VOLUME 14 SEPTEMBER 1997 NUMBER 9
The Modernola Delano Sheraton:WEB EDITION
A Thoroughly Modern Modernola
BY THEODORE P. DEPTO
From Antique Radio Classified
(Copyright 1997 by John V. Terrey - For personal use only.)
Ted Depto's story of his unexpected find of a Delano Sheraton radio, ca. 1920s, in beautiful condition is a lesson to us all. Never dismiss the potential of a seemingly innocuous auction ad. You may find one of your greatest treasures. (Editor)
Just when you think all of the good, early radios have been located, an event comes along to prove otherwise. Such was my good fortune when I noticed an auction ad in the local daily paper. Midway in a 7" advertisement for a two-day auction, I noticed the listing of a "Delano Sheraton" battery radio. I thought it was a misprint and really meant "Delco or Detrola." However, I decided to check it out anyway since I previously had found a Philco 90 cathedral at an auction whose ad read simply, "A Philco table radio."
The auction was held on a Friday and Saturday with the radios, furniture and larger items scheduled for Saturday. The location in an upscale section of Westmont Boro, a suburb of the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was about 25 miles from my home. Upon arriving in the early morning with my chair and umbrella (there was a threat of rain), I noticed many out-of-state license plates and assumed the auction would be rather heated since quality items were being offered.
Figure 1. Front view of the Delano Sheraton ca. 1926.
Figure 2. The Modernola Company factory, Johnstown, Pa., as it stands today
Previewed were two nice Stromberg-Carlson consoles, ca. 1938 one with a record player and the other in a custom cabinet of Chippendale design. Also in this display were several unused Corbett radio cabinets.
Then I saw the Delano Sheraton sitting on a low table next to the fireplace in one of the larger rooms. Its doors were closed, and at first glance, it appeared to be only a fancy sewing cabinet or maybe a dinner utensil cabinet. Sure enough, it was a Delano Sheraton with five 01-As. Best of all, it was built right there in Johnstown by the Modernola Company, and it was in superb condition, as shown in Figure 1.
I decided to bid whatever it would take to acquire this desirable radio. Since many people expressed interest in the radio now that the doors were open, I anticipated some serious competition. When the radio came up for bid, I started at half a hundred, and it went from there. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to have bought the radio at a much better price than I had projected. My guess is that most of the auction attendees who showed an interest in the Modernola did so out of curiosity and because it was displayed with other quality items. These people, however, did not grasp the significance of this find.
THE MODERNOLA COMPANY
According to my research (with the assistance of the Johnstown Public Library), the Modernola Company originally formed as a business venture to make phonographs and console talking machines. It was incorporated on April 29, 1874, with an initial capital stock of $10,000.
The principals of the company were H.M. Farr, Guy McCormick, and D.H. Wendell. It is uncertain where the company was first located perhaps on Stony Street; however, the 1922 and 1923 Johnstown business directory, page 743, lists the location of the Modernola Company at 105 Station Street in the city's Ferndale section.
The building, as shown in Figure 2, still stands. I could find no existing records showing the year the company began to build radio receiving sets or production figures.
It is unclear whether the Modernola Company failed due to the stock crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed or due to market pressures that closed the company. What is clear is that the company, noted for its round phonographs with a lamp and shade built in, made a novel departure from traditionally-designed phonographs of the day.
McMahon's Radio Collectors' Guide 1921-1932 lists the "Delano," the "Sheraton" and a "Caddy" as 1926 models. The Delano sold for $135, while the Caddy sold for $50, and the Delano Sheraton sold for $75. An advertisement from the Dec. 18, 1926, Johnstown Tribune shows four models in the Modernola line. My radio is identified as a Delano Sheraton A-1. Also shown are two highboy models the Delano B2 and Delano B3 and a table model the Delano Sheraton B2.
THE DELANO SHERATON
I am not certain whether any other Delano radios are still in existence, but I am certain that this radio was produced in some quantity; perhaps other styles are yet to be found. Although I have collected radios for some time now, until this auction, I had never heard of a radio named "Delano."
A quality radio throughout, the Delano Sheraton is a 5-tube TRF, not unlike other radios of the period. The dimensions of the cabinet are 18" x 15" x 13 3/4". It boasts a built-in Utah horn.
The radio's tuning range is 500 kHz to 1400 kHz. Tuning is accomplished by two variable capacitors and a variocoupler. There are inverted vacuum tubes in the underside of the radio also. The battery terminals are located at the rear apron of the chassis. Storage space is provided for all batteries except for the 6-volt storage battery.
The beautifully engraved front panel and the well balanced design make this radio one of my greatly prized possessions. There is no serial number stamped on the chassis; however, there is a chalk mark inscribed in the bottom frame of the cabinet indicating that the radio number might be 00037.
I can just imagine adjusting the selector on the Delano Sheraton in the 1920s and hearing the opera rebroadcast every Saturday evening at 8 over Station WHCB located in Johnstown. In its day, the Delano Sheraton was certainly "a thoroughly modern Modernola!"
Additional Pennsylvania manufacturers of radios and related items:
Pennsylvania Wireless Company Equitable Radio Company, Hughesville, Pa.
Keller-Fuller Co., Pittsburgh, Pa.
Corbett Cabinet Works, St. Mary's, Pa.
Hamburg Bros., Pittsburgh, Pa.
Radio Apparatus Co., Pottsville, Pa.
C. R. Leutz Co., Altoona, Pa.
Cambria Co. Deed Book (Incorporation D. B. 80), p. 603.
JACO News Flyer. Johnstown Automobile Company, October 1926.
Johnstown Tribune, Johnstown, Pa., Jan. 14, 1922, p.14; Dec. 18, 1926.
McMahon, Morgan E., Ed. Radio Collector's Guide 1921-1932, revised edition. Palos Verdes Peninsula, Calif.: Vintage Radio, p. 119.
(Theodore P. Depto, 913 Fifth Ave., Patton, PA 16668)
Ted Depto, a registered professional engineer in three states, is a consultant in engineering design. Involved in radio for most of his life, he has an extensive collection of cathedral and early battery radios, but admits to a fondness for Philco. He holds a General Class Radiotelephone License which dates back to his service with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in the Korean conflict.