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Dating vintage radio receivers, Page Four
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Dating your receivers - Page four

Material a cabinet is made of

Looking at the material the cabinet is made of is probably the least accurate way of determining its age. Both wood and bakelite were used over a period of about 40 years. The very earliy receivers were usually made of solid wood panels with a bakelite or fibre breadboard inside where the valves and coils were mounted. A few sets from the 1920's had marviplate front panels which was basically a piece of sheet steel or tin which was screen-printed with a false woodgrain while some others, notably those made by Atwater Kent were made of steel in the shape of biscuit tins. Please see the sitemap for pictures of early receivers.

Bakelite, used for cabinet making, was believed to be first used in Australia on an AWA Radiolette model C87 in 1932. The bakelite was a dark rosewood colour rather than the more common mottled brown that we see so much of and this increased the value of these sets that still exist. Some people put silly prices on them though and they can't possibly sell for such prices. As an example I saw one of these receivers offered on the online auction site, Ebay, for a starting price of $6,500. The set was 'passed in' due to no bids. In good condition the set is probably worth closer to about $1,500 in working order. As far as sentiment goes, $6,500 may be what that set was worth but this isn't a deciding factor in the buyer's mind when looking to add to their collections.

From the time the above-mentioned set was made, upto the late 1950's sets were made of either veneer-covered plywood or bakelite. An elaborate wooden receiver or one of the coloured midgets of the 1950's are the receivers that fetch the big bucks at sales. Coloured bakelite receivers were usually made only in limited numbers, maybe 500 to 1000 at the most, many models even less than 500. Why manufacturers used veneers instead of solid wood is a mystery to me. While there'd have been a cost saving from using plywood, the manhours burned up on the slow process of veneering cabinets would have easily made up for it. I do concede, however, that a veneered cabinet does look the part.

Sadly there is no real way of telling how old a radio is from it's cabinet material during this era. There was plenty of both wood and bakelite models around right up to the time that plastic took over in the 1960's. The saving grace is that there are plenty of other ways of dating old radios. So in summing up, the timeline is more or less as follows:

1922 - Solid wood or pressed steel cabinet, thick fibre or bakelite breadboard.
1930 - Bakelite or veneered wood cabinet, pressed steel chassis.
1960 - Plastic cabinet, pressed aluminium chassis.
1965 - Plastic cabinet, thin fibre printed circuit board.


As has been demonstrated, there are many ways to judge the age of a receiver to at least within a few years of manufacture and in some cases the exact year. If you are in possession of owner's manuals then it is possible to date a receiver to the month it was made.

Some people ask: Is age important? The answer is both yes and no, depending on what you are thinking of at the time. The age of a radio doesn't mean alot if you just want to have an old valve radio to listen to whilst doing some other task or hobby. Valve radios have a mellow but powerful tone that is yet to be emulated in any transistorised receiver. The fact that modern high-end HiFi amplifiers can command very high purchase prices due to their sound quality proves my point here. Valves simply do a better job with the output stages of amplification. If you are a collector or antique dealer then you don't need anyone to tell you that age is extremely important. If you are either displaying radios or selling them, it's imperative to know when it was made.

Some antique dealers (but not all of them) either exaggerate a set's age or simply guess through ignorance, usually favouring earlier dates out of convenience in order to get a better price. Because of this you, as a potential buyer, needs to know that the shopkeeper is giving you the right information. It is your right to dispute the age if they quote it incorrectly, though I have to say, through experience, it is often a waste of time because the dealer will insist they are right as most of them are older than the buyers and are therefore supposedly in a better position to know the age of a set. In fairness to the trade though, I do know alot of antique dealers that do discount radios because they don't know much about them and don't want to be challenged on details offered about a set or that they'd prefer to shift stock more quickly to keep customers coming back. It is these people I prefer to deal with when buying and selling. At the other end of the scale I see radios on shelves that have been there almost the whole time I have been collecting radios and that is a shame. A valuable vintage radio receiver on an antique dealers shelf lies there unappreciated and lost in time rather than being in a collector's realm, dusted weekly and played about as often or more.

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