My Collection of Old Radios and Electrical Test Equipment

Introduction

I have been collecting old radios, electrical and electronic test equipment over many years. Three or four of the items belonged to my father who was a Radio Ham, others have been given to me by family members and some have been bought at junk shops. However, many have been given to me by owners who had no further use for them but would like them cared for and remembered rather than consigned to a skip. 

I now have a collection of over 120 radios and more than 100 pieces of test equipment.

As a New Year's Resolution in January 2001 I decided to give my collection the care and attention it deserved. The first step was to catalogue it and take photographs. The next was (with my son in law's encouragement) to produce this website which now attracts many visitors. Since my retirement I have had more time to spend on my passion and, as can be seen from this picture of part of my collection, I now have space to display them.

My passion

As an engineer I have always been interested in getting to know how things work and, if they don't, doing my best to mend them. I feel that today we tend to live in a 'throw-away society' and many people forget or perhaps never even think about the people who designed and made the things they use everyday. How is it that most of us would never think of consigning a piece of artwork to the refuse bin but would not hesitate to dispose of out-of-date technology in the same way?

Unlike a picture or an ornament, radios almost come alive. We invite them into our homes where they talk to us, keeping us in touch with the outside world at times of momentous challenge, providing education and entertainment as well as company for the lonely and isolated. I know from the emails I receive that I am not alone in actually having an emotional attachment to a particular radio.

As a child I grew up during the Second World War and this Burndept radio that my father purchased in 1938 was constantly on; it was my friend when I was alone and my parents were busy. Before he died my father said he would like me to have it. I wondered afterwards if he knew how attached I had been to it as a five year old, so this radio together with a few more items became one of the founding members of my collection. Back in 1983 it worked well but sometime later was showing signs of age, therefore needed an overhaul with the replacement of perished wiring and some dead components.

One of the most recent additions to my collection was given to me by a lady who wrote: 'I have an old radio which was a twenty-first birthday present to me from my parents. I put it out for the dustmen, reluctantly, the other day but my husband said "bring it in and think again", knowing I felt upset about chucking it.' Now cleaned and repaired it joins others made by the same manufacturer.

I feel it is a privilege to look after and care for an item that has been someone's treasured possession which sadly perhaps no longer works or has been replaced by something more modern. The inclusion of pictures and descriptions on my website provides a means for them to view their old radio knowing that it lives on.

The pictures below are of one of six radios that belonged to someone who could not bear to throw things away but did not get round to mending them! This Cossor model 365 dating from 1935 was quite a challenge; it had been a home for mice and wasps but I got great satisfaction from its refurbishment. The centre picture shows how it was and the other two how it is today. My aim is to bring each item up to the state that a reasonably proud owner would have kept it. I take the view that 'if it is not broken, don't fix it' and only change the components required to get it working well enough. The cabinet on this one was cleaned and polished, the metal chassis was cleaned and some of the wiring and components were changed.

I devote a single page on my website to each radio or piece of test equipment that comes my way, I like to describe and show what I have done to them and to include (where I can) some history about each item. Many of the manufacturers of the items in my collection no longer exist or have been subsumed into larger monolithic companies with little interest in their past. If I can find catalogue details or references to a particular firm or model this would be included. Sometimes people who have worked for a specific firm provide information which I am only to pleased to include when I update the webpage.

The internet is a most valuable source of information and I feel that my efforts in providing a free source of information is a good opportunity to repay in some small way for the use that I have made of it.

My collection spans over eighty years from crystal sets to a modern digital radio. Over this period the technology has evolved enormously and the actual construction methods have altered well beyond the imagination of the 1920's manufacturers. I am fascinated by the gradual changes in design, the false starts and short lived innovations.

As I mentioned in the introduction I also collect many pieces of electrical test equipment including meters, signal generators, resistance bridges etc. This little German multimeter given to me by my father back in 1960 was the first item in my instrument collection. Soon after I acquired an insulation tester and then a second hand AVO meter. The collection gradually got larger over the years as I was offered redundant measuring equipment from firms and people who were going to scrap it. More recently I have been gifted some 50 items from another collector and have spent many happy hours investigating their workings, repairing what I could and describing them on my website for others to see.

Visitors to my website will also see that I am reluctant to say no to a piece of vintage technology for there can also be found calculators and telephones. Here are two that I feel are most interesting:

Anita Transistor desktop calculator. Made by Bell Punch Co. in 1970. This was a very advanced calculator for its time but was very rapidly superseded by the advent of the integrated circuit. This wall mounted phone (I have two) was made by Peel Conner who started business in 1896 in Manchester. Subsequently the firm was acquired by GEC in 1910 and it seems that manufacture continued at the Telephone Works in Coventry.

Apart from my fascination with the inner workings of technology and my wish to share my interest with others, one of the things that gives me encouragement is the response I get from visitors to my website. Many ask for advice, some send me information and others congratulate me on the site and say they enjoy the memories it provokes.