Weird Frills and Wacky Grills

Capehart 1954 Wild Plaid radio Mid-Century Modern Style

1954 the Year of Odd Micro Trends and Bizarre Styling


Spring has sprung so to speak at Retro Radio Farm.  Cool breezy afternoons, fireflies, and time spent listening to great songs on the porch. Retro Radios are a passion people share with us all the time.  The styling is unbelievable and we love all the various colors and designs we come across day after day. However...

Sometimes here on the farm we find ourselves scratching our heads.  “What were they thinkin?”  Believe me; we say it with love, because it is a standout radio that will drive this conversation.  One of the first is the Smitten by Burlap radio by Sparton Radio.

 Spartan Vintage Radio

It is so ugly I coined a new word “Uglorgeous TM ” This particular radio sports a dark green radio chassis accented by a liberal swath of light, mint green (painted) Burlap. Burlap, “Huh?!” I think my head spun around when I first saw it.

Green Vintage Sparton Radio

Next is the truly wacky tuning dial that is not really centered over a strangely yellow volume dial below.  The 1953-1954 Spartan 360 was known as the “Table-Topper." Boy, that's a catchy name, not. This radio came in 4 color combinations, including red and charcoal. 

1954 Sparton Antique retro vintage Radio ad

Nothing about this radio makes sense to us, and that is why we love it so much.

I found this awesome 1954 magazine advertisement. The “Table-Topper” is among the various radio lines from that season ranging from small to large.  It makes you wonder was Burlap a thing in 1954? Hmm, and if it was, why? And on top of that why paint the burlap, green is that much better than tan? So many questions, so little time.

 Antique vintage retro Sparton Radio for sale

Soon after this model year, Spartan switched gears and stop making televisions and radios, in favor of delving into manufacturing products for the US military. 


The Venerable Capehart-Farnsworth 

 Capehart Farnsworth vintage antique retro radio

Another wacky grill is the 1954 table top radio by Capehart known as model number T-54 AM.  This radio sports a painted plaid grill cover over the speaker area. So the question we asked was why pick this pattern, why this color combination? Why plaid tartan, at all? We will never know but the question persisted and after much searching I found a possible inspiration for this design frill.

Royal Stuart Tartan antique retro vintage Scottish plaid detail

This is a detail showing the “Tartan fabric” which is printed on metal for the grill of the radio.  It is reminiscent of the Royal Stuart tartan registered in the Scottish Register of Tartans. This tartan design was first published in the notorious Vestiarium Scoticum in 1842.  Later, the Vestiarium Scoticum was denounced as a complete forgery. However, the plaid designs within the document may have influenced tartan design ever since, including this homage.

The Sobieski Stewart brothers, published the Vestiarium Scoticum.  It is said to have influenced the design of many of the popular Scottish tartans we see around the world today and to have given birth to the modern-day Scottish tartan industry. The colors here include the red and white of the Polish national flag and the black and silver of the Royal Sobieski eagle. A woven sample I found in the Scottish Register of Tartans is pretty similar to the plaid grill of the Capehart radio.  

Antique vintage retro radio capehart farnsworth T-54

This is just the beginning. There is so much more to see. If you are interested in learning more click here.

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