By Pat Gearty – W0YES
I recently attended the Don Richardson radio auctions in Austin Minnesota. Over the years I’ve been to several radio sale events, auctions and swap meets: Midwinter Madness, Dayton, many hamfests and antique radio club happenings. This auction was quite different and an interesting experience for me. I acquired a few items to add to my collection and enjoyed great shows.
Don Richardson passed away in February 2022 at the age of 90 years. He worked as an engineer at KAUS/KAAL radio and television in Austin for decades. He was an avid collector of vintage radios, tractors, hit-and-miss engines and was a longtime member of the Northland Antique Radio Club, Pavek Museum, Root River Tractor Club, and the Austin Area Amateur Radio Club. He remained active right to the end.
A bachelor, Don lived alone on his Austin Minnesota acreage. He had a lot of paraphernalia, so his relatives engaged Thompson Auction Service to sell his possessions. Four separate actions were held on his property and a fifth on-line only: 1) July -Tractors, engines, and tools. 2) September-Household items. 3) September- Two-Ring radio auction. 4) October-second radio auction. 5) On-line only – his collection of special interest publications. Separate from the auctions, many car radios were sold as a lot to a restorer of vintage cars who traveled from California to acquire them.
Don’s collection of vintage radios and other electronic equipment was large, the likes of which I’ve not seen before for personal possessions. His two-story, four-bedroom home had a full basement and attic. All four levels were crammed full of radios and other electronics making it difficult to move through most rooms. By my count there were more than 1,000 radios plus well over 1,000 other devices, test equipment and many parts. He had said his purpose was to rescue radios and related items to save them from destruction and that he was not into collecting or restoration.
The work done by Thompson Auction to retrieve, identify, catalog, photograph, display, market and auction these thousands of items and then dispose of the remains was amazing. At the September 2-Ring radio auction there were at least 12 Thompson team members working there. Their skills and energy were impressive. All the electronics had been in his house. He had a large outbuilding that housed his tractors and mechanical items. After those items were auctioned and disposed of the outbuilding was then used for radio auctions.
September: 2-Ring Radio Auction.
The September auctions ran concurrently in two separate “rings” for six hours. One person could not do both at the same time, so you were encouraged to “bring a friend”.
Ring 1 was “live”, held outdoors and consisted of tubes, parts, chassis, and miscellaneous electronics. The items were arrayed on flat-bed hay wagons that are about 8’ x 20’. Twelve of these large wagons were filled with the items, most of which sold for a small amount. There were several radio-tube lots that sold for good money. (Each lot was a box of about 200 tubes). Much was sold but at the end there were three wagons of “no value” items to be disposed of.
Ring 2 was held in the outbuilding and contained higher quality items than Ring 1. There were nearly 400 items in Ring 2, primarily broadcast radios and related items including floor, table, and portable models. The items were nicely arranged on shelving, tables, and the floor. This was not your parents’ auction! It was a combined “live” and “on-line” auction. The auctioneer team worked at the auction block managing both the on-site and on-line bidders. On-site, each item was presented on a large projection screen. Some of the on-site bidders used a printed copy of all 400 items for reference. It was quite interesting and impressive to watch the team of auctioneers with three computers, using cellular internet and running at the typical fast auction chant. On-site and on-line bidders bid against each other with many bids won by each group.
Some of the Ring 2 items sold: Sign-“RCA Color TV” ($325), Zenith Console-(model number not provided but looks like a 7-S-260 to me) ($275), Zenith Tombstone 5-S-127 ($225), Shure model 55 microphone ($200), Metro Electric Cone Speaker ($165), Magnavox M1A Horn Speaker ($150), Advertising Clock-“GE TUBES-TV RADIO SERVICE” ($140), Signal Corps BC-348 Receiver ($125), Atwater Kent Horn Speaker Type M ($80), Sign-“RCA” ($70), Zenith Trans-Oceanic H500 ($65), Ace of Spades Tube Table Radio (made in Minneapolis by Setco), ($40), Dahlberg Coin Operated Radio (Hospital type) ($25), Zenith “Owl Eyes” clock radio ($20), RCA Radiola 20 Battery Radio ($20), Atwater Kent Console model 76 ($2.50).
October: Second Radio Auction.
This auction was live only (not on-line) and ran in two consecutive parts for a total of five hours.
Part One was conducted outdoors in the same style as the September Ring 1 auction with six hay wagons filled with items including: tubes, parts, chassis, miscellaneous electronics, magazines, and service manuals. At the end there were two wagons of “no value” items to be disposed of.
Part Two followed Part One and was conducted in the outbuilding where items were nicely arrayed on shelving, tables, and the floor. Items included: tube type table, console and portable broadcast radios, pocket transistor radios, communication receivers, TVs, speakers, test equipment, parts, reel to reel tape recorders and projectors. Amongst all of that I observed about 145 table radios and 60 console radios. The auctioneer walked the aisles presenting each radio or lot for bids.
Most October Auction lot sales were less than $25. Some of the higher value items sold: Zenith Tombstone 6-S-128 ($375), Zenith Tombstone 6-J-230 ($175), Hammarlund HQ 129X Communications Receiver ($121), Zenith Table 7-S-633 ($110), Hickok 533 tube Tester ($175). The console (floor model) radios were not attractive. I paid little attention to those bids but I’m pretty sure most of them did not even get a bid and were scrapped.
I collect vintage radios and am pleased to have acquired these:
- National NC 66, portable communications tube receiver, 1957.
- Collins 75A-3, amateur communications tube receiver, 1953.
- Hammarlund HQ 129X, amateur communications tube receiver, 1946.
- RCA ACR 136, amateur communications tube receiver, 1936.
- Crosley VIII, three tube broadcast receiver, 1923 (Rare).
- Newsletter Collections of the Northland Antique Radio Club and the Pavek Museum dating back to 1988.
I am especially pleased with my high-quality Collins receiver which has 18 tubes and weighs 50 lbs. Collins (now Collins Aerospace) was based in Cedar Rapids Iowa and at the time (1950s) was the Cadillac of amateur radio equipment. Their gear is quite collectable today. This receiver sold for $530 in1953 which is $5,530 current value. Never thought I’d own a Collins radio and now I do! Unlike today’s radios, I understand all the circuit theory and can repair and align the receiver by myself.
As stated earlier, Don rescued radios, he did not restore them. Most were as he found them, and ranged from collectable to restorable, parts or scrap. This auction provided a huge opportunity for entry level and experienced radio enthusiasts to find items at bargain prices.
Rest In Peace Don. Your rescued radios have found new homes that honor your lifetime efforts to preserve them.