Ralph G. Thorn Estate Auction
Burbank, Ohio -- May 18, 2002
REPORTED BY JOHN V. TERREY, ESTES AUCTIONS,
JERRY VANICEK, AND LUDWELL SIBLEY
The Dr. Ralph Thorn estate auction, held by Estes Auctions in Burbank, Ohio, on May 18, 2002, drew 111 serious bidders from all over the U. S. Twenty states were represented and bids were taken from Europe and Australia. Bidding on the rarer equipment, such as Adams-Morgan, Grebe, and American Marconi, was spirited. Many items went for two and three times their presale estimates, bringing the total to over $310,000, which does not reflect the 5% buyer's premium. In short, this was the third largest auction on record, following only the Muchow auction at over a million dollars and the Ford auction at nearly one-half million.
Please note that the auction, and this report, included four items which were not a part of the Thorn estate — these items were $9,150 of the total and are marked by “†” in the listing.
Dr. Ralph Thorn, a pathologist, of Bayport, Long Island, New York, was a longtime collector, not widely known in the antique radio community. Born in 1940, he died unexpectedly from cancer a year ago. He had requested that his collection be auctioned and the proceeds donated to charity. Three charities, as well as the collectors who were able to enhance their collections, have benefited from his years of collecting activity,
Figure 1. A table of Atwater Kent breadboards, with an IP-500 looking from behind. The IP-500, along with its companion SE-1071, sold for $11,000. The Atwater Kent Model 9 with open tuners on the front left sold for $1,300, and the rare Model 4066 on the front right sold for $2,000.
Figure 2. This lineup of early Westinghouse and RCA Radiolas include, left to right, the Aeriola Jr., a crystal set; the Radiola RS, a 2-tube receiver; the Radiola AC, a 2-tube amplifier; and the Aeriola Sr., a 1-tube receiver.
The auction was very well organized and advertised. First, the location was a convenient choice, close to Cleveland, just a mile off an I-71 interchange. Richard Estes’ assistant, Bob Dobush, had single-handedly moved the collection from Long Island to Ohio. The Estes Web site showed over 100 excellent photos, enough to whet the appetites of collectors long before they left home. And several full-page ads in A.R.C. spread the word even further.
The Expo Auction Center in Burbank allowed for the 775 lots to be displayed well on tables for the 4-hour preview the night before and two hours in the morning. Another nice touch was that major pieces — that couldn’t be easily examined by opening a lid, for example — were disassembled for examination of the inside, and most looked complete and all original.
Figures 3 & 4. Only a wireless buff would appreciate the small differences between the Marconi 106-B on the top and the 106-C on the bottom. The earlier -B sold for $26,000 and the later -C sold for $22,000.
Auctioneer Richard Estes moved things along efficiently at a rate of about 100 items an hour. After the first two hours, a bidder sitting near your editor commented that it looked like $120,000 had been taken in already. Obviously, this was going to be a big one. The action was over by about 5:00 p.m. just in time for a relaxing dinner. Furthermore, buyers could pay for their purchases whenever they wished, and not wait until the end of the auction.
This auction was a battery set and wireless collector’s delight. As many of you know, your editor is an avid collector of such equipment, and Ralph Thorn’s collection paralleled his in many aspects. He looked forward to attending for that personal reason, as well as for seeing many old and new collector friends and reporting for A.R.C.
All the major collectors were either there, represented by bidders present, or by absentee bids. The bidding for unusual and rare battery sets and wireless equipment was competitive. Five items sold for over $10,000, and over 50 sold for more than $1,000. Top bids were for the Marconi 106B, selling at $26,000, and the 106C for $22,000. Wireless Specialty Apparatus items also brought high prices: an IP-500 and SE-1071, selling at 11,000, and an IP-501 at $22,000.
The Grebe CR-10 selling for $17,000, and we know of only two others, was the object of heated bidding. Other high-priced items were an Adams Morgan 2-5-U transmitter selling at $5,700 and a DeForest OT-3 at $5,500.
It is interesting, on the other hand, to compare the Thorn prices with the Muchow prices of a year ago. The Muchow WE 4B sold for $2,250, while the Thorn set brought only $900. The Westinghouse rebroadcast receiver and amplifier in this auction sold for $5,000 and for $8,000 in the Muchow auction. In general, the Thorn breadboards were lower priced, as were a number of battery sets.
Figure 5. This Clapp Eastham C-3 sold for $500.
Why the discrepancy? The reasons could be multiple. Perhaps the softening economy; perhaps the fact that Dr. Muchow was better known, and collectors had visited his museum over the years and knew what they hoped to acquire. And perhaps a comparison is really unfair. The Thorn total holds up very well, considering that the Muchow auction was more than twice its size — over 1700 items offered to about twice as many bidders.
Dr. Thorn’s had a lesser interest in tubes and paper items. Very few tube collectors were in attendance, and interest in books was also low, perhaps also since their condition was just fair to good.
Condition of equipment, however, was generally good to very good; but, in a few cases the humid Long Island environment showed its effect in the form of mildew and dampness. However, the damage was not major.
Figures 6 & 7. A number of the sets were opened up so that the potential bidders could examine the insides. The bidders must have been pleased with these two items — the NESCO CN-240 on the top, and the Grebe CR-2 on the bottom— since they sold for $7,500 and $4,500 respectively.
Another problem was that the authenticity of a couple of pieces could not be verified; e.g. although the sets were made from original parts, appeared to be manufactured with the panels showing a manufacturer and model number, the model numbers were unknown to the collectors present. In the actual auction, these items did not bring what one would expect if they had been identified. They are marked with a *. It is unfortunate that sets that are reproductions or recreations often are not marked permanently by the maker.
All in all, the auction was well run and collectors left with smiles on their faces and their cars and vans full.
Photo credits: Estes Auctions and John V. Terrey
(Estes Auctions, 7404 Ryan Rd., Medina, OH 44259, firstname.lastname@example.org; Ludwell Sibley, 102 McDonough Rd., Gold Hill, OR 97525, email@example.com; John V. Terrey, c/o A.R.C., P.O. Box 2, Carlisle, MA 01741, ARC@antiqueradio.com; Jerry Vanicek, P.O. Box 4743, Chicago, IL 60680)