1936 Sparton model 506 "Bluebird"
Table radio, green mirror (replica, mfg. 1996)

I don't go in much for replicas of old radios, for the most part. I have a replica of a Philco model 90 in my bathroom, which I listen to every morning as I'm showering. But I don't consider it particularly collectible (I wouldn't mind getting a real Model 90, though!)

This one's different. I'm a huge fan of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne design, and the radio manufactured in 1936 by the Sparks-Withington Company of Jackson, Michigan is one of the pinnacles of Art Deco-style industrial design in the 1930s. The "Bluebird" was designed by Walter Dorwin Teague and originally had a blue mirror, although apparently a few models were made with peach/gold or green mirrors. These radios were not cheap. I remember reading somewhere that in the 30s you could buy a car for what one of these radios cost. An authentic, original Bluebird can cost between $3,000 and $5,000 nowadays.

This replica was made by the Thomas Company in 1996, and is absolutely breathtaking. Of course, the electronics were updated to reflect current radio technology; it's AM/FM and even has a little cassette slot on the side. But except for one minor difference (black feet on the original, chromed-plastic feet on the replica), this is a dead ringer for the original Bluebird. The replicas were manufactured with blue, green or gold mirrors, and I opted for the green one. The blue ones are more "common", and I like green better anyway. The mirror is a whopping 16" in diameter, two inches larger than the original Bluebird. It looks and sounds great. Unfortunately, even these are getting scarce; they're not made anymore, and they're being snatched up by both radio and Art Deco collectors. I bought mine from Sam Juliano of Groundstrike Collectibles -- who knows, he might have one or two left. Image is 50K.

Picture of Sparton
Here's an article on Art Deco Radios from the archives of Antique Radio Classified, the bible of radio collecting magazines. Also, have a look at the single most coveted and most expensive of all Art Deco radios -- the Sparton model 1186, called the "Nocturne". The mirror was 46" in diameter! Rarest of the rare, this radio sells for over $25,000 today.

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Chuck Taggart   (e-mail chuck)