Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Don't let this classic dial deceive you.

It looks like a part of some "cathedral", "tombstone" or "console" radio. Actually, it belongs to a very non-conformist device produced by Sparks-Withington company, the Sparton brand owners.

"The celebrated Sparton "Bluebird" 566 glass mirror radio", - writes Paul of Tuberadioland.com, - "was one of a group of Sparton sets for 1936 styled by the noted industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague (of Kodak Brownie camera, Marmon 16 automobile and Steinway pianos fame. - LK). Four sets were unveiled at the National Electrical & Radio Exposition held in New York's Grand Central Palace during September of 1935, following several months of tantalizing build up in the media. Prior to the show, Sparks-Withington announced that their 1936 line would consist of two lines; the regular line already introduced that June and the "sensational" Teague line, which was to be unveiled at the Sparton show exhibit on September 18th 1935."

"The Bluebird, with its bold and daring use of crystal glass, ebony and chrome, is today universally recognized as one of the true masterpieces of the 1930s Art Deco radio movement. It comprises a 14" circular mirror of "midnight blue" glass accented with chrome strips and circlets, concealing a cab containing the chassis. The mirror has a cut-out for the loudspeaker and dial and the set sits upon a pair of ebony balled feet."

"The Bluebird is occasionally seen today sitting atop a matching 14" round plateau mirror. Early advertising almost always shows the Bluebird with this mirror present. However it originally had to be ordered separately and most sets today turn up without it."

"The original purchase price of the Bluebird, based upon newspaper advertising, was $39.95 in eastern and central regions. The plateau was extra."

In 1990s, a Bluebird replica appeared (branded Thomas), housing a modern radio and cassette player. Now it's as hard to find as the original Sparton Bluebird.

The most famous of the Teague-designed Sparton sets was Model 1168 Nocturne, a circular (46 inch in diameter!) answer to angular consoles:

It was called "the ultimate icon of modernity, one dramatically ahead of it's time" by Alastair Duncan in his 1998 book entitled "Modernism".

When it was unveiled in September, 1935 along with the Bluebird, Sparton advertised the Nocturne as "A vision in Midnight Blue Crystal Mirror Glass and Satin Chrome."

Today the Sparton Nocturne is extremely rare. On May 27, 2004, at Sotheby's auction of the Pierre Lescure collection (Paris, France) the bid for the Nocturne was $58,344.
"The Sparton model 557, the first of Sparks-Withington's mirrored "sled" radios, was introduced in June of '36, almost a year after their celebrated Bluebird (and styled quite differently, closer to Streamline Moderne. - LK). One newspaper advertisement from 1936 proclaimed the model 557 as "a radio of chrome and crystal... Mirrored crystal, rare woods, streamlined chromium.. A master radio as outstanding as its case..."

"The references to "rare" and "fine" woods in these clippings constitute a touch of advertising hyperbole, as the wooden elements of the cabinet are in fact composed of common, if not elegantly contoured, plywood. It is however surely the dark crystalline finish to which the descriptions allude, an effect allegedly achieved by mixing naptha into the black lacquer* prior to its application to the wood. However, it seems to be prone to flaking off and is frequently in poor condition or missing from these models when found today."
The original purchase price of the 557 was $39.95, and along with other 1937 Sparton sets it made a roadshow with Sparton Special Pullman car.

The Sparton 558-B (blue, above) and 558-C (copper or peach, below) tinted mirror radios were introduced in June of 1937 as deluxe versions of the model 557.

"A distinctive feature of the 558 is the dark banding which embellishes the front and top mirrors. This banding's disjoint nature creates the illusion of depth, especially on top, where the eye is readily deceived into believing the fabrication is based upon two mirrors, one atop the other, rather than upon a single piece of glass. Such was Walter Teague's design genius!"
"The 409GL, introduced in late 1938, was the last in the line of Sparks-Withington's Sparton mirror radios. Like the models that preceded it, it was available in either blue or "old rose" (peach) tinted glass. Examples of both are featured on this page. These spectacular relics from a bygone era are rare and highly collectible pieces today, with the old-rose variant in particular being especially scarce."

"The 409GL is similar in concept to the Bluebird 566 in that it consists of an inclined mirror with the electronics artfully concealed in a rear cab. The mirror is seven sided with beveled edges and features a circular cut-out in front of the loudspeaker and dial markings formed into the rear of the glass. The wooden runners upon which the ensemble sits are finished in black lacquer."

The 409GL is diminutive in size, measuring 12" wide (mirror tip to tip), 7.5" high and 5" deep. It was billed as a second radio for the home, priced at below $20. Based upon advertising, the set appears to have been offered for sale through at least the end of 1940, by which time it could be purchased for just $9.95.

Images: Tuberadioland.com (1-5, 10-14), SpartonNocturne.com (6-9)
Special thanks to Paul for his texts and photos which he kindly permitted to reproduce @ Dieselpunks.org.

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Comment by Ron Scheffer on February 1, 2011 at 3:26pm
I own a Sparton 558B in wonderful condition. Can someone advise me on how I can sell this rare beautiful piece?
Comment by lord_k on October 28, 2010 at 3:30pm
It would be logical. I can also imagine a digital camera inside a Teague-designed body - he shaped some Kodaks, you know.
Comment by Tome Wilson on October 28, 2010 at 9:02am
Wow. These are great design inspirations.

I would easily see one of these being redeveloped as an iPod dock or PC mod.

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