How I Spent My '99 Vacation (Switzerland)
In the summer of 1999, we took a family vacation in Switzerland. While our two sons attended a summer camp, my wife and I spent a week traveling throughout the country. Shopping was not the primary goal of this trip, but I couldn't help noticing a few antique radios here and there.
Aigle Antique Fair, June 26
By a happy coincidence, an antique fair took place in the town of Aigle on the very day when we delivered our boys to camp in nearby Leysin.
As you can see by the canopies and plastic, the market vendors came well prepared for rain, just like at home! The market was set up along a picturesque, winding street that leads from the town's center to the Chateau of the Black Eagle.
The market included a number of collectible radios, all except one of European manufacture. The above photo shows a pair of Paillard tabletop sets with wooden cabinets and "magic eye" tuning indicators. Like many European radios, they cover shortwave as well as the standard broadcast band.
In a nearby tent, I spied a very familiar radio. The leftmost radio in the pair is a Telefunken Gavotte 9 exactly like one that I own.
Next to the Telefunken was a large Schaub-Lorenz tabletop. The Telefunken was priced at 200 Swiss francs (US$140) and the Schaub-Lorenz at 300 francs (US$210). This market was our first taste of antique shopping in Switzerland. We quickly discovered that prices are about the same on both sides of the Atlantic!
The next table offered a small Philips transistor radio with red plastic case and chrome front.
At the far end of the market I found a lone US radio—an unusual Motorola model 69L11 "Sporter" from 1951. The distinctive cabinet has a straw-colored fabric cover encased in clear plastic.
The controls are also unique. Thumbwheel knobs are located in the cabinet "shoulders"
and the tuning dial is in the handle. This set was priced at 250 Swiss francs (US$175), far above what
I'd expect to pay in the US (perhaps because this radio would
be more scarce in Europe). In 2004, I found
another 69L11 in the US for about $US40.
Lying on the ground under a rain tarp was this large European tabletop. I couldn't find a brand name on the front or back, and the seller was nowhere to be found. After snapping a photo, I replaced the tarp so that it would not get any wetter.
The following photo shows a handsome Paillard tabletop radio priced at 350 Swiss francs (US$245). I considered it the most interesting radio in the entire fair.
The electronics appeared to be good quality and I liked the metal bars over the speaker grille, echoed by smaller trim pieces surrounding the magic eye and company logo. The owner informed me that the price was not negotiable, however, so I passed it by. In
addition to the purchase price, it would have cost quite a bit to ship this large radio safely to the west coast of the United States.
Bern Communications Museum, June 30
While staying in Bern, we visited a number of museums, among them the Museum fur Kommunikation (Communications Museum). Much of this museum is devoted to Switzerland's postal service, historic pieces of mail, and philately. It also includes exhibits in electronic communications and radio. My notes of this visit are a bit hard to decipher—they were scribbled on the back of our admissions receipt—but I believe that the radio in the next photo is a reconstruction of a 1925 Leclanche receiver.
Next is a 1925 "Radio-Maxim" receiver manufactured by Baumann-Koller. We saw some unusual 1920s sets that day.
The radio collection also included newer sets. Next is an Akkord tube portable.
It is not too different from American tube portables, except that it includes a shortwave band. Europe contains many shortwave broadcasters within a fairly small area. You can get decent shortwave reception with a comparatively inexpensive radio, and thus shortwave is found on a great number of European radios.
Below is my favorite piece in the entire museum. This Lorenz "Autophon" console contains a television, multi-band shortwave receiver, and wire recorder.
Truly an impressive item, it would have served as the "entertainment center" for a well-off family, similar to the American
radio/tv/phono that I purchased and restored
a few years later.
The next photo shows two Bakelite tabletops. On the left is a 1940 Ecko from England. On the right is a 1930 Philips, made in the Netherlands.
In addition to consumer radios and TVs, the museum featured a number of larger exhibits, such as this one. I don't recall exactly, but I believe that the stiff gentleman is operating a vintage radio transmitter.
The following image is taken from a postcard purchased at the museum. The original photo is
credited to Hans Steiner from the city of Bern. I love the peaceful, slightly mysterious
quality of this scene. Wouldn't you love to know what the mother and child are listening to?
The radio is not identified, although the three metal bars over the grille are reminiscent
of the large Paillard tabletop that I saw at the Aigle antique fair. The sleek design of
the radio and furniture remind me of the 1940s.
Fribourg Antique Fair, July 2
My wife and I spent the day of July 2 traveling from Bern to Leysin to fetch our kids from camp. To break up the long train ride, we stopped in Fribourg for a quick lunch. We had only a vague idea of the town's layout and began walking from the Bahnhof toward the center of the old town. In another stroke of good fortune, we stumbled across a second open-air antique fair.
This fair seemed to have something for everyone. The next photo shows two antique gramophones, including one with a large polished brass horn speaker. Standing in front of them is a toy metal robot similar to one that I have owned since the 1960s.
Lurking behind the seltzer bottles is an interesting little Bakelite tabletop. It may have been a Dutch Philips, the brand that I saw most often in Switzerland.
Yet another imposing tabletop radio. This basic layout of dial and controls is repeated in countless European tabletops, including Telefunken, Grundig, and Philips radios in my collection.
Below is shown a tallish radio/gramophone, similar to the large Paillard tabletop pictured earlier, only with a gramophone in its top. The price on the sticker was around 300 Swiss francs (US$210).
The final photo shows your intrepid correspondent holding the only radio purchased in
Switzerland that year, a little Nordmende "Transita DeLuxe" portable. At 20 Swiss francs (US$14), the price
was irresistible. Best of all, it was small enough to ship home without breaking
We saw many other old radios in antique shops and second-hand stores during our visit,
but these are the ones that I happened to photograph. Those in second-hand stores were
more reasonably priced, but were often in poor condition. In hindsight, perhaps I was
a bit too stingy on this trip. Next time, I may ship home one or two interesting sets.