Unusual – and beautiful – console radios from 1930s
  • Vintage radio from Montgomery Ward
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    Auction Finds

    Vintage radios in the form of lovely furniture

    My auctioneer friend Rodney looked out over the sea of furniture and saw what I had already seen.

    “There are a lot of good ones out there,” he said.

    We were both admiring a collection of console and tabletop vintage radios – many in good condition and some needing a dust cloth with a shot of Pledge. Someone had collected not only radios, but also speakers (early radios didn’t have speakers inside them), along with a record player and the glass tubes that fired up the radios.

    A Sparton radio and an Atwater Kent speaker at the auction.

    A Sparton radio and an Atwater Kent speaker at the auction.

    This was not the first set of consoles I’d seen at auction. A few years ago, I came across some chairside radios from the 1930s. Another time, an auction house was selling a collection of small personal models in a plethora of wonderful colors.

    The craftsmanship of some of the radios at this auction was the thing that captured our attention. Inlaid-wooden fronts, knobby legs in the William and Mary style, brass sculptured dials, cathedral shapes. Almost all bore the names of their makers. Some were familiar to me and others were not – those companies likely shut down or swallowed up by ones that are still around. Philco, Zenith, RCA, GE, Crosley, Victor, Atwater Kent, Sparton, US Apex, Brunswick, Ferguson, Majestic.

    The earliest radio was no more than tubes connected to a board, followed by wood and metal cases. By the 20th century, they were enclosed inside beautiful cabinets, masquerading as furniture, which one site noted sometimes cost more than the radio itself.

    A collection of radios and accessories fill tables at the auction.

    A collection of radios and accessories fills tables at the auction.

    In the 1930s, radios with fancy cabinets were said to be found in the homes of the middle class. Tabletop cathedral-shaped radios were among the most popular. This decade is also considered the golden age of radio. Even those who didn’t have a beautiful cabinet to hide their radio had a small radio in the living room.

    The most popular radios of the 1930s were made by Zenith, and its products are considered the most collectible today. The top of the line Zenith to collect now and to buy then – if you could afford it – was the Stratosphere, model 1000z. With an Art Deco design, it cost more than most cars at the time ime – $750.

    Here is a sampling of radios, both console and tabletop, from the auction:

    A tabletop radio by Majestic sits atop a console by US Apex, along with an up-close view of the inside of the Apex.

    A tabletop radio by Majestic (with a cathedral-shaped recess) sits atop a console by US Apex, along with an up-close view of the inside of the Apex.

     

    Console radio by Majestic, and up-close view of dials.

    Console radio by Majestic, and up-close view of dials.

     

    Tabletop radios made by Philco (top) and Zenith.

    Tabletop radios made by Philco (top) and Zenith.

     

    A metal radio by Atwater Kent.

    A metal radio by Atwater Kent.

     

    Tabletop radios by Sparton (left). Other two are General Electric.

    Tabletop radios by Sparton (left). The other two were made by General Electric.

     

    Radio speaker with needlepoint design (left), horn speaker and an Atwater Kent speaker.

    Radio speaker with needlepoint design (left), horn speaker and an Atwater Kent speaker.

     

    The insides of a console radio and a cathedral radio.

    The insides of a console radio, right, and a cathedral radio.

     

    A record player and small personal radios.

    A record player and small personal radios.

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