Old-fashioned wood-case tube radios are available from Paul Sanders Vintage Radios. Sanders himself finds the radios at flea markets and other sites, and restores the finishes, the electrical components and cleans the fabric, and in some cases replaces the paper backing that covered the back of table models.
Unique models can be pricey. The New York Times offers several of Paul Sander's radios, including a Silvertone Chairside Radio made in 1937, that doubles as a table, and costs $2,875.
Like other fine furniture, the radios were a mix of solid wood and veneer, frequently cherry and walnut, so restoration is a careful process. How does Sander choose which ones to sell?
"Its a bit hard to quantify, but in radios from the 1930's, it's the ones that almost everyone, including non enthusiasts, agree have eye appeal, or just great design," he says. "I have an affinity for the wooden cabinets, especially with more obscure veneer combinations, and more daring touches, such as fins and louvers."
Radio designs that excelled were not just from the big firms.
"I seek out the radios that have the best design from the Golden Age of radio," Sanders says. "Its not always the most expensive, or the best performing model. Often they came from small companies struggling to compete. The independence of design is very often missing from today's mass produced and mass marketed items."
Big suppliers like Philco were extremely careful in their radio cabient production quality control. Stan Watkins, a noted radio and antiques restorer, shared this letter to dealers from Philco. Written in 1951, the steps for consistency still resonate:
Staining begins only after the cabinet has been completely sanded. Stains used by Philco are made of the most unusual and expensive dyes, non-resistant, and of the type that penetrate deeply into the wood fibers so that the color remains unchanging throughout the years.
Dried over night, the stained cabinet is then sprayed with a very thin coat of crystal clear lacquer, allowed to dry and again delicately sanded, before it receives a coat of filler which makes its surface even smoother. Applied in quantity, the filler is wiped off across the grain with a special Philco material called "tow" -- a form of seaweed - until the surface is clean and dry. After drying for a minimum of 16 hours the cabinet is ready for the sealer, a specially developed lacquer, which contributes toughness and long life to the cabinet finish and prevents the finish from chipping. After the sealer has dried, the cabinet is again sanded lightly.
A coat of sealer is applied to the entire cabinet both inside and out as well. This is a great deterring factor against warpage as the wood of the cabinet is sealed against moisture both inside and out.
Now the cabinet gets its first coat of final lacquer containing a form of silica which cuts down excess gloss giving the finished cabinet a deep, luxuriant tone. Again the cabinet is allowed to dry, receives a final coat of finish lacquer, dried again, hand-rubbed, sanded, and rubbed again to remove any minute scratches and to bring up the polish. The cabinet is then ready for packing. The finishing of blonde cabinets requires even more processes and more time than ordinary mahogany. Philco's bleaching process, an alkali-peroxide solution 10 times more powerful than that in domestic use, preserves the natural beauty of the fine woods. It is applied three, four or five times, depending upon the response of the wood, each time being sponged off, dried, washed and allowed to dry again for 24 hours. It is then sanded and sprayed with a mild, clear coloring to give tone to the wood before it follows the regular mahogany cabinets through Philco's standard finishing operations.
To maintain a uniform finish during a season's production, each additional quantity of finishing material purchased is tested by the Philco Furniture Engineering Department to be sure that it meets the original specifications established as desirable for a given item. Some of the tests involve color, application, viscosity, drying time, toughness-adhesion, moisture print resistance, cold check resistance, and solvent resistance
These radios looked great, then and now, because of design, says Sanders.
"Competition for the radio market pushed makers to do anything to set their radios apart and the simplest way to achieve this was through cabinet design," Sanders says.
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