Novelty Radio Handbook
By Debby Weaver
Reviewed By Paul R. Farmer
Debby Weaver teamed up with Schiffer Publishing to create this tribute to father-in-law Ray Weaver's collection of modern, solid-state, novelty radios. Novelty Radio Handbook is the fourth collector's guide to be published in this category since 1990.
There are over 600 transistor novelty radios from Ray Weaver's collection pictured, and the quality of most of the photography is excellent. It will be a useful supplement to the three volumes authored in the 1990s on this subject by Robert Breed and Marty Bunis. Even with the 1,600 photographs in those previous books, some of the radios in the Weaver book are bound to be outside the experience of all but the most ardent novelty radio collectors. For collectors, there are never enough published photographs of radios.
The Weaver book clearly borrows its format and look from the Breed-Bunis collaborations published by Collector Books, Schroeder Publishing. As in those books, the radios are grouped into chapters based upon useful topical categories; there is an index to help the reader hunt down a specific set; and the captions include an estimated range of retail value.
My primary disappointments in Weaver's Handbook are the same ones I have with many radio collector picture-book price guides: There is very little information in the form of text, and the prices do not reflect my experience in the marketplace.
When I examine a book like this, I invariably hunger for more information about collecting the topic radios. A collector's guide should reflect greater depth of research on the history of the collecting area, the manufacturers, the origin of themes and designs, the marketing approaches and consumer perspectives, the cultural significance of the genre, and the importance of both the whole subject and specific sets to collectors.
The earlier books by Breed and Bunis did a better job of putting novelty radios in commercial, technological, and collecting context. In addition, the authors went to greater lengths to identify sponsoring companies, countries of manufacture, and marketing distributors. None of the books, including Weaver's, list dates of manufacture or original prices, and none cover set advertising, packaging, and ephemera.
The collector market for novelty transistor radios crashed in the late 1990s. Estimated values in the Weaver book do not sufficiently reflect the drastic downward adjustment of prices that resulted from a decline in the number of active buyers. As with any price guide, the reader should take a very skeptical approach and rely entirely upon his or her own experience.
So, should you add this new book to your library? The main thing you need to ask yourself is, are you interested in modern novelty transistor radios? If you are, you should buy this book, even though it will set you back $30. Also, I am a believer in having every radio collector book close at hand. If you deal in vintage radios or communicate regularly with other collectors, having the book will put you, literally, on the same page.
But if you do not own any of the novelty radio collector guides, begin with the Breed-Bunis books; they will give you a better start in this collecting area, will cost you two-thirds the price of the Weaver book, and will very likely be out of print and generally unavailable far sooner than the Weaver book.
Transistor novelty radio collecting was not a high-interest collecting area prior to the publication of the Breed-Bunis books. The collecting area gained momentum during the early 1990s as a result of those books and the Marty Bunis monthly publication, Transistor Network. Interest in the genre waned in the late 1990s. Will it catch fire again as a result of the Weaver book? I doubt it. Been there, done that.
Novelty Radio Handbook is available in an 81/2" x 11" soft cover format.
(Paul R. Farmer, Time Out of Mind Radio, PO Box 352, Washington, VA 22747)
Paul Farmer collects early Japanese and American transistor radios, colorful plastic radios of all kinds, mint National communications receivers, a few early battery sets, consumer hi-fi equipment from the 1950s and 60s, and a wide range of rare and obscure radios. His definitive article on the development and collecting of the world's first transistor radio, the Regency TR-1, recently appeared as the lead article in "AWA Review 17." His articles on transistor radios and other subjects appear regularly in "Radio Age," the monthly vintage radio journal of the Mid-Atlantic Antique Radio Club.