Friday, May 20, 2016

The Untold Market of Antique Radios

One man's junk is another man's treasure. The adage is applied every day on eBay but did you know it also applies to fan gatherings of antique radios and radio restoration? Collectors of old-time radio programs enjoy listening to the recordings of the 1930s, 40s and 50s and while for years that niche crowd has attended conventions held in hotels across the country, there is another crowd (even larger in size) that goes to similar gatherings (usually held at fairgrounds, not hotels) where antique radios are put on display for trade and sale. Sort of like an outdoor flea market (held under pavilions) except the primary focus is not auto parts or fruits and vegetables... it is antique radios. 

Oddly, I saw no collectors of old-time radio programs. No one was selling old-time radio programs on audio cassette or CD. The theme of the event was not the programming but the  physical wooden boxes that was often referred to in the 1930s as "talking furniture." At the recent Kutztown Antiques Radio Meet held in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, I discovered a whole new aspect to collecting old-time radio that has been overlooked for many years. Photos of my recent trip (located less than two hours from home) are featured here.



Table after table with boxes and trays of bulbs, tubes, plastic covers and knobs, vintage radios from the 1930s through the 1950s in varied condition and with varied pricing. There was practically no one selling recordings of old-time radio programs (but there were a number of vendors liquidating 78s and 45s for mere pennies). To put it in perspective... these people were not concerned about the software, just the hardware.







Watching someone fix an antique radio was fascinating as it was explained step-by-step what was involved from sanding and re-staining the wood, finding the correct knobs to replace the broken ones, replacing glass tubes and other parts... and finally making certain the radio works properly.

Turns out pricing varies by make and model, demand and of course, the condition of the item. Prices varied and as one vendor told me, "half of the vendors have their prices inflated because they expect to be talked down when cash is involved." The most expensive are radios that have been restored to lavish beauty -- photos below are a few of my favorites. Pricing varied from $185 to $475, depending on how much it cost for parts and time involved. (I spent $80 for one radio that was not restored but was in great condition and still works.) Photos of the restored radios can be seen below.

A 1938 Philco 38-12  restored to elegant beauty. Asking price was $185.

1935 RCA Tombstone with an asking price of $465.

Stewart Warner from 1935 with an asking price of $475.

I would like to point out that when you buy a restored radio like the three pictured above, all of which made my mouth water like a kid in a candy store, they come with a warranty. The man responsible for this craft, Keith Park of Clifton Park, New York, backs his products. I am hoping to bump into him at another event one day so I can save up some extra cash and go home with a few of these.

Some knobs for certain radios go for premium pricing!
Protected under glass to prevent theft.

Plays Edison cylinders

Also available are technical journals and magazines.
I paid $15 for a stack of 40 at the show.

How many of your family relatives had one of these?



They say you can tell a lot about someone by the books on their bookshelf and the items they have on display in their home. If you love old-time radio, there should be no reason why you cannot find room in your home for at least two or three radios. The decision of what type of radio you want in your house depends on how it will blend in with the decor of your home, what room you plan to display your treasure, and your budget. Restored radios are the most impressive but they cost the most. But you only have to buy them once so my personal recommendation is to avoid the plastic colored ones from the 1950s and 1960s and stick with the wood ones from the 1930s and 1940s. And why buy an antique radio that works, looks good and be used solely for decoration for $150 to $250 when you can pay about the same price for a restored one?

Vintage televisions, fully functional, were also available!

The coffee cup was to demonstrate the size of the screen!

Philo Tabletop from 1959-1960.
This vendor hooked up a DVD player so an old
black and white movie could demonstrate the
product still worked perfectly.

Remember those replicas that would play an audio cassette or CD from the side of the radio? The ones that usually retailed $99.99 in mail order catalogs? Why not consider buying an original instead. I seem to come home with an antique radio about twice a year. One restored and one untouched. When I run out of shelf space in the house I may start upgrading by selling the untouched and replicas, and replace them for restored ones. 

As I discovered recently, there is practically one of these "Hamfest" events every month along the East Coast, three in the month of May alone. This weekend the largest of them, titled appropriately, Hamfest, is being held in Dayton, Ohio. Check Google and see if there happens to be one near you.

More photos below for your amusement.












One vendor made dollhouses out of the empty shells of old radios.

This person makes wall clocks out of used 78s. Clever.

Spare tubes and lights for restoration projects. 









3 comments:

Scott Pitzer said...

Takes me back to when my interest in OTR was new, and the shopping center near home advertised a traveling display of antique radios. A couple from many states away pulled their nice trailer around the country, with maybe 20 radios of different eras (with informative description.)
It was the first time I'd been able to "put the face of the radios with the voices and music which came out of them."

coolcatdaddy said...

Great post. One piece of advice I'd give someone on buying an antique radio is to look up what tubes the set uses. Tubes are still manufactured and you're better off getting one with easily replaced tubes, just in case.

Jim said...

As you know, Martin, I have been collecting otr for 40 plus years. Within the last couple of years I began repairing and restoring old radios from the 30s, 40s and 50s, mostly table top radios. I am also a member of an organization locally who have members of similar inclinations. Oddly, I too have found that when I have asked many people interested in the hardware if they collect otr, most say no. It is the repair and electronics, the theory etc. that draw these people to the hobby of radio hardware and not the programming people used to hear on them. Apparently, I am an exception to many I have run into. These shows are for the hardware only and rarely if ever, will you see otr being offered.

By the way, living near Dayton, Ohio, the event is called HAMVENTION, not Hamfest.

Good post and thanks for all the photos. Kutztown is one of the east coast premier events for this hobby.

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