Help Paul identify this antique radio device

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paul, who writes:

I hope you’re well. Thanks for all you do with SWLing Post etc. I’m so grateful to you for the consistency with which you update that site. Almost every day there’s something of interest to me.

I wanted to see if this might be something you and your wonderful army of readers could help with?

There’s this family photograph of my granddad (see above). It would have been taken in London in about the late 1920s or early 1930s, and it looks kind of like it’s posed or in a studio. But they seem to be listening to a radio device, and I wondered if anyone out there might be able to identify it? Perhaps there’s a whole genre of studio photographs of the era which showcased new technology? Or maybe not…? Any ideas would be so welcome!

Kind regards,
Paul

Post readers: If you can help Paul, please comment!

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45 thoughts on “Help Paul identify this antique radio device

  1. Adi

    I found the maker of the device as I was browsing the Morgan E.Mcmahon book “Vintage Radio 1887-1929”, pub. 1981, one of my many radio books.
    British Thomson-Houston Co.
    By googling I found these
    https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/143215315661
    https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/t-british-thomson-houston-co-crystal-1797965722
    https://www.the-saleroom.com/en-us/auction-catalogues/chiswick-auctions/catalogue-id-srchis10047/lot-a10d8f4b-b4c4-474c-a472-a4230149f5bb
    The box is different (not to pay royalties..) and has no latch but other than that, a perfect match.
    This is a photo studio setup so no antenna or earth were used, and surly nothing was heard…

    Reply
    1. Adi

      late 70’s review of the set is here
      https://americanradiohistory.com/hd2/IDX-UK/Technology/Technology-Modern/Archive-Radio-Constructor-IDX/IDX/70s/RC-1978-02-OCR-Page-0030.pdf#search=%22british%20thomson-houston%22

      and 20’s ad
      https://americanradiohistory.com/hd2/IDX-UK/Technology/Technology-Early/Archive-Wireless-Weekly-IDX/IDX/Wireless-Weekly-1924-10-22-OCR-Page-0039.pdf#search=%22british%20thomson-houston%22

      Just for reference £4 15s in 1924 are ~£250 today or $325.
      That was the weekly salary for the average British worker.

      Reply
    1. adi

      I think I found the maker of the device as I was browsing the Morgan E.Mcmahon book “Vintage Radio 1887-1929” from 1981, one of my many radio books.
      British Thomson-Houston Co.
      By googling I found
      https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/143215315661
      https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/t-british-thomson-houston-co-crystal-1797965722
      https://www.the-saleroom.com/en-us/auction-catalogues/chiswick-auctions/catalogue-id-srchis10047/lot-a10d8f4b-b4c4-474c-a472-a4230149f5bb

      The box is different (Not to pay royalties…) and has no latch but other than that, a perfect match. This is a photo studio set, so no antenna or ground used… and nothing was heard as well.

      Reply
  2. Rod W8GRI

    Looks to be an early kit version of the Radiola series of battery operated radio receivers of the early 1920s. Ericsson Radio Corporation developed single vacuum tube (valve) sets that were battery powered and used high impedance headphones for listening. The sets used a WD-11 triode for demodulating the radio signal and was low output from the valve detection. This valve used two batteries, an A and a B battery. The A battery was used for the valve’s filament and the B battery for the higher plate voltage. The young lad appears to be controlling the ‘tickler’ voltage for the valve’s sensitivity. Internally there is a winding with a inner winding that can be rotated as tuning for wave length to match the signal.
    These were considered amateur or experimental radio sets and generally licensed. Many very early units were sold as kits so there might be differences in builds like this one. Ericsson was based in Europe and went by the name of Svenska Radioaktiebolag (SRA) or Swedish Radio Company.
    A bit later David Sarnoff of television fame marketed these radios in the United States eold under the name of Areola Senior and were built by Westinghouse. I have a Areola Senior and matching two valve (WD-11s) amplifier, the amp was powerful enough to use a horn desk top spaeker. Eliminating the need for headphones. These are dated to around 1922 and 1923.
    These early radios receivers were one step above the crystal sets that used a galina crystal set in potted lead also known as a ‘whisker’.

    Reply
  3. James Patterson

    Either a Morse Key for practise with internal battery,or a Crystal set with the “Cat’s Whisker”.If it was a Crystal set radio,there would have been no need for the large size of it,unless it had different coils inside that gave different wave lenghts for tuning,may have been Mediam wave as well as Short wave. But by the looks of it,it’s probably an early 6 volt car battery with a morse key attached to the top of it.

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      Check the cropped detail of the original image here

      https://postimg.cc/ZB4kTZVD

      to the right you may notice what seems to be a coil, and the “knob” seems to be a “whisker” control, so I think it definitely may be a crystal radio; as for the box, it may just be whatever was available, remember that at the time people often built their own crystal receivers, also, the large box may have been chosen to accomodate the antenna (or a larger coil) and/or the headsets

      Reply
  4. adi

    It’s definitely not a morse apparatus.
    If you just zoom with any photo viewer you will see the boy is turning a knob.

    Reply
    1. Charlie

      Most likely a crystal set. Very common britsh types would be a Meepon as they are around,if you knows hat I mean. This seems to be a stages photo as for ANY set of this era would require an antenna and ground connection which none are visible.

      Reply
  5. Georgina

    In the 1920s in the US, radio receiver kits with two headphones were very popular. My dad was born in 1906 and he built one. They used B Batteries (since not too many houses were electrified in the 20s) and that’s why there’s no mains cord for the radio. They used small tubes like the 1T5, popularly called “peanut tubes” I think my dad said he got the kit for about $20 (in 1920s money) and got it mail order. That’s what it looks like to me, anyway.

    Reply
    1. Shawn Shaffer

      The 1T5 was an octal tube released in 1938 and started showing up in radios starting in 1939. The smaller 7 pin battery receiver peanut tubes didn’t show up until the early to late 40s after the war.

      Reply
  6. Mike Hanmon

    It’s a code practice oscillator and a battery. The young man has his finger on the key and the two are listening to the code he is tapping out.

    Reply
  7. Pat

    Re: The radio device.
    It appears that it might be a telegraph key arrangement and they are taking turns sending Morse code to each other and seeing if the other can decipher the message.

    Reply
    1. Michael Black

      It reminds me of when I got a telegraph set at age 10, thinking it would help me learn morse code. Sure I could send, but nobody around knew the code to send to me, so it was never helpful.

      Michael

      Reply
    2. Andrew

      Maybe … but then, the coil (assuming it’s a coil, btw) makes little sense; my guess is that it’s a crystal receiver, probably a homebuilt one … or either the photographer may have used a “scenic accessory” with no real meaning

      @Thomas would you be so kind to try pinging your contacts dealing with old radios ?

      Reply
  8. Michael Black

    The way his hand is, it seems more like he’s holding a key to send Morse code. If that’s the case, it’s more likely just a buzzer or similar sounder. Transmitters at the time would have been much bigger.

    Thiugh whether a crystal radio or telegraph set, I can’t figure out why tgatvwooden bix is so deep.

    Michael

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      “The way his hand is, it seems more like he’s holding a key to send Morse code”

      Or either trying to find the “hotspot” on the galena crystal (check out the pics here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystal_detector)

      “If that’s the case, it’s more likely just a buzzer or similar sounder”

      But then, the coil would make no sense, I think

      “I can’t figure out why that vwooden box is so deep.”

      Either it hosts the antenna or, it may host batteries, in the latter case, the thing may either be a morse code practice device or some kind of battery powered receiver

      Again, just wildly guessing.

      Reply
    2. Paul

      Cheers Michael – this seems possible given the positions and the two sets of headphones etc. The box looks a similar size to what (another) Michael posted, above, so maybe…?

      Reply
  9. Andrew

    Cannot help identifying the brand/model, but my guess is that it’s a crystal (galena) radio; if you look at the top (near the boy’s … ok your grandpa hand) you’ll notice a coil and what seems to be the “bottle” which contained the crystal and the whisker, plus, looking at the floor, there’s no “power cord”; then, if you can, please post a full-res image in a non lossy format (PNG is ok, JPG isn’t) somewhere so that people may try processing it and attempt “extracting” some more informations; getting back to the receiver, if it’s a crystal set, probably the antenna is built into the wooden box which is quite tall; sorry for the very little infos (and mostly guesses)

    Reply
    1. Paul

      Cheers Andrew for the input. That is all very useful and interesting… Unfortunately I don’t have a much higher-res scan available at present – I will need to re-scan it when I next have access to the print.

      Reply
  10. adi

    It’s difficult to place a specific name to this radio without a top look.
    I’ll say it’s defiantly a 20’s model as in the 30’s the cabinet looked very different in style vs. the 20’s .

    Reply
    1. Paul

      Thanks adi – even that is helpful to know, so thanks very much for your comment. Indeed, it’s a very annoying angle in terms of identifying it.

      Reply

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