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 (click to enlarge).  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?


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.

FullSizeRender 2

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

Note: Real & Reproduction Part 1…is quite a few articles below, And has been updated several times.

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:

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:

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 of 70 radios (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.


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:

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.


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”.


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…DeWald Harp

This 1938 DeWald A-501 Harp is back to it’s original look.  IMG_4960

Below is what it looked like before.CIMG5059

The Catalin radio looks good in both photos.  The difference is that the 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 a wooden 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 had shrunk slightly from it’s original size.  Here are the two curved glass dials:IMG_3661

A glass company here in Oregon was a little hesitant to grind down the edge of 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 (3 Updates)

One of the most unique & beautiful radios is the Sparton Bluebird.  It was produced in 1936 during the time of other great deco designs.  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 like the original Bluebird, among 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.

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.

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.

A real 1936 Sparton Bluebird is shown here:sparton_bluebird_blue_mirror_radio

And here’s another shot of the reproduction:

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, does 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.  Or, maybe the Bluebird is so unique it shouldn’t be evaluated the same as other radios.


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!


Update 2:  The below Crosley reproduction of a Sparton “Sled” went for nearly $800 in April, 2016.  Definitely not the normal price.

Update 3 (2020):

Finally added a real Sparton Bluebird to my collection:

You can see how similar it looks to the first photo.  Also, you can see the two radios sitting side by side in my new article…Sparton Bluebird.

Fada Bullet…Iconic

In the world of Catalin radios, there are many that are more valuable than the Fada Bullet, but there are no designs that are more iconic.


Recently picked up this 1940 Fada Bullet in butterscotch & red Catalin.  I already had this color combination, but wanted the pre-war model 115, to go with our maroon 1945 post-war model 1000.


Besides the older radio having a bit of a darker patina, you can see the dials, knobs, and handles have different designs.

Art is in the eye of the beholder, and for me, the Butterscotch & Red is the best Fada Bullet color combination.  I also like the Maroon & Butterscotch, because of the contrast of colors.  The Green Onyx is a little boring, and the Blue (which is the most valuable), would be the best if it would just stay blue, instead of turning a dirty greenish brown.  So now, we finally have both pre-war and post-war Fada Bullets in our collection:


It was many years ago when good friend Al Koontz found the post-war maroon Fada…our first Catalin radio.  Anyone who wants just one example of a Catalin radio in their collection, couldn’t go wrong with a Fada Bullet.

Dream Find…Blue Sentinel (2021 Update)

It’s a radio collectors dream…to find a rare & valuable radio at a garage sale.

So I’m checking eBay, and spot a new listing with this radio.


It’s listed as a Catalin Sentinel 284-NR, and described as “brown”…no cracks or breaks.  The seller doesn’t know the key thing.  Under that discolored surface…it’s really blue.

The lucky find was made by a person who doesn’t know or collect radios.  It wouldn’t be right for someone to try to steal it by offering the seller an unfair amount.  So I quickly sent an email to the seller letting them know they had a very valuable radio, that it’s blue, and that one like it sold for a huge sum at an auction in 2007.  With both sides now having the necessary information, there could be a fair negotiation.

I found out the seller was a very nice woman named Lori.  She said:  “I was in the garage of a hoarder house on the south side of Chicago.  It was sitting on a shelf, and I thought it looked cool, so I offered them $75”.  Soon she was getting lots of emails with offers, she also got a laugh when I mentioned the grille was upside down.


Eventually, Lori settled on a very solid offer of $12,000…not as high as the $30,000 paid at that 2007 auction, but it certainly was a dream for her to have a garage sale item be a true treasure.

The purchaser of the Sentinel was friend & collector Ron Stoner of South Carolina.  Ron taught me a lot about radios when we both lived in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Ron sells a lot of radios, and he sold this one to another of my radio friends.

Hugh Hunt (and his wife Jane) bought it to add to their world class collection of Catalin radios.   They preferred that the Blue Sentinel be taken back to its original color.  Here’s a shot of the radio I took when my wife and I visited Hugh & Jane in Nebraska.

Here’s the side-by-side comparison.  It hardly looks like the same radio.

Update, July 2021:  After reading this story three years ago, collector Vernon Shatwell set out to find another blue Sentinel, and he did it!  It’s the open grille version, and he sent these photos.  Look at that swirl!

This radio looks beautiful without taking it all the way back to its original blue color.