Ekco Radio, Model AC85  

Ekco are perhaps known particularly for their stunning bakelite cabinets, but initially the cabinets were made by A.E.G. and imported from Germany.  Early radio models from the first two years of production had sold well in bakelite cabinets (like the RS2 and SH25), so Ekco was sufficiently confident of investing in the purchase of their own bakelite presses.  The substantial cost of the bakelite presses meant Ekco had to make sure that the public valued the integrity of a bakelite cabinet.  Most other manufacturers from the period 1930-1932 were building their receivers into veneered wood cabinets, therefore Ekco had to ensure that their cabinets did not appear to be a cheaper “poor man’s substitute”.  Hence Ekco took the decision to have their cabinets designed by prominent architects of the era, particularly those renowned for having worked on “Modern” or "Art Deco” inspired projects.

The radio pictured above is the AC85 from 1934.  Even though this was one of the earlier receivers to utilise a bakelite cabinet, to me this remains one of the most pleasing and effective bakelite cabinets of all time.  I particularly like the 1" deep moulded "feet" rails that run front to back of each end of the cabinet, and therefore ensure the base of the set is well above the surface the receiver was standing on.  This cabinet is said to be designed by Ekco’s in-house design team, but in reality must have been either designed by Wells Coates, otherwise Ekco certainly drew some inspiration from his ideas. (Wells Coates credited designs feature later in this Ekco sequence).  Like most of the Ekco bakelite cabinets it was available in either brown or black and chrome, the black and chrome version costing about 10/6 more.  I like this cabinet so much I have examples of both the brown and black and chrome versions, and the picture (below right) of them side-by-side demonstrates what a difference the black and chrome cabinet made.  Of course the chassis inside both models is identical, so the purchaser is spending the extra 10/6 purely on the appearance of the receiver.  10/6 was a not insignificant amount of money in the 1930’s particularly bearing in mind the years of the depression.  For that reason the black and chrome cabinet versions are seen much less often than the brown cabinets, a ratio I have seen quoted is about 10 to 1 in favour of brown.  

It would not only have been the extra cost that would have put many customers off buying the black and chrome cabinets.  The fact is most homes in the 1930’s were fairly dark and drab, with wooden or linoleum floors, and walnut furniture, indeed white paint was only in the initial phases of production.  The mottled brown cabinets blended in well with most homes of the era, the black and chrome cabinets were for those who sought the latest designs, perhaps having bought new Art Deco inspired houses, complete with metal windows and chrome fittings.  Therefore black and chrome cabinets appealed to the type of people who lived in buildings with flat roofs and white elevations, not for those who had bought “mock Tudor”.  The black and chromium combination exemplifies Art Deco, and the picture above right shows the Daily Express building in Fleet Street, London.  This impressive monument to Art Deco is faced with black Vitrolite with contrasting chromium steel strips, and incorporates the latest trend of windows curving round the corner of the structure.  It was built in 1932, architects Ellis & Clarke.  The jet black building grabs your attention away from its paler neighbours either side.

Continue to take a closer look at the AC85 Chassis