Listen to That Radio, Mister
by Bob Brooke
been going through old boxes filled with junk that have sat in
my attic for years. In the process, I came across several old
transistor radios, all of which work. Are these collectible? And
are they of any value?
Transistor radios were the first
common electronic device to be downsized. Today, we take miniaturization
for granted and have radio broadcasts and music at our fingertips on
multiple devices. But when transistor radios first came on the scene,
the modern age for many had begun.
Once a worthless, "modern" radio, the transistorized radio has become
the foremost radio-related collectible. In the late 1980s, most
transistor radios would be left on a dealer's table for $25 or less.
Today, many of those same sets cost $50 to $250.
The Regency TR-1, the first transistor radio, introduced for the 1954
Christmas season, could have been bought in 1990 for about $100. Three
years later, most TR-1s sold for about $300, and certain rare colors
sold for several times that amount. But the market for transistor radios
can be volatile. The Zenith 500H, a larger radio from 1957, sold for
about $125 to $200. Not only is the styling of the 500H interesting, but
the sound is better than many tube-type radios. However, quite a few
500H radios surfaced, so 500H radios often go unsold or for very low
transistor radios, those shaped like an item or product, started the
transistor collecting craze, but few have ever broken the $200 mark.
Most sell for $10 to $50
while early transistors have at least doubled in price.
Although some collectors enjoy both the novelty and the early
shirt-pocket transistor radios, most collectors have specialized.
Dealers generally deal in one type or the but often will cross the line
if an interesting transistor shows up, at a good price, that’s outside
their normal selling expertise.
you’re considering collecting or dealing in novelty transistors, you can
find early generic examples from the United States and Japan, like the
derringer, rocket ship, and owl, or you can look for product-specific
transistors like the Tropicana Orange, Mork from Ork TV-inspired set,
and the Planters Peanuts can. Generally the typical bottle-, can-, and
animal-shaped radios sell for under $25, while the early and interesting
household item-shaped sets sell under $75.
Collecting novelty transistor radios has an added advantage that even
sets made in the 1990s quickly become collectibles of some value.
Although Polaroid 600 Film radios and Coca-Cola can radios have swamped
the market, many other recent product and shape transistors had limited
in production, and are often sought after by collectors just weeks or
months after being sold-out. The Helping Hand, (the Hamburger Helper
character), and Master Pad-lock transistor novelties are only two of
many recent sets that collectors are after.
can assemble a good collection consisting of about 50 radios in a
variety of shapes, sizes, colors and types can be put together for under
$1,000. These can be easily picked up at many flea markets, some antique
shops and radio meets. While many collectors look for 1960s-made sets of
interestingly shaped items, don't ignore the 1970s and 1980s
product-type sets, especially if they’re clean or boxed.
novelty radios in the box are often twice the price of clean, but used,
sets. Manufacturers made most of these novelty radios within the last 30
years, and sold or gave away tens of thousands of each variety, so
selection and availability shouldn’t be a problem. You should wait and
choose only the best examples of novelties, unlike the early transistor
radios, which appeared over 30 years ago and often saw considerable use.
People considered transistor radios to be disposable and threw many of
them away when they no longer worked.
If you’d like to start picking up the early transistors, experienced
collectors agree that you should look for nicely colored,
and complete sets and those that are small, pocket-sized if possible,
usually with a plastic or nylon case. Few of the leather sets are
popular, although some of the smaller, shirt-pocket sized leather radios
from 1955 and 1956 are bought and sold. Look for civil defense markings
on the dial. Most collectors choose AM-band only sets, although some
AM/FM sets can have a nice look.
After the release of the Regency TR-1, Raytheon, Bulova, Sonora,
Mitchell and lots of other manufacturers started selling and shipping
transistor sets across the United States. You can collect all American
sets, Japanese and American, shirt-pocket only, or just great looking
and colorful sets from the 1950s and 1960s.
The most valuable sets today include the early Regency models,
especially in colors other than white or black, the Regency look-a-likes
by Mitchel, Sonora, Mantola and Bulova, the
plastic sets, and the solar powered radios by Admiral and Hoff-man.
Plus, the smaller sets by Sony, both the 1950s transistor, and the 1960s
integrated circuit sets, are collected, as are the smaller AM sets by
Standard and Crown.
A collection of about 40 to 50 early transistor sets with some important
radios included, may cost you well over $2.000, unless you spend a lot
of time looking for bargains. However, if the sets are clean and
complete, they should be worth more than the typical asking prices of
today, that is if you hold your collection for a few years before
deciding to resell. Regardless of your interests, early and novelty
transistor radios are “hot,” and getting hotter and are a great item to
Back to Readers Ask Archives
Next Article >