The exact monetary value of any vintage or antique radio is difficult to state. Like most things in the marketplace, a radio's value is only what someone is willing to pay when you go to sell it. And that price is typically affected by a number of factors such as the supply, nostalgia, and the buyer's familiarity and attraction to the technology involved.
Often desirability is determined by childhood memories of the sets that were in the home. In the latter part of the last century, many collectible sets dated from the 1920’s and 1930’s. Then as time moved on so did the preferred era: first to the 1940’s, then through the 1950s to the 1960’s.
Or collectability may be affected by the space available to house the objects. As floor space in homes and apartments decreased, only the most hardened collectors and/or technically-minded remained interested in the larger wooden cabinet models.
Changes in technology that decrease the item's perceived utility can also play a role. The electronics of communications changed enormously over the 20th Century, and even more so recently with the advent of the internet. These resulted in a vastly-reduced the number of radio stations broadcasting on either the Broadcast and Shortwave bands. At the same time, radio interference (buzzing, hissing, and other unwanted sounds) caused by computers, various Smart devices, and LED lights has greatly increased since the days when radios were the kings of entertainment.
All of these factors can combine to reduce the perceived usefulness of a vintage radio - and value - to many prospective buyers. However, collectors, lovers of vintage electronics, and those who simply remember them being used, continue to purchase and collect a wide range of antique radios. So how do you go about getting a realistic price?
Several guides on pricing are currently available, e.g. ‘Collector’s Guide to Antique Radios’, by John Slusser. These can be consulted to get some idea of the value of your radio. But remember that cited prices only suggest the value for when and where the guide was published and tend to be optimistic. Check yours or similar makes and models on eBay and Google, but note selling (not asking) prices, to reflect reality better. And temper your expectations with the factors mentioned above and others summarized below.
Demand: Is your radio collectable?
- Size: As already noted, there is little demand currently for large (console) radios as they take up lots of space, are heavy and sometimes difficult to move. Smaller styles like mantle, cathedral, and tombstone tend to fetch higher prices unless the larger radio is rare and/or considered high-end for its time.
- Popularity: Some types of plastic-cased sets (e.g. those made from ‘Catalin’) are extremely collectible and can fetch hundreds or even thousands of dollars if in first-class condition or rare styles or colours. Conversely, even minor defects can detract considerably from the price.
- Uniqueness: Does your radio appear to be a high-end or rare model? Does it possess features like a chrome-plated chassis, large dial, many knobs, tuning eye? More than a dozen tubes on the chassis may indicate that the model was likely high end. Does it belong to a specialized market such as for communications receivers. High end quality and rarity can increase the selling price.
- Availability: Are many of that make/model for sale? Check on eBay and Google it to get an idea of how common the make/model is and sold prices.
Condition: In what shape is your radio?
[CAVEAT: if you have not already done so, do not switch ON the radio to test it! - some old electronic parts may fail immediately or in short-order and, for example, a shorted circuit resulting from this can result in significant damage that can seriously reduce the value of the radio. Have someone with the proper equipment and knowledge to do this safely, check it for you.]
- Functionality: Does your radio work? Sets are usually worth more if they work, but often it is not that critical, especially to a collector or restorer, as almost anything can be made to work again in the right hands. Most common tubes and electronic parts can be sourced today at reasonable cost. For tube or early semiconductor sets, cosmetics, completeness and originality (no modifications or botched repairs) are the biggest price-determining factors related to the condition of the set itself.
- Completeness: are there parts missing – particularly major uniquely manufactured parts, e.g. knobs, scale, dial mechanism, tuning dial, gears, transformers and tuning capacitor? The more complete the set is, the better.
- Physical state: Is there severe rust on the chassis/cabinet, dented panels, rot, scratches/scuffs, broken dial/escutcheon, signs of internal modifications, damage, burning or melted tar, components or wires; holes drilled in the chassis/fingerplate/cabinet, evidence of rodent or insect activity? The more original and cleaner the set the higher the price it can command.
Location: Where's your radio relative to the buyer?
- Local vs. Online: if someone local is interested in the set, that person's best offer may well determine price unless you are willing to make the extra effort to sell the set on the internet (e.g. on eBay), where prices realized tend to be significantly higher than for sets sold locally.
- Shipping: When making your plan, make sure you include the effort and cost you'll have to expend to reach a buyer. Don't forget about shipping as applied to the radio you are selling. A large, bulky item such as a console radio or one that contains many delicate parts demand special attention and effort. Will the effort and cost of packing and shipping such an item and the very real risks involved with shipping discourage buyers - and yourself?
Additional Tips for Price Setting
- Check out local garage sales, locally-focussed websites, e.g. Craigslist, Kijiji. Ask a local collector. Ask if local vintage and/or ham radio club exist and seek advice from them.
- Check out organizations such as the SPARC radio museum, and vintage radio forums that have buy-sell pages. Many, like Antique Radio Forum and the UK Vintage Radio Forum will let you solicit input regarding your set's value. (Some even let you post an advert for its sale.)
- If considering an auction house or other agency, don’t forget the commission the auction site takes as well as possible ‘hassle factors’ involved in such a sale.
- Estimate what you think is the average price for a radio such as yours taking into account the factors above and where/how you plan to sell it.
[A downloadable PDF file on this topic can be obtained by clicking on this link.]