Sparton Bluebird

Finally broke down and bought a real Sparton Bluebird radio.  I’ve loved the look of the Bluebird (by famed industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague) from the first time I saw it.

(My “new” 1936 Sparton Bluebird model 566.)

The design of the Sparton Bluebird is extremely Deco, with blue mirror & chrome.  It was so original that no other radio looked anything like it.  Descriptions of the radio mention the “Streamline” design of the deco era represented by the three lines of chrome that span the front.

(Professional photo of my radio as seen on the Decophobia website.)

Great art (these radios are displayed in museums) lends itself to personal interpretation.  Why was the name Bluebird chosen, as opposed to anything else that was blue?  A real Bluebird flies, and one could certainly look at this “bird” as a tri-wing airplane in a blue sky.  The three chrome lines get smaller as they go down, just like the three wings of the airplane.  The inner ring would be the fuselage, and the outer ring could represent the larger circle made by a moving propeller.  The black ball stands are the plane’s tires.

At least that’s one interpretation of the design.  It may not be what Teague had in mind, but once you see the design that way, it’s a little hard to believe it wasn’t intentional.

The 14-inch mirror hides the black wooden box containing the chassis.

You can see how the radio leans back, which let’s us see the mirror better, and makes the controls more accessible.  It also gives it stability to keep that big piece of glass from tipping over.  In fact, the Bluebird originally came with an optional blue mirror for the radio to sit on.  It was the exact same size as the main mirror, and could be fabricated to replace the radio’s mirror if necessary.

Here’s a photo of the real Bluebird next to my long-owned reproduction radio from the 1990’s.

The one on the left is a little over 20-years old, and the one on the right is over 80-years old.  The reproduction’s mirror is larger (16-inches), and the feet were originally chrome.  I painted them to look more like the real Sparton, and added the Sparton dial image.  Besides the size, the biggest difference is metal vs. plastic for the chrome, and of course tubes vs. transistors for the sound.

Why was the reproduction made larger, and why were the feet chrome?  In a print ad from the 1930’s, it incorrectly says the mirror is 16-inches, even though it was really 14-inches.  Another ad mentions “silver ball supports”, even though they were black.  Or, maybe they just thought the reproduction shouldn’t precisely match the real thing.

After selling most of my radios, it was nice to add one…especially the historic Sparton Bluebird.

Extra:  Saw this photo on a radio discussion page.  It’s a Sparton Bluebird in the 1936 Jimmy Stewart movie “Born To Dance”.

The discussion determined it was the blue mirror version, and that it’s an optical illusion that it looks clear.  Ah…the Deco era had such style!

Update Sept. 2022:  Added another Sparton Bluebird (the one on the left).

Update Oct. 2022:  Sold my first Bluebird, and kept this one below, because it has a really nice original mirror.  It’s displayed next to another 1936 radio, an Emerson Tombstone.  What a contrast in designs, yet they provided the same service.  The reproduction Bluebird is on top of the cabinet.

Radios & Magazine Articles

An Associate Editor of the Food Network Magazine recently called me about using some of my radios for an article.  Their Pioneer Woman magazine is featuring Bakelite and Catalin collectibles, and they requested photographs of some of my radios that are displayed on this site.  (Photos can be made clearer and larger with a “click”.)

1940 Fada “Bullet” Model 115 (made of Catalin plastic)

1938 Crosley “Split Grille” Model G1465 (Catalin)

1938 Emerson “Tombstone” Model BT 245 (Catalin)

1938 Emerson “Tombstone” Model BT 245 (Catalin)

1937 Emerson “Tombstone” Model AU 190 (Catalin)

1939 RCA “Little Nipper” Model 9TX4 (Catalin)

1938 Emerson “Little Miracle” Model AX235 (Catalin)

Tesla Talisman Model 308U (Bakelite, ’40’s design made in ’50’s)

Above are the radios they requested, and the last two I threw in.  I have no idea what might get used in the article.  They plan to edit the items onto their own background, so the photos were just “shelfies” shot on my white shelves.

Update:  Here’s the page in the article that included two of my radios, and a poker chip caddy.  You can click or touch to make it readable.

To clarify a few points:  Although Bakelite was used for radio parts in the 1920’s, it was in the 1930’s when radios with Bakelite cases joined wooden radios.  I suggested if Bakelite collectors only wanted one radio, the Fada Bullet is the most iconic design.  And, although Catalin radios are very breakable, the main reason they were discontinued was because of the man-hours needed to produce them.  Still, I appreciate that radios were included in the 4-page article about Bakelite.  The full issue is over 100 pages long.

Last year, it was nice of The Southern California Antique Radio Society to include one of my photos in their magazine.

It was the above photo of the Shyvers Multiphone tabletop jukebox owned by friend and collector David O’Hanlon.  Below is what the magazine and article looked like.  You can read the main page of the article by clicking on the photo, and then zooming if necessary.

Since I’ve sold most of my radios, it wasn’t too hard to also take photos of those that remain.  Here are some of them.

1940 Emerson “Patriot” Model 400 (Catalin)

1940 Addison “Waterfall” Model A2 (Bakelite)

1940 Addison “Waterfall” Model A2 (Bakelite)

1938 DeWald “Harp” Model A501 (Catalin)

1939 Sentinel Model 248NI (177U) [Catalin]

1945 Garod “Commander” Model 1B55L (Catalin)

1945 Sentinel “Wavy Grille” Model 284 (Catalin)

1947 Fada “Cloud” Model 845 (polystyrene plastic)

1936 Emerson “Tombstone” Model U5A (Plaskon)

1936 Emerson “Tombstone” Model 110 (wood)

1938 Grunow “Chrome Grille” Model 592 (wood)

1936 Sparton Bluebird, added 2020.

1939 Sentinel 248NR (177U) [Catalin] added 2020.

Many of these radios are featured with more information in the individual articles on this site.

Here’s the main display in 2018 before the recent sell-off:

The time seemed right to greatly reduce my collection.  Hopefully, the new owners are enjoying the radios as much as I did.

Here’s what’s left (November 2020):

Here’s a screen shot of an article that was in the January, 2022 edition of Farm Show Magazine.  It’s a newspaper style magazine from Minnesota that features articles on many topics, and this time they included collectible radios.  It was written by Dee George, from an interview.  (Click to enlarge.)

Sparton Nocturne

For some collectors, the Sparton Nocturne is the ultimate radio.  The Art Deco classic was styled by renowned industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague.  As you can see in the ad below (from 1935), Teague’s name is a big deal, and the design of the radio was to be revealed at a radio industry exposition.

(These 2 ads & all photos can be enlarged with a click.)

The Sparton Nocturne is a large floor model radio made of mirrored glass and chrome.  It came in a choice of blue or peach colored mirrors.  Our son, Paul, took some photos of a Nocturne at the Milwaukee Art Museum:

The radio was displayed with other pieces of industrial art.  Look closely, and you can even see the reflection of a red Air King Skyscraper radio in the close-up photo.

(The practical workings of the chassis and speaker are hidden in a large wooden box behind the beautiful mirror.)

The main reason there are not many Nocturnes is because they were very high priced for 1935.  The $350 price tag was about the same cost as an automobile.  These radios were meant as lobby displays for high class hotels, not for use in typical homes.  The other thing is that it’s likely many of these radios ended up with broken mirrors.  After 84 years, it would be interesting to know how many of the surviving Nocturnes still have their original glass.

Today, that $350 price doesn’t seem very high when you consider that the value of one of these radios is closing in on $100,000.  A Sparton Nocturne sold for $95,000 in 2017.  The cheapest one I’ve heard about was $40,000.  Of course condition is a key factor, along with whether two really serious buyers are at the same auction.

Most Sparton radio buyers in the 1930’s opted for the much smaller table radio (about 14-inches in diameter), the Bluebird.   It sold for about $40.  Paul photographed a pair of those at the museum too (above).  The Bluebird was also designed by Walter Dorwin Teague.  They’re highly collectible, and normally sell for $2,500 to $5,000.

(Spartons from the collection of Hugh & Jane Hunt.)

The chrome & glass Sparton radio models reflect industrial art at it’s best, and certainly deserve to be in museums.

(Milwaukee Art Museum, photo by Paul Bausch)

World’s Best Radio Collection?

It seems impossible that there could be a greater radio collection than the one owned by Hugh and Jane Hunt of Blair, Nebraska.

(All photos can be enlarged with a click and zoom.)

The first display when you walk into the large “radio room” is the above group of amazing radios.  Collectors will see that the shelves are filled with many extremely hard-to-find radios, and yet, here they are all together!

Take a look at the row of Air King “Skyscrapers”.  Those nine radios from the 1930’s represent some of the most beautiful and colorful radios ever produced. Based on auction and private-sale prices I’ve seen, that one row of radios is worth around a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

(The yellow Air King is 1 of 2 known to exist.)

The second set of shelves (above), has 49 Catalin radios.  Look at them closely and you’ll see a whole row of Motorola “Circle Grilles”, and nearly a row of colorful Emerson “Little Miracles”.  There are a bunch of Tom Thumb radios, and on one of those shelves are these two radios:

These “Split Grille”  Detrola and Symphony radios are extremely rare, as is the Espey radio sitting next to them in the group photo.  Two shelves below is a blue Sentinel “Wavy Grille”.

One of these went for over $30,000 at an auction in New York.  Throughout Hugh & Jane’s collection are so many radios that individually would be the centerpiece of a typical collection like mine.

Next, look at the long wall across from those radios.

It’s hard for the mind to even take in these 87 fabulous Catalin radios!  You’ll have to “click & zoom” this photo to appreciate what’s there.  On this end alone, you can see the Sparton “Cloisonné” sets, Fada “Bullets”, 12 (12!) Emerson Tombstones, and rare Kadette “Clockettes”.

Here’s a shot from the other end of the shelves.  Enlarge & zoom to look closely at the gorgeous Fada’s, Addison’s, Emerson’s, DeWald’s, Sentinel’s, Motorola’s, Garod’s and more.

See anything you’d like to have in your collection?

Here is the last set of shelves on this end of the room:

(At the bottom are 4 ultra-rare Namco Catalin radios.)

(The Blue [oxidized to green] Namco may be the only one in existence.)

Now we turn to the shelves on the other end of the very long room.  There are non-Catalin radios in multiple displays, featuring rare Bakelite, Plaskon, wooden, mirrored, novelty, and some foreign radios:

There are also larger radios not on shelves:

Besides radios, there’s the recently acquired 1942 Rock-Ola jukebox, seen here with Jane and Hugh:

People may choose different types of radio collecting…wooden table radios, consoles, early breadboards, transistors, etc., and tastes differ.  This radio collection includes every Catalin model listed in John Sideli’s famous book Classic Plastic Radios of the 1930’s and 1940’s (and a couple models Sideli missed).  The collection even includes complete color combinations of some of the models, and most of the truly collectible radios made of other plastics.  Plastic was a new medium, and some of the world’s greatest designers developed these 1930’s and 1940’s radios.

(Jon Walker, Philip Bausch, David O’Hanlon, Hugh Hunt, Jane Hunt, John O’Connor, and Jeannette Bausch.  Thanks for the photo Scott!)

When we radio collectors get together at the Hunt house, we love to look at this “museum” of radios.  Is this multi-million-dollar radio collection the best in the world?  It is to us.

Bonus:  Hugh recently added a car radio to his collection.  Attached to it was this 1954 Cadillac:

Radios For Sale

Most of the below radios were for sale.  (Click to enlarge photo)  

I’m leaving this post just as a reference, since many of the prices still show.   541-543-3489 (in Oregon)

The price list below shows you the radios that were for sale.  At this point, most of the radios are sold, and I have about 25 radios left that are not for sale at this time.

 Top of Bookcase:

Swirled Plastic Cavalcade RS1A…Sold

Red & Gray Plaskon Emerson 744B…Sold

Lafayette BB-22…$495 Sold

Philco Boomerang…$495 Sold

Fada Temple butterscotch & red Catalin…$950 Sold

Belmont 519 (all original)…$375 Sold

Black Bakelite & Ivory General Television “A”…$275 Sold

Left Bookcase Section:

Ivory Plaskon Kadette 40 Jewel…$425  Sold

Blue Motorola 51A…$350 Sold

Yellow Catalin Emerson AX235 Little Miracle…$1,500 Sold

Catalin Sentinel 177U (248NT)…$1,600 Sold

GE Catalin Jewel Box…$1,700 Sold

Blue Plaskon Gem 955…$325 NFS

Emerson 246 Plaskon D-Dial…$425 NFS

Red Catalin Chip Holder w/200 Catalin chips…$199 NFS

“Radio” Radio…$75 Sold

Plaskon Coronado Racetrack…$399  Sold

Crosley Aqua 10-139 (rarest color, perfect chrome)…$375 Sold

Plaskon Majestic Triple Fin…$425  Sold

Rare Maroon (not brown) Bakelite Majestic “Zephyr”…$249 NFS

 2nd From Left Bookcase Section:

Catalin RCA Little Nipper…$1,100 NFS

Catalin Crosley Split Grille…$1,800 NFS

Blue Plaskon Detrola Super Pee Wee…Sold

Bakelite & Ivory Swirl Detrola 218 Pee Wee…$325  Sold

Catalin Motorola Circle Grille…$2,200  Sold

Catalin Oxblood Red DeWald Harp…NFS

Catalin Brown & Swirl DeWald Harp…$750 Sold

White Catalin Emerson Patriot…$775 Sold

Green Catalin Aristocrat Sold

Blue Catalin Emerson Patriot…$1,200 Sold

Remler Plaskon & Bakelite radio/phonograph…$595  Sold

Remler Black Bakelite & Ivory 5505…$375 Sold

 Center Section:

Air King “Skyscraper”…Sold

Green Catalin Emerson BT-245 Tombstone…$2,800…Sold

 4th From Left Bookcase Section:

Maroon & Butterscotch Catalin Fada Bullet…Sold

Blue Fada 1005…NFS

Red & Butterscotch Catalin Garod Commander…$1,200 NFS

Red Catalin Addison 5 Courthouse (all original)…$2,400 Sold

Red Catalin Sentinel 284 Wavy Grille…$1,900 Sold

Green & Black Catalin Bendix…$695 Sold

Red Catalin RCA 66X8…$695 Sold

Blue & Ivory Plaskon Setchell Carlson…Sold

Plaskon DeWald 555 Cash Register…$595 Sold

 5th From Left Bookcase Section:

Maroon Bakelite & Ivory Plaskon Addison 2…NFS

Catalin Green & Butterscotch Addison 2…$375 (damaged) Sold

Blue/Green Plaskon Addison 2…$1,200  Sold

Majestic Studio 59 Chrome Grille…$735 (original wood finish, restored electronics) Sold

Grunow 450 with perfect Chrome Grille…$395 Sold

World’s Fair Glass Rod Zenith…$595 Sold

Wood Majestic Duo Moderne Chrome Grille…$325 Sold

Wood Jewel R-188 Chrome Grille…$495 Sold

 Not shown in group photo:

Wood Addison 5 Courthouse…$375 Sold

Blue Crosley Bullseye 11-101-U…$195 Sold

Replica of Sonora Excellence 301 by Sharper Image…$75 Sold

 All radios…Buyer pays shipping

Plaskon Radios

Bakelite and Catalin get most of the attention, but Plaskon radios have some of the best designs and colors.  Plaskon was molded with more detail than Catalin, and could be colorful without being painted like Bakelite.  Below are some examples of radios made out of Plaskon.

An elegant ivory Plaskon Kadette model 40 “Jewel” from 1935.  It’s a small radio, about 7 1/2″ wide by 5 1/2″ high.

Here’s a rare cobalt blue Plaskon 1946 Setchell Carlson model 416.  Sometimes people paint other “Frog Eyes” in these colors, but this is an original model made of blue and ivory Plaskon (not painted).

The 1939 Farnsworth AT-11 “D-Dial” is usually seen in brown Bakelite, but the details of the design show up best in ivory Plaskon.

Here’s the Plaskon version of a 1947 Coronado “Racetrack”, model 43-8190.  It’s usually found in painted Bakelite.  The trim is a swirled blue polystyrene plastic that looks similar to Catalin.

This is another radio with a combination of plastics.  The main case is blue Plaskon, the front is Beetle Plastic, and the knobs seem to be Tenite.  It’s a 1939 Detrola model 219 Super Pee Wee.

Another small radio is the 1938 Emerson 246 D-Dial.  It has a very stylized Plaskon case, giving it a really cool look.  It uses the same Emerson chassis as the Catalin Little Miracle.

Rarely seen in Plaskon instead of brown Bakelite is the 1938 DeWald model 555 cash register shaped push button radio.  What an original design.

This Addison 2 from 1940 is made of blue/green Plaskon.  Addisons were manufactured in Canada.

Probably the cleverest and smallest table radio with a record player is this 1947 Remler model 5300.  Much of the radio is ivory Plaskon, but it also incorporates Bakelite.  The lid flips back to allow the 78 rpm records to fit onto a small turntable.

One of the best designed radios ever is this small Emerson tombstone radio, model U5A from 1936.  It’s very detailed molded lines are as Deco as they come.

Speaking of Deco, I was given a book about the Deco era, and the only radio they showed in it was this 1937 Majestic model 651 Triple Fin.  Most of these are Bakelite or painted Bakelite, but this one is Plaskon.

Canada was the source for this light blue Gem radio, model 955.  It was manufactured by the Jewel Radio Company in the 1940’s.

This 1939 Detrola model 274 Split Grille is another small radio with an ivory Plaskon case.  The grille and knobs are colored Tenite.

One of the oldest Plaskon designs is the Air King Skyscraper which originated in 1933.  This one, model 770, is from 1937.  It has the speaker opening in the front, instead of on the top like the earlier models.  (Note:  Radio friend G.R. bought this one from me, and took the photo.)

One of the main reasons Plaskon radios can be hard to find is that the cases are pretty thin, making them susceptible to breakage, stress lines and cracks.  Of course their rarity makes them that much more attractive to collectors.

Motorola Circle Grille

Among the most desirable Catalin radios is the 1940 Motorola 50XC, which is known as the Circle Grille.

It’s a fairly small radio, about 10-inches wide, 6 high, and 5 deep.  This particular radio has a rich butterscotch patina with that deep Catalin shine.  The colors of cases for this model also include red, turquoise, green, & brown tortoise-shell.

In his book “Classic Plastic”, John Sedeli calls the Motorola Circle Grille “One of the most appealing radios”…and says “The cabinet and dial face are both beautifully designed and very Deco.”  The large round speaker bezel and the wrap-around horizontal lines are distinctive features.

As you can see, this radio was rough-looking when I got it.  The bezel attaches to the case with screws, and someone had over-tightened the bottom screw and split the circle.  Fortunately, that was the only serious problem.  While the speaker bezel was being professionally repaired by Dan Blake, I cleaned the entire radio, and hand-polished the cabinet with Simichrome.  When the bezel was done, I replaced the grille cloth, and also had the electronics completely restored by Northwest Vintage Radio Society member Blake Dietze.

It was a bit of a project, and I needed “a little help from my friends”, but it’s nice to have a Motorola Circle Grille in the collection!

Radio Swap Meet

The Northwest Vintage Radio Society had a sale this April in Portland, Oregon.  It was mostly a swap meet with members selling radios and parts to other members, even though the event was open to the public.

My wife, Jeannette, helped bring in all of the radios from our vehicle, and took care of our table while I checked out the other tables.  Unfortunately for me, only a limited number of club members are into collecting Catalin, Bakelite, and other plastic radios.

Above are some of the radios we had for sale.  We sold three radios and a Catalin poker chip holder…none of which are pictured…because the photos were taken after the sales.  We’re starting to reduce our collection again, and we were happy to sell three radios, but it looks like we’ll have to use eBay for more sales.  The radios we sold were a black Bakelite Philco TP7, an ivory Plaskon Remler Scottie, and a Canadian blue Beetle Plastic GE C400…all shown below.

Emerson Tombstones…Catalin, Plaskon, Wood

Emerson Tombstones from 1936 to 1938:


Emerson Tombstones are among the coolest table radios ever designed.  Sometimes they’re called “mini-Tombstones”, because they’re only about 10-inches high and 7-inches wide.  That’s definitely “mini” compared with the large wooden Tombstones of the 1930’s.  The oldest of these radios are the Wooden 110 and the ivory Plaskon U5A, both from 1936.img_2766This version features some beautifully grained & inlaid wood, along with acorn knobs.  It’s slightly larger than the Plaskon version, even though they use the same chassis.

p1040438The 1936 ivory Plaskon Emerson is the most Deco version, with a lot of great design touches that are simply too intricate for Catalin or wood.

It was a year later, 1937, for the first Catalin version:img_2153The 1937 Model AU-190 has a sculptured front, features a distinctive grille cloth, a sunburst dial, and chunky Catalin knobs.  Another year later, there were some major style changes.

img_3473The 1938 Catalin Model BT-245 case is similar, but it drops the sculptured front, and most dramatically it has a contrasting off-white louvered grille, and matching knobs.  In his book “Classic Plastic”, about Catalin Radios, John Sideli says “This is probably one of the most successful design updates that you could ever find.”  He also says the beautiful colors were accented by the contrasting grilles and knobs.  I’m also partial to the contrasting colors of the 1938 model, with the above red being my favorite version.  However, many collectors prefer the 1937 model.  My guess is because the plastic is all Catalin, and those Catalin knobs are definitely more impressive than the ivory plastic ones.

IMG_3380Catalin shouldn’t be left in the UV rays for long!

Lafayette BB-22…how rare?

Normally when you go to Google Image and put in the name of a radio, you get lots of photos.  When I Googled the Lafayette BB-22, I got one photo and one graphic from an old price guide.  The photo was from the Radio Museum, and that radio had the wrong knobs.  Here’s the Lafayette I recently acquired:img_7085

It was made in 1940, and has the bold streamlined Deco look of the era.


The one from the Radio Museum is black, as is this one.  This particular radio was saved from extinction by someone who did a great job of repairing some cracks (which can be seen only from the inside) and doing such a professional paint job that at first I thought it was black Bakelite.  It’s only the second repainted radio in my collection, and I’m more than happy to add this distinctive design.



It has a very cool dial that’s obviously a Deco design.  These original knobs had some crazing, but most of it polished out, after I took those first photos.  The knobs go nicely with the dial and the grille cloth.  The BB-22 is about 10-inches wide, 7 high, and 5 deep.  It’s a good-sounding AM radio.  This Lafayette was purchased from Dick Bosch, along with these two near-mint radios…a Fada 845, and a Belmont 519.



You can see more of Dick’s collection in the article below.

Update (May 2023):  Here’s another radio like the Lafayette, but was sold under the Howard label.  It was interesting to see the final sale price on eBay.  It really is a hard-to-find style.