This is the second of a two-part series which addresses the why, how, and what of building your own radio collector's library. In this article, I'll talk about advertising, magazines, and picture and price guide books.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of radio collecting is the esthetic side. The diversity of radio design and appearance is amazing. Radios began as technical or laboratory equipment with little or no thought about appearance. I find it interesting that modern electronics have mostly come full circle and now resemble lab or experimental equipment with all black faces and a full array of knobs, dials (albeit digital), and buttons.
A library can be built' which documents radio progress and evolution, marketing efforts, and manufacturer-generated information. There are many sources for this data:
The popular Bunis books are very helpful if you don't put too much faith in the pricing. Likewise, "Radiomania's Guide to Tabletop Radios" lists prices of dubious value, but has pictures of unusual and less common radios. Two warnings about modern books: frequently the model numbers and dates are incorrect or aren't listed at all; and sometimes the pictures show cabinets that have terrible, non-original refinish jobs (such as "Evolution of the Radio, Volume 2"). I like to thumb through someone else's book before I buy it. That little trick has saved me the expense of buying a book I didn't like or otherwise had some major fault in it.
Newspapers, catalogues, and magazines from the 20's, 30's, 40's, and 50's provide original sources of information, including retail prices, model numbers, years of production, and original appearances. One of my most prized ads is a full-page Atwater Kent ad from the December, 1924 "Ladies' Home Journal." Ads of various sizes and detail appear in almost all the major magazines of the day, especially the issues before Christmas. Sears, Wards, and Allied published elaborate catalogues with radios.
Many collectors have been able to locate dealer brochures and displays. These are usually somewhat rare and relatively pricey since they were considered trash after the selling season changed and were then burned or sent to the dump. Some of the RCA and GE manuals had pictures of the models. Many Sams have pictures as well. This information gives a definite fix on the year and model.
As far as videos and the Internet, these relatively new media make it possible to see and learn about (and even hear! ) huge collections that we may never get to see in person. In addition, these can serve as instructional and historical tools. Speaking of videos, have you ever watched for radios in old movies? Has anyone seen the Sparton Bluebird in the "Godfather?" Old radio club newsletters often contain interesting articles and give a nostalgic look at collecting in the 60's and 70's. They also give the names and addresses of older collectors who by now may be deceased or no longer collecting There may be significant collections of radios and related material waiting to be liquidated (remember, however, to be ethical. Most of our collections will end up like that). The collective wisdom and knowledge of ourselves and our predecessors are contained in the old articles and stories.
How you build your "fun" library is up to you. For most of us, more is not enough. We like to read and learn about radios. We like to know what could be out there. I wonder how many ignorant collectors walk right past a valuable set because he/she doesn't recognize it. It's true that many volumes are nothing more than dream or wish books. But for diehard collectors, we eat it up!