When it comes to antique radios, you can’t do much better than the Catalin-RCA 66X8 Tube Radio, also known as the “Tuna Boat.” This particular radio was produced in the year 1946 and measures 15-1/4″ x 8-3/8″ x 6-5/8″. Its richly textured, beautiful red-swirl cabinet is a signature look that radios in 1950s no longer had, making it truly a one-of-a-kind collectible.
What is a Catalin Radio?
Produced by the American Catalin Corporation shortly after WWII, the 66X8 radio model is the largest Catalin radio ever made. It’s also the last model to use the polymer Catalin for its cabinet; after the 66X8, the cabinets were made from newer petroleum-based plastics developed during the war. While cheaper and just as strong, these petroleum plastics couldn’t achieve the same beauty as Catalin cabinets. Gorgoeous antique Catalin Radios like the one pictured above stopped being produced around 1948.
This model of Catalin is also a vacuum tube radio, a favorite among collectors. Vacuum tube technology was developed in the 1930s to harness and amplify signals, so it made sense to put them in radios in order to achieve a more crisp and consistent sound. The vacuum tube sound is so distinctive and sonically vintage that people still produce and purchase modern radios that use it today.
Why are Catalin Radios so rare?
These radios were produced by the American Catalin Corporation, a company that invented and produced the popular thermosetting polymer named Catalin. Catalin was perfect for making ornate fancy radios because it was stronger than the previously-used polymer Bakelite. Since it didn’t need any fibers added to it for strength, Catalin cabinets were clear and devoid of color when initially built. This meant that the radio could be dyed virtually any color the customer wanted, and the radio cabinet could be marbled to achieve that distinctive 3D-textured aesthetic.
Using Catalin had a major and unintended downside, however. Catalin oxidizes and breaks down under adverse conditions like water exposure or hot temperatures. The beautiful colors change to blander ones and the entire radio cabinet shrinks which causes cracking.
Now back in the 1940s, this wouldn’t matter because the radios would be in a home’s central location and taken care of. As technology progressed though, many of these radios were stored away in attics, basements, and sheds – the exact kind of place that would be too damp or too warm for the Catalin Radio to survive. Because of that, very few Catalin Radios are still in good or even decent condition.
That’s why Catalin Radios are so rare, coveted, and expensive.
Why collect antique radios?
If you have an interest in both technology and history, collecting antique radios is the perfect hobby for you. Over the past two hundred years of human existence, technology and history have been become irreversibly intertwined as they grow, change and shape each other.
Radios represent an interesting period in that process when technology began to invade and shape everyday life, but it had yet to fully dominate it like technology does now. Radios were the first technological entertainment that the whole family could gather around in the living room, but they didn’t do it use all day like people now with their televisions, gaming consoles, and smart phones. In many ways, radios were the bridge between these two periods of American life.
At the same time, collecting old radios goes far beyond just satisfying intellectual curiosity. It gets at something emotional and comforting inside all of us. There’s something about an antique, pristinely-maintained radio that summons up extreme feelings of nostalgia in people.
If you’re looking to either start your antique radio collection or improve upon an existing one, look no further than Radio Kent Gallery. If radios aren’t your thing, we have an extensive selection of other collectable and antique items at great prices for your perusing. Give us a call today!