Emerson 744B

As the mid-1950’s hit, radios began to look boxy as mass production and low cost replaced design.  The majority became rectangular, and although there are exceptions, many late ’50’s and ’60’s radio designs are boring and tend to look similar.

Just before that trend, came the 1954 Emerson 744B:P1080051IMG_1706OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s not like any other radio.  The large plastic grille & pointer look like a giant speedometer.  The main part of the case reminds me of an orchestra shell…like the Hollywood Bowl.  And the back looks like it’s covering an electric turbine.

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As you can see, the Emerson 744B came in a nice variety of colored Plaskon cases.  I always thought it would have made a great office desk radio, because the back would look cool to guests.  Most radios have cardboard backs, or even open backs, but this one looks good from every view.

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If you’d like to add a 744B to your collection, the first thing to look for is whether the faux front feet have broken off.  The design makes it easy to break those feet when the radio is serviced or even when the radio is just being handled.  In the above photo, you can see the thin plastic, and how the faux feet are not reinforced in any way.  Even though they look like feet, they cannot support the radio when the actual feet are removed for servicing.  Basically, the radios with unbroken feet are worth about double those without.

Philco Boomerang, A Study in Asymmetrical Design

Symmetry is pleasing.  It gives us a natural balance.  Things just look right with even sides and a nice easy-to-understand presentation.  People who have symmetrical faces are considered more beautiful or handsome.  Most radios are symmetrical.  One side matches the other.  So, why did someone design a radio that looks like this?IMG_5879Basically, the whole design of the Philco 49-501 is amazingly asymmetrical!  The only things symmetrical in the design are the round knobs (although of greatly different sizes), and the bottom, which is rectangular.  As we look at it, the left side of this 1949 Philco “Boomerang” is a large sweeping arc.  The arc itself is uneven.  The radio’s right side has two fairly straight surfaces that are two different sizes at two different angles.  The front of the radio is more curved than flat.IMG_5888And what’s with that speaker opening?!  Nothing about it is equal.  The two levels of the Bakelite that form the bottom of the speaker opening are two different sizes at two different heights.  The Bakelite lip of the big curve angles into the speaker grille with a wildly changing sweep…from small to large to small again.  It would be expected that the big curve would naturally join the top of the radio even with the front.  But instead, the top of the curve narrows and meets the right side of the radio farther inside.IMG_5886

There is no designer credited with this Philco model.  It’s a shame, because it’s an ingenious asymmetrical design…extremely well thought out.    Some people think it’s weird or futuristic looking (often called “Jetsons” in eBay listings).  But, it’s one of my favorite designs, because it’s so complex and bold.

Below is the ivory painted version of the Philco Boomerang.  This photo correctly shows the differences compared with the brown Bakelite version.  The grille is brown, the tuning dial has a brown background with white numbers, and the knobs are white.  Often, Boomerangs have incorrectly matched parts, or are painted wild colors.  This is the only painted version that’s original.  Some of the paint jobs can look pretty cool (stay away from one that looks like camouflage and claims to be “Catalin colors”).  You definitely want to know what you’re getting.image

The radio is approximately 11-inches wide, 7-inches high, and 6-inches deep.  But really, it all depends on where you measure it, because nothing is even!

For a more symmetrical radio that’s still highly original, check the one in the article below.

Sonora Excellence 301

Real & Reproduction (Part 2)

04This is a French Sonora Excellence…Model 301…as you can see on the left side of the dial in this photo.  It’s Bakelite case measures a large 18″ wide, 11″ high & 9″ deep.  According to the books “Radio Art” and “Bakelite Style”, the Sonora was designed in the United States, produced in France, and is nicknamed the “Cadillac”, because of the look of the large grille.  Most articles say this Sonora was produced starting in 1947, with production continuing into the 1950’s.  There is also a version of this radio that has a tuning eye as part of the dial display, Model 302.

The most important aspect of collecting for me is the design of the radio case.  The Sonora Excellence really delivers…the rounded corners, the dramatic grille, the sweeping horizontal lines, the touch of chrome, and more.  The Bakelite allows for the intricate design.  A Catalin case would never have this much detail due to the molding and hand-shaping restrictions.  But, the Bakelite is also a negative, because so many of these radios have Bakelite that has been damaged over time.  They tend to look dull and dried out.  I pulled the above image from Google as a “best” example…not dried out like many of them.  These Sonora radios normally sell in the $500 to $1,000 range.

I haven’t bought one of these yet, because of the poor condition of the Bakelite on the ones I’ve seen for sale, and because of the large size.  For comparison, the largest Catalin radio is the RCA 66X “Tuna Boat”…which is 15-inches wide (3-inches smaller than the Sonora).

So, what can you do when you love the design?

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Above are two reproduction radios…Tunemaster SM 950’s.  They are still fairly large…13-inches wide instead of 18-inches.  The Sharper Image company was looking for a design for a high-quality table radio.  According to the owner’s manual, they spotted the original Sonora in a catalog for a Japanese exhibit of Industrial Design.  Naturally they loved the design, and decided to use it for a modern 7-band radio (AM, FM, VHF, Shortwave A & B, Aviation, & Weather).   On the back, it has full-size RCA inputs & outputs, jacks for headphones and speakers, shortwave & FM antenna connections, a BFO switch, a tone control, and a fine-tuning control.  Not a cheap knock-off!

There’s not a lot of concise information about this model available, but it was apparently made in 1989, and priced at about $300.

Everyone knows it’s best to not play the true vintage radios of the 1930’s and 1940’s on a regular basis.  The reproduction of the Sonora allows me to use it daily to listen to my favorite stations.  It certainly has good sound, and it fits right in with the display of the “real” radios in my collection.

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Oh, and the “Tucky” mini-radio works good too!

Note: Real & Reproduction Part 1…is quite a few articles below, on page 2…and was updated in April, 2016.

The Case of the Addison Radio

Addison Addition

It started as just a case on eBay:s1-l1600

Years ago, I had a wooden Addison 5 “Courthouse”, but for some reason sold it when I got a Catalin version.  Later, I regretted selling it, because it’s truly a uniquely designed wooden radio.  So, when the above case was reasonably priced on eBay, I bought it.  Unfortunately, the refinish on it was awfully dark, and looked more like paint than wood stain.  Fortunately, expert Gary Marvin could bring out the beautiful wood.

While he was working on the case, I found a chassis, restrung the dial, replaced the missing dial pointer, replaced a tube, remounted the loose dial, and did a cleaning…all stuff that doesn’t take any real talent.

Here’s the finished radio:IMG_5666

Side note:  The little model Addison was just a pewter colored paper weight from when I first started collecting radios.  I painted it swirled red, and amber to look like a Catalin Addison I hoped to get someday.

Here’s the wooden Addison next to the Catalin version:IMG_5674

There are some differences.  The Catalin radio has a flat front, while on the wooden one, the front juts out a little.  Although both versions use the same model chassis, the wooden Addison is slightly larger, because the wood is thicker than the Catalin.

Bonus photos of the all-original Catalin Addison:IMG_3430IMG_3433

If you want to see more of Gary’s restoration work, please check out his impressive collection in the post below.

Great Consoles & More!

Wanted to show you some of the radios in Gary Marvin’s collection.  He mainly collects and restores consoles and large tombstone radios.  The following series of 6 photos will take you around one large room in his house…flowing from left to right.IMG_5645 IMG_5644 IMG_5643 IMG_5642 IMG_5641 IMG_5640

Those of you who collect consoles and other wooden radios will have noticed some highly collectible models!

In another room you’ll find some really great tombstones!IMG_5647IMG_5648IMG_5650

Here are a few more consoles found in other rooms:IMG_5654IMG_5657IMG_3450image

Gary & his wife, Vanessa, have many more radios throughout their home.  Gary designed a specially built area as part of their large garage where he refinishes and restores radios as a near full-time job.  At any time you might find 10 completed consoles covered protectively in his garage, several partially-finished in the work areas, and more of his beautifully restored radios in antique stores.

Gary can be reached at:  gmrestore123@gmail.com

Displaying Radios

What’s the best way to display a radio collection?

There’s no one right answer.  The space available in your home is the main factor.  When we were in Lincoln, Nebraska, we had a large walk-out basement with some built-in shelves, and then we added more non-permanent shelving along the walls.  We also added some overhead flood lights in order to show off the colors and features of the radios.  It worked fine:CIMG2487CIMG2499The above photos are poor quality, but at least you get the idea.  There was another unit of those metal shelves on the other side of the door, plus a small amount of built-in shelves by a fireplace.

When we moved to Oregon, we found most houses here don’t have basements.  My wife suggested the radios would add needed color to our living room.  So, we purchased some bookcases that have glass doors, and used a large living room nook that the previous owners had also used for bookshelves.img_7056img_7110Above Are two photos of our main display (updated in late 2016)…doors closed & doors open.  Since the display is located at one end of our living room, it provides guests a colorful introduction to our collection, and of course gives us a topic of discussion if they would like to know more about the radios.  Just for fun, I replaced the white door knobs with radio knobs:IMG_5573IMG_5574The radio knobs were not damaged.  I placed cut off screw holders (that are used for dry wall) into the back of the knobs, and used screws to hold the knobs in place.

This shows the space at one end of the living room:IMG_5576

By the way, the bookcases were reasonably priced at Ikea.  My son, Paul, and I assembled them, connected them together, and then secured the whole thing to the wall.  The shelving is adjustable, so I bought a few extra shelves to make areas for smaller radios.  The lineup of radios keeps changing as models are sold and others purchased.

Here’s another example.  Friends Al & Mary Kay Koontz display a portion of their collection using antique bookcases:IMG_5225

The next two posts below show a lot of ways to display radios.

Nebraska Radio Visit!

We went to Nebraska in September, and had a chance to get together with some radio collecting friends.        IMG_5283Left to right: Jon Walker, David O’Hanlon, Jeannette Bausch, Jane Hunt, Hugh Hunt, John O’Connor, and Scott Vala.  You’ll never meet nicer people.  We always enjoy getting together with them.

Jane and Hugh hosted.  Here are some photos taken in their radio room.

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The last photo above shows how the recently acquired blue Sentinel fits in with some of their other radios.  Obviously, the Hunt’s radio collection is stunning!  You can see their collection at:  www.goldenhue.net

IMG_1008Here’s the same group again, but I’m in Hugh’s place, and he took the photo.

Collector David O’Hanlon

One of our collecting friends in Nebraska is David O’Hanlon.  His collecting goes beyond radios, to include phonographs, Vogue Records, drawings & paintings by noted Nebraska artist Kent Bellows, and much more. IMG_5303 IMG_5139IMG_5298IMG_5143

Jeannette & I especially enjoyed learning more about Dave’s phonographs.

IMG_5133IMG_5313img_2719IMG_5146This last one is a coin-operated phonograph with one selection on a cylinder… “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”.  The phonograph takes nickels from the 1800’s.

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The above “Jukebox” is a Shyvers Multiphone.  It was manufactured starting in 1939 by a Seattle, Washington company.  This unit was connected to a phone line.  You told a female DJ what number song you wanted, and she’d play it for you through the 4-inch speaker at your restaurant booth or counter.  Kind of the first music “streaming”.

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Jeannette & Dave are discussing this historic view of Blair, Nebraska done by Kent Bellows.  It’s an extremely detailed hand-drawn copy of an old photo.  You can click on this photo, or any others in the posts to see them better.

One other thing.  Dave supplied Hugh & Jane Hunt with much expertise and guidance as they built their fantastic radio collection.

We always enjoy visiting with Dave!

Dialed In

This 1938 DeWald A-501 Harp has a new face.  IMG_4960

Below is what it looked like before.CIMG5059

The radio looks good in both photos.  The difference is that the “new” dial in the top photo is the style that was originally in this radio.  When I got this harp from another collector about six years ago, the original dial had been broken, because the Catalin case had shrunk.  Fortunately, there was no damage to the case.  He was able to find the red & beige dial…which had been in another DeWald model…and looked okay in this one too.

It still bothered me a little that the Red Harp didn’t have the original dial.  Recently, I came across a very broken Plaskon DeWald radio that had the dial I needed.  The only problem was that it wouldn’t fit, since the Catalin case was smaller than it was originally.  Here are the two curved glass dials:IMG_3661

A glass company here in Oregon was a little hesitant to grind down a dial that is 77 years old, but they did a great job.

And now, it’s an even better looking 1938 Red DeWald Harp:IMG_4942

Bonus…here’s our brown one with yellow swirls:IMG_3104

Note: After publishing this article, I’ve heard that sometimes the beige & red dial was used in the various colors of Dewald Harps, even though it was not original to this particular red Harp.

Real & Reproduction (Updated)

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One of the most unique & beautiful radios is the Sparton Bluebird.  It was designed in the 1930’s Deco age.  Bluebirds normally sell for about $2,500 to $5,000 depending on the condition.  In the late 1990’s, the Thomas & Crosley companies sold reproductions of the Sparton Bluebird (obviously manufactured by the same company).  The major difference was they used 16-inch mirrors, instead of the approximately 14-inch mirrors used on the original.  They also used chrome feet instead of black, and the dial was not exactly like the original Bluebird, among many other variances.  However, the beauty of the design was all there.  In fact, despite the differences between the real & reproduction, the reproduction radio is as beautiful to view as the original.

Those reproductions are now hard to find…collectors don’t want to part with them.  In April 2016, one sold on eBay for nearly $500.  Not bad for a reproduction.  Later, Crosley made a 14-inch version, but unfortunately it appears they kept the large chrome circle the same size, which made it too big proportionally, and then added their name boldly on the large circle as well.  They also made a mini 8-inch version.  Neither of those versions is very collectible, although they’re still nicely reminiscent of the original design.

The above radio is one of the original 16-inch reproductions, with the feet painted black and a replicated dial.  The purpose isn’t to fool anyone, it’s to make it a more faithful reproduction.  A real Bluebird is shown here:sparton_bluebird_blue_mirror_radio

And here’s another shot of the reproduction:IMG_4795

The real thing is always best, but the beauty of the original design can be found in a well-made reproduction.

The blue mirror on the original Sparton is like the case of a Catalin radio.  The wooden box that holds the chassis is simply utilitarian, and is normally hidden by the mirror.  So, if the original 1930’s mirror breaks and is replaced by a new mirror, doesn’t that make it a reproduction?  Certainly, if a Catalin case is replaced by something newer, the radio would not be considered original, even if the other parts were all original.

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Here are two 1937 Emerson Tombstones.  Only they’re not.  They’re actually full size reproductions made by expert parts provider Kris Gimmy several years ago.  A Washington collector I know owns these two radios, and is very happy to have them mixed in with his original and expensive Catalin radios.

Update: Below is a radio that was made to look like a red Air King.  The chassis is original, but the red case is painted instead of colored Plaskon.  It sold for nearly $5,000!

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Update 2:  The below Crosley reproduction of a Sparton “Sled” went for nearly $800 in April, 2016.image