Published: February 12, 2008
On December 19, vintage radio enthusiasts from as far away as Australia and the United Kingdom tuned in for Bonhams’ highly anticipated sale of the famed Mark Woolley collection of Catalin radios, examples dating from the 1930s and 1940s.
Excited collectors literally went the extra mile to participate in the sale. Several bidders flew in from Los Angeles to attend in person. Still other telephone bidders participating from Australia braved a 15-hour time difference to vie for the collection’s rare models. The enormous interest in the sale was proven by its 100 percent sell-through rate; each of the more than 200 lots was sold, resulting in a sale total of $944,400, three times the presale auction estimate. As Jon King, director of Bonhams New York, stated after the sale, “We believe that many auction records for Catalin radios were broken at Bonhams.”
As expected, a spectacular grouping of Air Kings †designed in 1933 by Harold Van Doren †stole the show. In particular, a blue Air King 52 went for $51,000, well above its top estimate of $9,000. Three other Air Kings from the grouping also placed in the sale’s top ten lots, realizing $48,000, $45,000 and $33,600.
Another lot drawing a spectacular price of $51,000 was a 1939 Symphony Split Grille radio featuring an onyx case with emerald green knobs and the rare split grille, coveted by collectors. Additionally, a cherry red 1939 Tom Thumb sold for $48,000 †an astounding $42,000 over its top estimate of $6,000.
Also attracting highly competitive bidding was a transparent teal 1937 Kadette K 25 Clockette radio. Kadette was the only manufacturer to house its radios in transparent Catalin and the examples are considered highly desirable. This lot sold for an impressive $28,800, far above its $7,000 top estimate.
Happily, an Australian bidder’s efforts were rewarded as he became the proud owner of a mint green 1936 AWA Fisk Radiolette, sold for a final price of $8,000; far above its expected top estimate of $1,200. These models were particularly exciting to Australian bidders as Radiolettes were created as interpretations of the American architectural style radios, but were manufactured in Australia entirely of Australian parts.
The zeal of collectors, many of whom were well acquainted from previous sales and conventions, was palpable. As King noted, this particular group of bidders stood out for their meticulous attention to detail and vigilance in examining the radios and presale condition reports. Reflecting on the auction and its astounding results, King commented, “We at Bonhams have thoroughly enjoyed preparing the radio collection for sale at auction and are ecstatic with the results. The overwhelming response to the sale from radio enthusiasts located in all regions of the United States, England, Canada and Australia is a testament to the collecting sense, character and passion of a great collector, Mark Woolley. Working closely with his daughter, Laura Woolley, the consultant for the auction, was also a wonderful experience.”
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, www.bonhams.com/us or 212-644-9001.
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