A couple of weeks ago, some folks came into our shop looking to consign this thing:
Was this going to be another what the heck is it? Luckily for us, there was a label on the back:
Hmm….an RCA Loudspeaker 106 Electro-Dynamic. That’s what we had to work with. So this is some sort of speaker for a radio then. I mean, look at it. Any speaker I’m familiar with wouldn’t have a tapestry image like the one on the front. This speaker was actually manufactured to look pretty, and not be just functional. Check it out. Lots of detail in the wood and in the cover so it was meant to be seen as a piece of furniture.
So what is so special about this speaker? When was it made? How much should we sell it for (and more importantly to us, was it worth taking in on consignment?)
In the early days of radio, when you bought your radio you could only listen to it with headphones. Early radios didn’t have the power to drive a loudspeaker, and early amplifiers used a horn.
Loudspeakers like these and ours were made for amplification and for use in multiple rooms. The radio remained in one particular room while loudspeakers could be placed in other rooms, allowing the radio to be heard remotely. It was common to have one particular brand of radio working with a completely different brand of speaker. More uncommon was the radio that required a particular type of speaker to work with it.
In this case, the RCA Radiola 106 speaker (ours) was RCA’s top-of-the-line accessory speaker. It was sold alone as a loudspeaker and worked with any 1920’s radio; BUT it came supplied with the RCA Theremin.
Theremin? That’s a really familiar name but I can’t remember exactly why I know about it. Was it a radio? Oh, no! Isn’t it that eery electronic music from the olden days?
Yes! The theremin was the first electronic musical instrument, pre-Moog Synthesizer, where the performer (the thereminist) played the instrument without touching it. Huh? How do you do that?
The theremin was made with two antennae. The thereminist would move their hands in the air between the antennae in order to control the pitch and the volume of the electric signals being emitted. These electric signals were then transmitted to the loudspeaker. OUR loudspeaker.
The theremin was invented by Russian, Leon Theremin, and patented in 1928. Here is a video where Leon Theremin plays his instrument:
It has an eerie, Sci-Fi sound, doesn’t it? It isn’t an everyday instrument but it has been used in many, many recordings as well as in certain movie soundtracks such as “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. Even though the instrument may be foreign, the sound is familiar. The soundtrack to “The Day the Earth Stood Still” can be heard here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cPEchNTSE0
Awesome! The question now is what can we get for this loudspeaker? I found a few loudspeakers similar to ours, by Googling them, with a few selling for as little as $25 to $60. :/ Not so great for my purposes. http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/1824096 Shouldn’t it be worth more?
With a little extra work, we saw mention of one that sold on eBay for $375. Great! Our price? $399.99 plus shipping. Here is our listing:
The item sold in auction, first pass through a ten-day auction cycle. So where is it going? …… CHINA. I think there must be a thereminist somewhere in that big country. Our advice? Keep your eyes peeled for the tapestry fronted speaker. I hope you find yours for less than $50 too. You WILL make a profit. It can be, apparently, guaranteed.