Vintage Zenith Tube Radios
Vintage Zenith tube radios are radios produced by the American Zenith Radio Corporation from the 1920s up until 1960, using vacuum tubes rather than transistors.
The company was established in 1919 by Ralph H.G. Mathews and Karl Hassel as the ‘Chicago Radio Laboratory’ (CRL). They began life producing receivers for amateur radio enthusiasts, but found success in the early 1920s when Eugene F. McDonald, Jr. became a partner in the business.
McDonald had made his fortune in automobile financing before the First World War, and instantly recognized the potential for radios after purchasing a set from CRL. He quickly used his business expertise and financial backing to grow the company, and by 1924 CRL had become the Zenith Radio Corporation with its own factory in Chicago.
The company established itself as a manufacturer of high-end radios with innovative and stylish designs, a reputation that would continue for many years. After adapting to the economic depression by developing a ranger of cheaper radios known as the 'Zenette' range, it returned to top of the line designs during the mid 1930s.
The next decade marked what many collectors have described as the high point of Zenith radios. During this period it launched its now-trademark 'Big Black Dial', the 'Robot Dial', the detachable "Wavemagnet" loop antenna for portable radios and their iconic line of "Transoceanic" multiband portable models which remained in production until 1981.
During its time Zenith produced a number of notable and important models, many of which are highly sought after by collectors today. These include:
- Zenith Companion (1924) – widely regarded as the first ‘true’ portable radio, only 1,000 were manufactured with 600 returned to the factory as “unsatisfactory”.
- Zenith Super 27 (1926) – the company’s first radio to run on a domestic AC current
- Zenith Stratosphere Model 1000Z (1935) – the first radio to feature the company’s Trademark ‘Big Black Dial’
Collecting Zenith tube radios
Zenith tube radios are popular with collectors due to their often innovative technical features and superb styling, often featuring cases inspired by periods such as Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Georgian and Louis XV.
Perhaps the most sought after Zenith model for collectors is the Zenith Stratosphere Model 1000Z, produced between 1935 and 1938. There are currently only 40 known examples, making it one of the rarest vintage radios of any kind.
Zenith are known for their models featuring the ‘Big Black Dial’ showing the tuning frequencies, and these models are subsequently highly popular with collectors. Working models dating from the mid 1930s up until around 1960 can sell for between $400 and $600 in good condition.
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