Tickling the Crystal: Domestic British Crystal Sets of the 1920s
By Ian L. Sanders
REVIEWED BY HOWARD STONE
How can an author who lives in California write a definitive book on British crystal sets? Ian L. Sanders, author of Tickling the Crystal: Domestic British Crystal Sets of the 1920s, may be a Californian now, but he was born in the United Kingdom and moved to America as an adult.
Ian's interest in antique radios began in 1974 when he bought his first wireless set in an antique shop in Cardiff, Wales. He focused on crystal sets early on -- they were cheap then -- and over the years, he amassed a number of important British crystal sets. He also gathered many materials on the subject, and these, along with his crystal set collection, set the stage for this new book.
Tickling the Crystal: Domestic British Crystal Sets of the 1920s was not written as a complete documentation of British crystal sets but rather to represent, the author writes, "the most complete compilation of material related to the subject yet assembled." After about 40 pages of written material on a number of subjects, the remaining 180 pages are devoted to pictures of crystal sets.
Some of the topics covered in the opening pages are the following: a history of the crystal set era, cabinet styles, the post-office registration scheme, crystal/valve receivers, and crystal set amplifiers. The final twenty pages of the book are appendixes. They include such items as a list of manufacturers and the names of their models, post office registration numbers, some sample circuit diagrams of crystal sets, and so forth.
When I talked to Ian Sanders about the book, he said there were two reasons that he had written the book: first, because no detailed book on British crystal sets existed, and second, because he wanted to give back to the hobby some of what he had gained from it.
A word needs to be said about the photographs by Carl Glover, a graphics designer and photographer. The photographs in Tickling the Crystal are of the highest quality, unlike those in a number of old radio books that often are snapshots by nonprofessionals. With few exceptions, each page of this book features a picture of one crystal set along with a very brief description of the set. Meticulous, accurate identification of a particular set is made possible by the fine details in the photos -- a quality especially useful to non-UK residents who are not as familiar with most of these sets.
After I had written a series of articles on British Crystal sets for A.R.C. back in 1986-1987, I received a number of requests for the identification of sets. In about one-quarter to one-half of the British crystal sets I looked at, I discovered something that was not right -- some part that had been changed from the original. The sharp, clear pictures in Tickling the Crystal will make it easier for readers not only to identify but also to evaluate the correctness of a British set on the spot when they come across one.
Of course there is a down side to the large pictures (each page is 81/2 x 12 inches). The book is not as comprehensive as it could have been if there were more pictures on each page. Seven British crystal sets that I own were not covered in the book. In fact, I discovered one crystal set in my collection that was not even listed in Appendix II cataloging the post office registration numbers.
Book reviews are usually about what reviewers would have done if they had written the book. I am glad I did not write this book because it is obvious that much work has gone into it. I should say that I am on the whole very pleased with Tickling the Crystal: Domestic British Crystal Sets of the 1920s. Before I saw the book, I had already decided to purchase it. It fills a much-needed gap in the literature of early wireless in the UK, although it is not of much use for those who collect only American crystal sets.
What would I like to see in Tickling the Crystal that isn't there? First, I would like more citations. Over the years, A.R.C., the Bulletin of the British Vintage Wireless Society, and other publications have published a number of articles on specific crystal sets. Since the information on most sets is limited, a reference to other works that have discussed or illustrated each set would be useful to collectors who not only want to have a particular set on their shelves but want to know more about it.
Even though I like the large, detailed pictures of the book, I would prefer to have a wider treatment of the subject and a larger number of British Crystal sets pictured and described. The good news is that in a conversation with the author, he indicated that a second volume is in the works, which should answer this mild complaint.
Finally, and this is a strictly personal preference, I like to take a book along with me when I am searching out vintage wireless. This one is large and weighs three pounds -- a lot to carry in one's back pocket. A paperback edition that is lighter and costs less than the over $60 price tag would be a good idea.
If you have any interest in the subject, buy this book. You will find it a joy to look at and an invaluable aid in the identification of many British crystal sets.
Tickling the Crystal: Domestic British Crystal Sets of the 1920s, available in hard cover, has 256 pages, 32 in full color. It may be ordered from the publisher Bentomel Publications, Finchcroft, TN2 5PE Kent, Tel. (01892) 543505, e-mail BentomelBooks@aol.com, for $65 U.S. with shipping, and from A.R.C. for $64.95 with free shipping to U.S. addresses.
(Howard Stone, Brite Divinity School, TCU Box 279130, Fort Worth, TX 76110)