Collecting 1920’s Era Radios

Back in the 1920’s household radios were the iPods of the day. As new radio stations arrived on the scene people went out and bought household radios that used vacuum tubes and batteries so that they could enjoy this new form of home entertainment. Today, people collect these early radios both as historical pieces and as fun restoration projects. In this article we’ll look at some of the aspects of collecting early, 1920’s era, radios.

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One of the defining characteristics of these 1920’s era radios is that they were battery operated. Few people, particularly people in rural areas, had electricity in their homes at the time. Therefore, batteries were a requirement. These lead acid batteries were powerful, up to 90 volts, and not particularly safe or long lasting, although most could be recharged. If you think today’s problems with portable power are something new, think again. One aspect of this is that you’ll find some older radios that were converted to use AC power by frugal owners who wanted to keep their older unit and didn’t want to have to keep paying for expensive batteries or even by more modern day electronics tinkerers. Of course, such conversions lower the collectible value of the radio but they still can be fun for the electronics hobbyist.

These 1920’s era radios reflect the craftsmanship of the time. Cabinets were often made of mahogany or other fine woods. Some were covered with leather. Others had Bakelite cabinets. Wooden knobs were often used as were Bakelite and other early plastics. Many of the early radios featured finely detailed dials. Even more pedestrian brands are highly detailed and well crafted by today’s standards.

Some of the common brands of 1920’s era radios were Atwater Kent, Zenith, Philco and RCA. There are some high end brands, such as Marconi, that have considerable collectible value and shouldn’t be modified or even restored beyond basic light cleaning or dusting. When in doubt about the brand’s value, check online forums and a reputable local antique dealer to ascertain the value.

When you’re buying a 1920’s era radio there are a few things for you to consider beyond the usual things like seller reputation. You need to be sure that you aren’t paying too much, many early radios are way overpriced by inexperienced or overly optimistic sellers. There are deals to be found for the patient buyer. Also make sure that you know the condition of the radio inside and out. You don’t want to buy a radio only to find that it’s had its original electronics gutted nor do you want to buy one that has damage on the outside. Fortunately, you don’t see that many modern, factory made, forgeries of the early radios and replicas are easily identifiable since they use AC power with required modern polarized plugs.

If you’re an electronics buff who wants to get into early devices or a period collector 1920’s era radios are something to consider.


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2008-09-11 08:03:31

My uncle was a ham radio operator in the 1930’s - I guess it was the internet of the day -Marconi was the Bill Gates of his day and the 1920s radios really opened up the world especially in remote places like NZ Later of course these guys who learnt their skills with ham radios and 1920’s vintage radios were listeners in the Pacific evesdropping to the Japanese forces! Lissie

Comment by jfc
2008-09-11 08:41:03

Hi Lissie,

I was always fascinated by these old radios. My Grandfather had one, probably from the 1930’s, with a Bakelite cabinet. I’m not sure whatever happened to it though. It probably got sold off at the estate sale.

Comment by Online Dividends
2008-09-11 12:59:52

It’s always great to have a hobby. I myself collect old coins from around the world and from as many eras as possible.

2008-10-01 21:26:38

Checking out the local antique stores can be great fun on vacation in the old cities of Europe. There are heaps of interesting thing to find in the backstreets of Paris or London - even depression era radios -the problem of course is getting them home!

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