Historic Radio Society of Australia
20th Anniversary Meet and Auction
Melbourne, Australia -- April 20-21, 2002
REPORTED BY RICHARD BEGBIE
Around mid-April 1982, Ray Kelly and a few others brought together maverick Aussie interests in old radio to form the Historic Radio Society of Australia (HSRA). Twenty years on, and still growing, the HRSA decided to celebrate this milestone in style. The resulting meet was an outstanding success for both attendees and the organization as a whole.
Major events on the Saturday included a flea market, auction, a display grandly called "Concours d'Elegance," and a twentieth anniversary dinner. The 100 plus who sat down to the evening dinner in a Melbourne Returned Servicemen's Club were royally wined and dined. The buzz of conversation never fell below fever pitch, reflecting better than anything the level of camaraderie and networking engendered by these events.
For many, the dinner is the highlight of such meets. Four or five speakers explored various aspects of our common passion, and prizes were presented to winners of the Concours display.
The display was an ongoing part of the weekend, being open to the public as well as members on both Saturday and Sunday. It not only celebrated pride in ownership and the careful preservation/restoration of artifacts, but also gave members a chance to have their prize pieces judged in a competitive environment.
Eleven categories saw keen competition, and, as so often happens at these events, the judges had a nearly impossible job. Eye-catchers like the 1927 Melo-Heald 14-tube kit-set (completed in 2002!) vied with more traditional pieces. In the end, top marks went to Les Janes for his immaculate work on the rebuild of a Stromberg-Carlson 501A and matching #5A floor speaker.
This extraordinary 14-tube Melo Heald "Hot Spot" kit was sold in 1927 by the Robertson-Davis Co. of Chicago to a ship's engineer who never completed the assembly. Aussie owner Dick Howarth had a magnificent walnut cabinet made for the set, and Mike Osborne completed the hookup exactly 75 years later for display at this meet. Note also the rare Fine Arts speaker behind.
Les unearthed the pair via a newspaper ad, and was dismayed to find that both radio and speaker had nourished and housed extended families of the species rattus rattus for around 60 years. The rebuild involved every aspect of the restorer's art, and a superb result saw Les justly named winner of the 1920s section and outright winner to boot.
The commerce of the weekend began with a fairly low-key flea market Saturday morning. Although some useful spares could be bought cheaply there, most of the better items had been set aside for an auction of nearly 350 lots. More than 100 bidders registered on the day, and although many of the more desirable pieces failed to make reserve, around $10,800 changed hands at the auction.
The glory days of radio production in Australia were between around 1930 and 1955, so most local auctions will boast a fair number of Bakelite mantel radios. This one was no exception. Some nicely restored examples sold cheaply on the day, although none of the higher end AWA radiolettes or coloured Bakelites emerged this time round. However, some 1930s Australian timber mantels came up for sale, with some rare ones amongst them.
Airzone, a premier Australian manufacturer of the 1930s, was unusually well represented, with one cathedral selling at $400 and a nice tombstone being knocked down at $388. A beautiful example of the rare 1932 classic #404 cathedral was passed at $675, which would have been top price for the day. The radio was sold later by private treaty.
Of interest to U.S. readers: a nice Philco 66 dual wave set sold for $163; an export (240V) Zenith (one of the 700 series) in lovely restored condition went for $325; and a clean original Amplion AR-19 horn made $250.
Many more radios were imported than were locally made during the 1920s, and few early Australian battery sets come up at these auctions. This time round, a little-known Holst Super 5 failed to reach reserve with a high bid of $165, and the Melbourne manufacturer Seyon was represented by a 2-tube regenerative set, which sold for $120.
Representative prices are quoted in the listings which follow (see print version). It is worth noting that all figures are in U.S. dollars.
(Richard Begbie, Woodend, RMB 113, Bungendore 2621, Australia. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Historical Radio Society of Australia (HRSA) has monthly meetings and publishes "Radio Waves" quarterly. Dues are $35. For more information, write: Membership Secretary, PO Box 2283, Mt. Waverly, Victoria 3149, Australia. www.cs.rmit.edu.au/-dnl/hrsa.html
This magnificent Stromberg-Carlson 501A and 5A speaker took top prize at the Concours d'Elegance.