Auction Score: a Sony ICF-SW55

Goodwill-listing

Regular SWLing Post readers know that I’m a sucker for classic solid-state portables and vintage tube radios.

What many of you may not know, however, is that I’m not a fan of auction-style bidding for radios. Those who are familiar with it will recognize the story: it begins on an optimistic note, when I find something I’m enthusiastic about.  Then the bidding war begins, and invariably, the price quickly ratchets upwards to far beyond my comfort zone.  It’s only then I find I’ve wasted my time on the entire process, and my hopes are dashed.  So it’s not a purchasing method I relish.

Therefore, despite all of the radio gear I’ve purchased over the years, I’ve only bid for a radio in an online auction perhaps three or four times.

But a couple of weeks ago, my buddy David Korchin (K2WNW)––who has a knack for finding deals on radios, and often alerts me to them––mentioned that he was bidding on a Sony ICF-SW55.

Photo of the ICF-SW55 from auction listing.

Photo of the ICF-SW55 from auction listing.

David wasn’t bidding on the popular online auction eBay––rather, he’d found this deal on ShopGoodwill.com.

A note about ShopGoodwill.com

ShopGoodwill-ScreenShot

In case you haven’t heard, ShopGoodwill.com is Goodwill Industries International’s online auction site.  Goodwill employees select exceptional donations, items they feel are worth more than typical Goodwill retail prices, and post them there for online auction.

I believe it was SWLing Post contributor, Mario Filippi, who first introduced me to ShopGoodwill.

The cool thing about ShopGoodwill is that it’s not as popular as, for example, eBay. Thus a bidder has a better chance of finding a good deal, with the added benefit that less enthusiasts will be hiking up the price with rapid bidding.

There are issues with ShopGoodwill.com, though, some of which are very off-putting:

  • Items are often poorly described, thus:
    • searching through the collection can be rather difficult
    • you often can’t trust these condition descriptions, as they’re written by someone who is clearly not an expert
    • Photos are sometimes of low quality, low resolution, and rarely offer enough detail for an informed decision
  • Buyer beware: nearly all items are sold “as-is,” and are untested
  • No returns on most items
  • No real seller feedback: if you’re frustrated with a Goodwill shop, you have no real recourse other than complaint

So, in summary: unless otherwise specified in the listing, you must assume that any item offered for auction on this site doesn’t function and may be in poor cosmetic condition as well. After all, these are donated items.

With that said, even though the risk is higher than on eBay–where sellers are rewarded with positive feedback and endeavor to fully describe merchandise––some good deals are occasionally to be found on ShopGoodwill!

Now back to my story…

The Sony ICF-SW55 listing that David found on ShopGoodwill.com kept a steady bid of $28 until the day before the auction’s end, when it increased to $48 US.

It’s likely that this listing would have seen more active bidding if the description were better––it didn’t even provide the model number, and was listed as “Sony Worldband Portable Receiver.” Moreover, the feature photo for the listing was of the radio’s case, not the radio itself (see below), yet another reason the listing got so little attention. But David, being the deal hound he is, found it!

The feature photo.

The feature photo.

I encouraged David to really go for it, saying that this could be an excellent opportunity to snag one of these classic portables for a good price. And if it didn’t work, there would be a good chance Vlado could fix it for a fair price.

The morning the auction concluded, David messaged me that he’d decided to pull out of the bidding. He found something else he wanted to snag, so he encouraged me to take the baton and bid on the ICF-SW55, myself.

I read the vague description…then took a deep breath, and decided to go for it!

Sony-ICF-SW55-Listing-Description

Again, I’m not adept at bidding, but at least I have a method that has worked for me in the past. My simple rules:

  1. Only bid once.
  2. Wait until the last few seconds, then offer my highest comfortable bid.

Final bidding, blow-by-blow

Here’s how the final moments of the auction played out:

I waited until one minute before auction end. I decided I would go as high as $120––a little rich for my modest budget, considering this could amount to a parts radio, but it was late in the day and I admit I wasn’t thinking clearly.

Then, at thirty seconds before auction’s end, the ShopGoodwill.com site simply stopped responding––!

Error-Chrome

No, it wasn’t my dubious Internet connection this time––their site was having problems loading.

finally got the auction screen to pop back up ten seconds before auction’s end. I quickly attempted to place my bid: the web page churned…and churned…and churned.

Finally, up popped the review screen at literally the last breath of a second. I clicked “confirm/submit” (thank you, LastPass, for filling in my password immediately) and just managed to record the bid!

I’m certain that my bid was received within the last second. I had the countdown clock running on my Android phone so I’d know when the auction’s end was coming up. Unlike eBay, there is no dynamic counter on ShopGoodwill: you must refresh the page to see the time remaining. The Android countdown was set to end three seconds before the actual end of auction. When I confirmed the bid, it read “-3 seconds.”

The Goodwill site was having so many problems, that it took it two full minutes before I could get the auction screen to refresh after it accepted my bid––it was still stuck on the screen that confirmed my bid was recorded and that I was––for the moment, anyhow––the highest bidder.

When the page finally loaded, I saw that I had, by the skin of my teeth, snagged the SW55, and for a mere $53.

ShopGoodwill-WinningBidThat is one of the lowest prices I’ve ever seen one of these units go for in an online auction, even when listed as a “parts-only” radio.  Needless to say, I was exhilarated!  My heart pounded.

I’m certain that the problem with the Goodwill site helped me win the auction. There were multiple bidders, and I think mine just happened to trigger a bid, leaving the competition no way to outbid me in the last 1/10 of a second.  This wasn’t bidding skill.  And it surely wasn’t a fat wallet.  Frankly, I was just lucky.

I was thrilled to have won the radio at such a relatively low price, but the relief afterward reminded me why I don’t like auctions like this. I definitely prefer a more straightforward, less exciting (and less anxiety-producing), approach to making purchases.

Good news comes in small packages

Sony-ICF-SW55-Front

Goodwill can be relatively slow to ship.  It took about two weeks, but on Monday, I received the package from Goodwill in California.  The rig, save a little dust, looked fine.  But…how would it function?

I put in some freshly-charged Enloop AA batteries and turned it on.

Much to my surprise, the rig turned on…I rapidly tested all the functions. Again, I couldn’t believe my luck: it functions perfectly!

Sony-ICF-SW55-Right Side

The only feature in need attention is the DX/Normal/Local switch, which makes the rig sound a bit scratchy when I change positions––an easy fix, however, with the aid of a little DeOxit.

Sony-ICF-SW55-back

This auction had a happy ending: I got a radio I’ve always wanted for a price I could swing, I didn’t need my friend Vlado to come to my rescue (though I’ve no doubt he would have), and best of all, I find I absolutely love the ICF-SW55.

Sony-ICF-SW55-3

Stay tuned…A review of the classic SW55 is in the works, and will be here on the SWLing Post in the coming weeks!

Sony-ICF-SW55-1

Spread the radio love

16 thoughts on “Auction Score: a Sony ICF-SW55

  1. Celestino

    I have a Sony Icf-sw 55 and I want to know the year of manufacture of my radio. The serial number is 114400. Thank you very much. Celestino, Bahía Blanca, Argentina

    Reply
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  5. John

    That’s a great find Thomas. I hope the receiver continues to work well for you.

    As to eBay, it’s interesting to note that a lot of people who list radios for either buy it now or auction will put such items in the wrong category and even misspell the description of what they’re selling. So it pays to check each closely-related category that radios get posted into – typically scanners, ham receivers, vintage or even car parts !

    I really like that shot of the ICF-SW55 with the snow in the background. Just wonderful.

    Reply
  6. Chuck Ermatinger

    MANY congrats on this snag. And I thought I did well with my eBay SW55, which I got for $175…and THAT didn’t include the case. I’m still happy with mine, though, and after seeing how tightly the case fit on a friend’s SW55, I’m not disappointed not to have it. I think you’ll like this radio…I’d like to have fuller audio, but that’s a minor complaint. -Chuck

    Reply
  7. William Patalon III

    Yet another great – and thoroughly enjoyable – piece. I’ve had lots of experience with eBay, and – like many folks here – usually go in with a “strategy” … a maximum price I’ll pay. It’s just like stocks … you know what something is worth, you look for a bargain purchase point – and you need to be willing to walk away. If you overpay, you usually get hosed.

    I’m working on a WWII history project right now, and have been buying old flight logs, journals, photos and reports (stunning what comes up for bid). I’ve been using the “best offer” feature a lot lately (for these and for some radio gear). With the “best offer” you get three shots, so it’s usually worth starting with a bit of a lowball offer (a bit below what you’re willing to pay, but not too low … or you risk alienating the dealer). Some of these folks counter, others have an automated price … and below that automatically decline. With both my project and with some radios I’ve been surprised to find that the first offer is accepted.

    I totally agree with the folks here that many of the conventional auctions go off at stunningly high prices.

    I always reason that, on the flip side, this gives me access to a wide selection of stuff that, years ago, I’d have to hit a swap meet or bunch of thrift stores to find.

    It’s always a trade-off.

    One final comment that’s sort of related. I really enjoy the posts here … but I enjoy the comments just as much. The commenters are clearly sharp people – with much more experence than I have – and I benefit from their insights, too. I’m always grateful for the time you all take to post comments here. Makes this site both entertaining … and highly informative.

    Given that … let me toss out a questio to you all … what kind of luck have you had finding and buying shortwave radios and related items from sites such as eham … (and there’s one other one I’ve used, but can’t recall it right now) … ?

    I’d be interested to hear what everyone here has to say about that …

    Cheers, folks …

    Bill P.

    Reply
  8. Michael Black

    I saw one of those at a garage sale last spring, it was $100 or $125 Canadian. At least I think it was that model, I didn’t take in the model number and when I got home, I saw that Sony had two radios that had that sort of layout (with the tuning knob in the upper right corner).

    At one point I might have gotten all excited, but after finding a number of decent shortwave portables at garage sales, for a lot less, I wasn’t interested. Right there at the sale, I wasn’t sure of the specs or what might be distinctive about it (other than the large display and that tuning knob) and the price was more than I was willing to spend on “just another shortwave portable”.

    That is an advantage of shopping from home, you can check up on what the thing is before deciding. I know I’m not willing to spend that much at garage sales, in case the thing doesn’t work, but also because you may not know exactly what it is (there have been an awful lot of portable shortwave receivers in the past thirty years). But it works the same for the seller, price too high and few will be willing to take the risk. On something “exotic” like a shortwave receiver, somebody has to come by that’s interested in the first place, and that may not happen. Price too high, and chances are good it won’t sell.

    Ebay and the like gives a much wider potential market place for something “exotic”. There you can find more than a few people passing by that would be interested.

    Michael

    Reply
  9. 13dka

    Congrats on winning the auction at a reasonable price! I had a SW55 for a while back then, it’s a decent portable. The only real downside I can remember is that it couldn’t cope at all with a 100kW AM transmitter only 5km away, it would already overload when I held a picture of an antenna in front of the radio. 🙂 IIRC the BFO had a tendency to be modulated by the strong offband signal too. Other than that, it was a very decent radio for SW broadcast and all the memories with alphanumeric display made it really comfy for that job. The design was something special in those days and I still think it looks more modern than most new portables, and the build quality is top notch – compared with a Tecsun it feels like a brick, not flexing, no creaking and it’s quite heavy for its size.

    Reply
  10. DanH

    Great little Sony, Thomas. I love the map and terminator display. I like your method for online bidding. I was fairly active on eBay back when it was relatively new, 15-20 years ago when I was restoring a Chris-Craft sedan cruiser from the mid 1950’s. eBay was a good source for replacement Chris-Craft hardware and parts that I couldn’t find anywhere else. I won quite a few auctions back then using the same bidding technique. Back then it was called “sniping”. Some bidders didn’t like snipers! I can tie in sniping to SWLing. I would be on eBay and at the keyboard with WWV ticking away in the background. I’d fire off my bid about seven seconds before the auction closed. That worked pretty well back in the days of dial-up connections.

    Reply
  11. Philip Bernacke

    You got a remarkable deal. I wish I were as lucky. I’ve had a few good ‘results’ with ShopGoodwill but not as good as yours, great work OM.
    Can’t wait for the test/review.

    73 de KA7TTI

    Reply
  12. James M. Surprenant

    Nice find. I have purchased things off of ShopGoodwill myself and there are some really good bargains to be found. But I have had problems with electronics and photo equipment that was in much worse shape than anticipated. The Goodwill workers are not hardly experts in what they are listing so IMHO, it’s always been a crap shoot. (And I have gotten crap a couple times.)

    Still, your Sony is an excellent find – KUDOS & Enjoy!

    Thanks for sharing too.

    73 de AB1DQ/
    James

    Reply
  13. Edward

    ShopGoodwill sounds like another EBAY. I was never successful with those auctions, especially cameras. You have to figure out what a fair price is and what you are willing to pay and the maximum you are willing to go. Most bids go way over that. I only bother on EBAY if it is a “buy it now” that is reasonable price.

    Reply

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