When I started collecting radios in the late ‘90’s, it seemed like I wanted to buy almost any radio I spotted at a reasonable price. In a short while, I decided to concentrate mostly on Bakelite, Catalin, and other types of plastic table radios. Plastic was a new medium in the ‘30’s & ‘40’s and designers came up with such clever modern designs. One radio that really caught my eye was a maroon Bakelite radio from Czechoslovakia, the Tesla Talisman 308U.
I’d seen a photo of it in a tabletop book on Bakelite, and the streamlined style really appealed to me. An added attraction might have been that my grandparents on my mother’s side were from Czechoslovakia. I never saw a Tesla in anyone’s collection at the time, and certainly never came across one at an antique store or auction. Finally, I spotted one on eBay, but the auction had already ended. I took a chance and sent an email to the seller, who was in Europe. He had another one that he sold to me for the same price as the auction…only $200 plus shipping. That’s the above radio.
Radio books have had trouble nailing down some of the details of the Tesla. Above are two book listings. The top one is from the 2014 book DecoRadio by Peter Sheridan. It shows the Tesla as being from 1946. The bottom photo is from the 1997 book Bakelite Style which was edited by Tessa Clark. It says the Tesla was designed in the 1930’s, and produced in the 1940’s (which is what I believed because of it). Apparently, both books are wrong. The best information I could find online is that the Tesla Talisman was designed in the late 1940’s, and was produced from 1953 to 1958. You can see the radio design fits in with the earlier Deco Era’s streamlined style.
Another interesting comment that was in the Bakelite Style book was that the Tesla was “highly desirable in the Iron Curtain days”…meaning that Teslas are less desirable now that they’re more available. To me, the radio is as desirable as it always was, it’s just cheaper for collectors. Tastes vary, but I think it’s one of the coolest radio designs ever. The Tesla was also available in brown Bakelite & black Bakelite. If you see one painted, it’s not original. The Tesla can be easily switched between European and American voltages, and the plug works with an inexpensive adapter.
One unusual and cool feature is the dial. It has the major cities of Europe printed right on the dial glass, along with the radio frequencies. (The photo can be enlarged with a click.)
When I reduced my collection, the Tesla Talisman was one I couldn’t part with. It’ll stay in the family.