Padgett's Radio Rating Page

One of the perenniel problems with buying/selling radios and other antiques on the Internet is the inability for the buyer to exmine the merchandise prior to the sale. Hopefully this is a temporary condition as it is simple/inexpensive today to at least trade "photographs" in the form of .GIFs and .JPEGs but this practise is not widespread as yet.

A number of years ago I developed and explained the 1-6 rating scheme ranging from "Better than New" to "Possibly Some Useful Parts" for old cars, extending the previous sparsely explained 1-5 scheme to include those with bow and stern separation. Originally conceived as a throwaway, it was reprinted widely and took on a life of its own.

Here then is Padgett's 1-6 Guide to Old Radios

Class 1 - Better than New

These are the radios that are often described as NIB (New In Box) but is really more than that. If a TransOceanic, this would be the one that was in a hermetically sealed case in the Zenith headquarters, the "Gold Master" that was hand crafted by artists and all parts were select fitted.

If a restorer were to replace everything that showed the slightest wear including the entire cover if the slightest mar could be discerned and with only factory original parts & materials, he/she might come close.

This category is here simply because it could exist, not that one would ever be seen in real life since it represents perfection. Further, not every radio, even if new, could even aspire to this class since the radio must be exceptional as a design before it could even be considered for this category.

The few such radios which exist are never advertised for sale since they have standing waiting lists. Often centerpiece radios at a large estate auction are advertised as such but rarely measure up in actuality.

Class 2 - Show Quality

This is the radio that fanatics would drool over and if real judged shows existed, would always win. It would appear new though the fit and finish would be to factory production standards and the effects of tolerances would show. For instance the volume control shaft might not quite be centered in the panel cutout and the paint inside the rear cover might not be perfectly uniform. However all parts would be factory original and like a class 1 all parts would be proper brands and markings for the year of manufacture. They just might have been slightly used and covers would show signs that they had been opened.

In fact if you took a Class 1 and actually used it for a month, it would become a Class 2. This radio would be described as "Superb" in an advertisement.

Class 3 - Pride and Joy

Here we have the radio that is given a place of prominance in many display cases. It look and plays excellently. It is a radio that any spouse would allow in the living room and guests would notice appreciatively.

The difference is that to a fanatic certain imperfections would be noticable - repaired flaws in the cabinet/covering would be detectable on close examination and the knobs might show slight wear. The radio would be fully functional on all bands but might have replacement tubes with glass envelopes instead of the original metal tubes and the case may have a teensy crack somewhere. Few would know the difference.

This is a nice to very nice radio and needs nothing to be presentable but is not up to Class 2 standards. It would be capable of winning a prise at a local meet if no better radio showed up but the owner would know.

Class 4 - Swapmeet & Garage Sale Special

Now we come to the most common radio seen in collections. It looks OK but the flaws have not been corrected. Cosmetically it needs some help but it has been cleaned/polished to the extent possible without disassembly. The biggest problem is forty years of dust/tobacco fumes. It does work but may well be a bit "weak". There will be evidence of repairs done with cost constraints however the radio will be complete which correct knobs/faceplate/pointers though the power cord may have been replaced. Visitors will never know the difference.

Alternatively, it might be a nice radio that shows a ham-handed attempt to repair/restore or has had some easily locateable parts swapped. Unfortunately often the seller will not realize/accept that such units are more difficult to upgrade than one which was never touched at all.

The major separation between class 3 and class 4 is mainly labor and TLC, no major parts are needed. Often a thorough cleaning, alignment, and tube or electrolytic is all that is needed to qualify for Class 3. Caveat: Sometimes that tube may cost more than the radio.

In ads this radio would be described as "Good"

Class 5 - Swap and Garage Radios

These are the units you find under the table at a swap meet or playing in a garage, often with a television channel selector knob on the volume control. It may be capable of receiving a station and only that station. It is a complete unit though many different radios may have been involved in the final product.

If you have another class 5 in the shop of the same make/model and are lucky, you may be able to make a class 4 out of the two

In a FS these are usually described as "Fair"


Class Six - Parts Sets

These are units often found in trash cans and in dollar boxes: ("Take the whole box home for a dollar". This is the case where you would pay more to just take a few easily detachable parts off it that you would pay for the whole thing. You will not see these in paid advertisements so any description beyond "For Parts" is meaningless.

Price Lists and Values In General

First thing that must be remembered is that all price guides are probably out of date and can be used as guides only. With thousands of radios made just in the US since 1919, it is very difficult just to keep track of manufacturers.

Note that many "Price Lists" exist, so many that you can often pick a list to suit any purpose - low if you are buying, high if you are selling. Those with a single column are generally referring to radios in class 3-4.

Further, nothing is more volatile that prices of collectables, particularly specific ones. Fads happen and blow up/disappear in very short periods of time. Any price list that is a year old is probably out of date.

Just as an example, consider a Zenith TransOceanic H-500 from 1952. Nice radio but not particularly rare since about 250,000 were made between 1951 and 1954. Another factor is that it is recent enough to still be showing up at garage sales/flea markets/etc.. As a result class prices look like this:

Class 6    Class 5    Class 4    Class 3    Class 2    Class1
$10.00 $20.00 $40.00 $80.00 $160.00 $320.00

Note: that up to class 4, if the radio has a good 1L6 tube, the tube is worth more than the radio.

In addition all collectors must realize that there is a difference between real value and collector value. From the chart above you will see that the collector value of a reasonably nice/working/complete (class 3) H-500 is $80.00. Of that about $60.00 is "Collector Value" since the functional value of an AM/SW radio witout FM is about $20.00. Further to someone who just wants something impressive to sit on the shelf, you might add another $30.00.

Point is that the H-500 is only worth $80.00 to someone who wants it for what it is, not what it can do, and that person will become upset should what arrives via UPS not be up to that standard.

Finally, all should be aware that there is a difference between asking and selling price. Neophytes often pay too much as do non-collectors. Real salesmen are aware of this. The rule is that a price can always be lowered but is difficult to raise (except in an auction which is becoming a popular medium for the Internet.

From personal experience I have found that if someone does not know what the value of what they have is, they probably are not able to properly assess its condition either. Caveat y'all.

Moving Between Classes

As a rule of thumb, between classes the prices usually double however the effort involved with moving a radio up a class is exponential. It is not too hard to move up one class, very difficult to move up two, and must be a labour of love to move up three.

Also be aware that until recently, a higher premium was put on appearance than operation. This was because parts were relatively plentiful and cheap. While some still are (complete retube for an AA5 is under U$20.00 in 2Q97), others like type 1L6 and type 45 tubes are becoming quite scarce/valuable. This trend is going to accellerate unless it becomes profitable for the few manufacturers left to tool up and that will require significant demand that is unlikely to happen.

As a result, we are liable to see more of the Disney approach: Take a nice cabinet and replace all of the innards with a new/solid state chassis. Higher priced retro-devices will leave the firebottles on top and may even make them glow.


To understand dealers, you must realize that all are in the business to make money. The litmus test is to double investments. Some do better but is important to understand that this is their rice bowl so have more impetus than the average collector. The collector's advantage is that they can wait while the dealer must move those turkeys.

Generally there are two types of dealers: those that began as hobbyists and have gotten so large that the dealing is a means to support the hobby. Often they have day jobs and are very knowlegable in their nitche. The best deals are in items that they receive that are out of their nitche. They value the radio.

The other group is made up of salesmen who have simply found a new source of income. They are easily identified by a near complete lack of knowlege about the subject other than being able to buy a poor class four and sell the same radio as a very nice class three with no effort. Fortunately these generally last only a short time.

If You Must Ask

A frequent question I get is what is a good starter. The best response I have found is always go for the Top of the Line. Many people settle for less and are surprised to find that "less" often turns out to have no appreciation except by neophytes.

Next, begin with the cheapest complete unit you can find. Restore it completely (see "Labour of Love" above). This will teach you more about that radio than you ever wanted to know and makes you able to appreciate the difference in price between a good one and a really nice one. Most say "Never Again"

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