive outside calls.

As you can imagine, there's no way an office phone could do all those fancy tasks all by itself. To handle all these extended functions, the office system uses a central controller called a 'key unit,' which all the phones in the office plug into. The key unit usually looks like a metal box about the size of a briefcase, and has lots of phone jacks on one side for plugging the office's phone lines into.

Since office phones are designed to be used in conjunction with the key unit, they won't work if you plug them into a wall jack at home, just as a regular residential phone won't work correctly if plugged into an office key unit. It's important to be aware of this key unit, because you'll occasionally run across a box containing a complete system with the key unit, so you should know what you're looking at.

The above may at first appear somewhat vague, but this office phone scenario is actually a great example of how to get your mind right for this business. We have no need or desire to waste our time learning all the painful intricacies of the office telephone industry. All we have to know is that there are people out there on eBay who use these phones, and that certain used examples sell quite well.

Now, how do you test these phones? Well, the answer is that you really don't have to. Your bidders will know that unless you actually hooked up the entire system, it would be impossible to swear that it worked. The good part is that out of all the office phones I've sold on eBay, I have yet to have a buyer tell me one didn't work. I guess these things are pretty robust. So, just remember to put in your item description that you can't test the phones, and your bidders will be okay with that.

A final thought - virtually all office phones require a power supply that plugs into the wall, so if one isn't included with the phone you're looking at, dig around a little at the sale or ask the seller if he has it somewhere in the house.

This lot of three AT&T 4-line business telephones sold on eBay for $82.

Photo of AT&T model 954 business office telephones