The collector: Eric Wrobbel, based in Los Angeles, California, is an art director, writer, and musician. He has been described by peers as a philosopher, a hedonist, strongly opinionated, and "Eric who?" He considers a creative orientation to be essential to human well-being and finds that collecting, while not literally a creative enterprise, supports and celebrates the creative efforts that went into the objects collected and inspires our creative instincts... our need to create.
The collection: Walkie-Talkies
The story behind the collection...
Over the years I’ve acquired and saved many things of interest. I long ago dignified these acquisitions with the name “collections,” which pressed me still further to acquire more. My collecting themes were unclear to me at first, but as I did it, it became clear that what interested me were things that were in my opinion historically significant and things that were well-designed or stylish. I still have every one of those collections. People with time to waste viewing them are invited to do so here.
One collection with roots all the way back to my childhood is my walkie-talkie collection. The turquoise and red pair of Astro-Phones (top image) were made in the USA by IR Industries (Infrared Industries, Inc.) Model IRC-1. “Like magic…sends your voice hundreds of yards on a beam of invisible light, From the Frontiers of Science.” And for just $29.50 in 1961.
As a child, I was fascinated by gadgets (as I still am). One of the first gadgets I ever coveted, and actually got, was the Spacephone S-2100 that came in the box shown here. That’s me on the box, with girlfriend Betty Lou yakking away on her Spacephone, completely ignoring me. Not really. Actually, I was about nine years old when I got this kit for Christmas. I say kit because it was just that, a box of parts that needed to be assembled. My dad put it together with his giant Weller soldering gun and the fun commenced.
Several years later when I began to collecting walkie-talkies in earnest, I found that my notion that all walkie-talkies were wireless transceivers wasn’t exactly correct. While it is true that they’re the only ones with which you can really walkie while you talkie, the other types proved to be just too much fun to ignore. The early string-phones were quaint and charming. They are basically commercial versions of the old “tin-can telephone.” Keep a string stretched tightly between two of these and it will actually carry your voice.
Two US-made string-phones are shown here: The Mike-O-Fone is still sealed in its paper package; the Tums example, made of cardboard and dated 1938 is part toy, part advertising.
Later string-phones and the wired “electronic” sets came in some amazing kid-magnet boxes. In advertising these toys the makers often played it pretty fast and loose with the facts--using fake antennas and not showing any strings or wires on the boxes--implying that these walkie-talkies were wireless when they were not. I learned at a very young age that adults seemed to have no qualms about lying to children.
The red, black, and yellow “Remco Electronic” walkie-talkies here (and below) are from 1951 (USA). They’re wired, basically like a telephone, but very very cool!
The Dan Dare models shown on the outstanding box here were quite similar in styling to the Remco but they had “push-button planetary selectors!” They’re from the British firm Merit (1953).
The world of “real” walkie-talkies, aka “transceivers” is a different one, less toy-like, but much more fun to actually use. This Tosari is from Japan (Orion Electric, 1961) and is in a painted metal cabinet. Very architectural. Unlike most walkie-talkies, this one’s push-to-talk button favors the left-handed among us.
In bright aluminum is this Raleigh TC-909, a 9-transistor “micro transceiver” from Japan circa 1964. When I did my book on walkie-talkies, I called it “Toy Walkie Talkies”. Some aren’t exactly “toys” however. Some were sold in some pretty serious boxes - with range claims and frequencies and power outputs listed, and pictures of old guys shooting ducks. The more expensive they were, the bigger they were, and the plainer and more serious they looked. That was part of the appeal for a kid; they seemed so grown up. Here’s one of those big ones. Far beyond the budget of any kid in 1962 at $110, it’s the Johnson Personal Messenger (Minnesota, USA).
More kid-possible, and far on the other end of the build-quality spectrum, was this turquoise Heathkit Jr. (1962, USA). This one is made of the thinnest plastic I’ve seen on a product since shrink wrap. The Sony CB-801W is plain, but of obvious high quality, and this aluminum body model is from 1965 (Japan). I’ve always had a fondness for Sony products going back to the days when people were still pronouncing the name “sonny.”
One of the most stylish devices of any kind ever designed is this stunner from Toshiba, the ZS-7210A (circa 1965, Japan). Just amazing. Known today mostly for lackluster-looking laptops, Toshiba in the ‘50s and early ‘60s made some of the most stylish transistor radios.
The B.C. Telecon features a nice slab of underpainted plastic at the top. We’ll call this one a cross-collectible because it also has a built-in transistor radio. Circa 1962, Japan.
The 1970s and ’80s electronics toys took cheap to a whole new level. Still, these are pretty stylish and anchor a certain spot in my collection. At left is a Space Communicator (by Vanity Fair, made in Korea, 1980) and at right a mid-‘70s Electra RT-100.
At the beginning of this little treatise, I mentioned the “fun commencing” when I got my first walkie-talkie up and running. The truth is, walkie-talkies as toys are only as fun as the person on the other end--the person with the other walkie-talkie. It takes two to play with walkie-talkies and it’s not always easy to find another kid who wants to play with the same toy at the same time. As any parent can tell you, kids are only interested in the same toy at the same time if there is only one of them!
What is the “significance” of walkie-talkies? Why do they matter? I like to think of each of my collections as having some sort of meaning. Some sort of claim to importance in the story of civilization. Walkie-talkies? Why, they were the magical devices by which you could communicate instantly, by voice, with someone else no matter where they, or you, were. Within range, of course. Is that a concept we humans consider important? Well, consider the success of our modern-day incarnation of this concept. Successful indeed. We call them mobile phones.
What does my collection say about me? Well, the smart-aleck answer is: it says I can’t throw anything out. And, as I think about it, I’m going to have to stick with that answer. I think it’s the best answer I’ve got.
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All images © 2012 Eric Wrobbel and used with his kind permission.