Emerson "Snow White" Model 247 Radio (1939)
The Emerson "Snow White" Model 247 radio is a classic figural set, showing
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs frolicking before their rustic cottage.
Premiering in 1937 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, "Snow White and
the Seven Dwarfs" was an instant hit, and one of Disney's perennial movie attractions.
Under contract with Disney, Emerson produced two different versions of the Snow White
radio, as well as two Mickey Mouse sets. This radio dates from 1939.
The first photo shows the front of this unrestored Snow White. Look closely to spot Dopey.
He's peeking over the window shutter at upper left, laughing at a squirrel to the right.
The window of Dwarfs' cottage serves as the opening for the radio's speaker grille, and
the dial appears in the arched door opening to the right. Below the front porch,
flanking the steps, are the
Snow White model's distinctive "acorn" knobs.
The figural cabinet front is made of "repwood," a molded wood product
that we'll describe more fully later. The rest of the cabinet is made of solid wood. As this
photo shows, the entire cabinet was worn and needed refinishing.
Inside the cabinet is a standard "All American Five" radio chassis. This photo
shows how dirty it was when I first bought the set.
The chassis looked better after an initial cleanup.
The next two photos show the chassis from underneath and from the front.
A Note on the Model Number
Emerson produced this radio with at least two
different model numbers, BM-247 and DB-247. The two-letter prefix identifies the
chassis type and the three-number suffix indicates the cabinet type.
The full model number is normally shown on the fiberboard back, but as with many radios,
my radio's back is missing. If you look at the rear chassis view, however, you'll see a little
sticker printed with DB followed by a serial number. Thus, the full model number
for my radio is DB-247.
The DB chassis was used with a few different cabinets.
If you are looking for a DB-247 schematic,
from Nostalgia Air
or some other source, you can use any Emerson schematic starting with
DB (for instance, DB-301).
Two Versions of Snow White
Emerson produced two different versions of the Snow White radio, this one
and a smaller version, model Q236.
The cube-shaped model Q236 was painted in bright colors, whereas
model 247 is dark brown. The smaller radio uses the same molded design, but
the cottage has no door and the dial is placed inside the cottage window, with
the knobs located among the capering figures.
Here is a photo of my Q236 Snow White radio. You can read more about it
in the corresponding
In 1933, Emerson also produced two cube-shaped Mickey Mouse radios. Model 410 has
a black and silver front with metal trim and a painted figure of Mickey
playing a cello. You can see a photo on page 87 of Slusser's Guide to Antique
Radios, seventh edition. Model 411 has molded repwood panels with figures
of Mickey on the front, sides, and top. You can see a photo on page 89 of
Machine Age to Jet Age, Volume 1. (The book notes that reproduction panels are being
made, so if you buy a Mickey, make sure it's genuine!).
What Is Repwood?
The front of this cabinet is made of "repwood," which was a mixture
of ground wood and a glue or binder, compressed with a mold. Repwood was used
for many different decorative items of the time, since it could be molded into
detailed shapes and finished to match other wood parts, such as this cabinet's frame.
After finishing with the same colored lacquers used for the rest of the cabinet—or
even brown paint—the repwood looked just like a wood carving, at a fraction of the cost.
Many repwood objects show considerable wear at this time, exposing the lighter
tan color of the underlying material.
The front of this Snow White cabinet showed typical everyday wear. On high-relief details, such as the caps and
noses of the Dwarfs, or the cabinet edges, the original dark finish was worn away. The top area of the window
shutter also showed wear, no doubt where people grasped the cabinet when moving it. And it sported a few
drips of aqua paint here and there.
At the time of this writing, the electronics are still unrestored. The cabinet, however, taught me something
about repwood. I had read reports about various types of repwood, suggesting that some were not very durable.
This cabinet proved to be sturdy, however.
When I began stripping the wooden top and sides of the cabinet, I accidentally slopped some stripper onto
the repwood face. I cleaned it up quickly, then noticed that the stripper didn't seem to damage the repwood at all.
Encouraged, I applied a coat of stripper to the entire face, leaving it on for only a few minutes, then very gently
removing it. The old finish came off easily.
The next photos show the process.
Not only was the original form intact, but stripping revealed details that were not evident before.
Stripping something like this requires more work than stripping a simple flat surface.
It took three applications to clean up all the details.
After letting the stripper work for a while, I wiped off the excess with paper towels, then washed the face more thoroughly with
a paper towel soaked in lacquer thinner. Then, while the surface was still wet, I went over all of the details with
a small bristle brush, using liberal amounts of lacquer thinner to loosen old material from the details and wash them
The only flaw in the cabinet face is a small broken spot in one of the porch boards. I'm debating whether to
repair that with plastic wood or simply leave it as a mark of age. Even the Seven Dwarfs might have had a broken
board or two on their porch, after all!
Finally, I'll recolor the cabinet using dark brown toning lacquer, then give it a couple of coats of
clear lacquer for protection. I'll update this page after I make more progress.
Reproducing the Panel
Since my repwood panel was in nice shape, it occurred to me to try making a reproduction, in case I
ever ran across a badly damaged original and wanted to replace it. I also thought it would
offer an opportunity to learn about making molds and castings, something I had never tried before.
There are lots of molding/casting materials to choose from. After doing a little research, I chose
urethane products from the Smooth-On company.
While waiting for the kit to arrive in the mail, I removed the front panel from the cabinet. It is
held on by more than a dozen thin nails. I cut a short strip of wood to distribute the stress, then
gently tapped the panel out with a hammer from inside the cabinet, going around and around several
times until all of the nails had released.
Although the panel had withstood paint stripper without damage, I was concerned about the chemicals
(sealer and release agent) supplied with the mold-making products. To protect against damage, I
sealed my original panel with a light coat of clear shellac.
To make a one-piece mold of this type, you can roll out a thin bed of modeling clay and build a
containing structure to hold the poured mold material. I smeared a very thin layer of clay onto the
back of my original, then pressed it firmly into the clay bed, as shown here.
To ensure a good mold, you want the back to be perfectly flat. I did this work on a piece of glass,
covered with wax paper. The next photo shows how I built a containing structure from strips of cardboard.
The strips were pressed into the clay, then secured at the corners with a hot glue gun. Then I went
around all the inner edges of the clay bed with a modeling tool, making sure there would be no leaks
when I poured the mold material. I also formed up the outer clay edges to make a nice, straight mold.
Before pouring the mold, I needed to calculate the exact volume of mold material
that will be needed. If you mix too little molding material, you'll end up
with a useless mold and have to start over. If you mix too much, you'll waste some of
this rather expensive stuff.
Note that some molding/casting materials are measured by volume, while others are measured by weight.
I chose a volume-measured material because I didn't want to buy an expensive weight scale (no,
postage scales are not accurate enough).
To find the volume, I poured fine-grained dry rice over my model in its container, until the rice was at least
3/8 inch above the highest part of the model. Then I shook the whole thing to settle the grains, and
added a little more (factoring in the air spaces between the grains). I poured the rice from
the model into a measuring cup, then wrote down the needed volume and added just a smidgen more, just in case.
The next step was to transfer my bedded model to a better workspace (our laundry room) on its
glass plate, and apply the Smooth-On sealer, followed by mold release agent. This step is
vital if you don't want the mold to permanently bond to your original piece!
Using my measuring cups, I mixed equal amounts of mold materials A and B into a clean plastic container, stirred
them for the prescribed time period, then slowly (v-e-r-y slowly) poured the mold material over my original panel.
Notice the carpenter's levels on two sides of the work area. When you make a casting, you will want the back
side to be perfectly level.
After the mold had cured, it was time to remove it from the original. I first carefully cut
away the cardboard retaining structure, then, with the original upside down,
peeled the clay bed away from its back. The back of the original panel looks mottled and
ugly, but that's how it came out of the factory. (If you are buying a Snow White radio and
wondering whether its panel is a fake, look at the back.)
Here's a look at the mold before I trimmed out the holes for the radio knobs.
To my great relief, sealing the original with shellac, followed by the Smooth-On
sealer and release agent, prevented any damage. Still, peeling the mold from the
original was a difficult process, which took me the better part of an hour. If I
had to do it over again, I would apply extra shellac to the rough outer edges of
Next, I washed the mold to prepare for the first practice casting. Again, it's
necessary to measure the amount of casting material you'll need to fill the mold.
After washing, I carefully filled the mold with water, then poured that amount into a measuring cup,
noting how much liquid would be required.
I dried the mold with a soft, lint-free cloth, followed by blowing with a hot hair dryer.
Next, I applied release agent to the mold, following the manufacturer's directions (spray, brush, spray, etc.)
Finally, it was time to mix the casting material and pour. For a casting of this type, with large
open areas, it's important to pour on a level surface, to avoid heavy flashings that
will be laborious to trim out later.
The next photo shows the mold while curing. This type of casting urethane
looks clear when mixed, but turns white over the period of a few minutes. It also generates heat.
The cured casting looks pretty good. Only a little bit of pour-over on top of the cottage door,
which will be easy to trim off.
After making sure the cast had cured sufficiently, I carefully peeled the mold away. Here is the result.
It's a pretty faithful reproduction of the original panel, even including guide holes for each of the tiny nails used
to secure it to the cabinet. It took a couple of tries to get a panel this good.
It will pass casual inspection from a few feet away, but if you examined it side by side with
the original, you'd notice tiny imperfections.
Bubbles are the bane of reproduction
makers, as I quickly learned. Follow the manufacturer's directions very carefully! People who make reproductions
for a living invest in expensive vacuum chambers, which can eliminate bubbles in the mold material as well as
the casting material.
I wasn't willing to spend more on equipment than I paid for the radio in the first place, so I did the best I could.
After making a bubbly first casting, I read about using agitation to help bubbles rise to the top. I had made the first casting
on top of our clothes dryer in the laundry room, so it occured to me to simply turn on the dryer during the second casting.
I threw a few old jeans and sweatshirts into the dryer, for good measure. Sure enough, the combination of gentle bottom
heat and gentle agitation during the initial curing period made a difference. The second casting was noticeably
superior to the first one.
I haven't decided what to do with my reproduction panels. Maybe I'll just hang them on the workshop wall as decorations,
or make some kind of clock for one of my young nieces.
If you're shopping for a Snow White radio, be aware that these panels are not difficult to reproduce. It's easy to
tell a fake from an original, however. Look inside the back of the radio. If the back of the panel is as smooth
as glass, it's a fake. The back of my original panel is rough and irregular in color. Another test
would be to scrape the back or edge of the panel with a sharp knife or a pin. If you see brilliant white material
underneath, it's a fake!