Ekco Round Radios
Ekco Round Radio Design
Essex, is an English county blessed with quite a number of radio manufacturers from the 1920's right through to the late 1960's One major factory was that of E.K.Cole, Priory Works, Priory Crescent, Southend on Sea. They had earlier manufactured from smaller premises at nearby Leigh-on-Sea, but with the burgeoning radio industry the new site was established.
Ekco are synomynous throughout the radio world for their trail blazing innovations in bakelite, with many models today being very collectable, and suffice to say, highly sought after.
One such example was the series of drum shaped radio sets appropriately nicknamed "the round ekco's". These sets were produced between 1934 and 1946, with five distinct models being manufactured.
The round ekco originated from a company competition in 1932 to discover the very best design for their new bakelite range. A draft submitted by the architect Wells Coates was for a round drum shaped radio that could be placed on it's back with the notion that the set could be placed centrally on a dining table making it easy for the diner's to tune into their favourite station. This was decided to be impractical until the idea of placing ribbed feet below the tuning knobs and standing the set upright was adopted, and thus creating what is now accepted to be a universal icon of the British Art Deco period.
The very first of this range was the model AD 65 in 1934. A strikingly avant-garde set which drew critical acclaim from both the radio press and general public. Ekco produced this set originally in walnut brown, or black bakelite with chromed speaker grill bars and knob caps, but also produced to special order radios in amber, blue, cream, green, red, white and yellow!
Today, there are a few green examples in circulation, as well as white and cream models. The other coloured sets are now virtual unknowns, and if still existing, must be worth £30,000 plus; especially for the red version.
The coloured sets were produced using urea formaldehyde, and today there is evidence of chemical instability in sets made this way.
A green model on display recently at the National Vintage Communications Fair in Birmingham showed signs of this decomposition, which had clear stress cracks crumbling away at the dial corners, and speaker grill bars.
It would therefore seem likely that during the next 20 - 30 years, these cabinets will eventually turn to dust with the chrome fixtures being the only reminder of this once beautiful set. Interestingly, a similar example sold some years ago for £28,000 and another reached £21,000 at auction, but had failed it's reserve. A considerable investment for such short term ownership!
Riding high on the crest of the round set's appeal, E.K.Cole went onto produce a further four sets. These were:
All of these models had variations made to the cabinet, these were mostly in basic models devoid of chrome fixtures, or slight colour differentation, but were essentially the same.
Today, the earlier sets are very rare indeed, and ordinary bakelite examples can reach as much as £1,500 to £2,000.
Ekco also released specially made stands for these sets, and those too are worth a premium.
Care should be taken in the purchase of these sets. The majority of dials on the original sets have been sympathetically replaced, and additionally some sets are fitted with reproduction knobs. These are acceptable as well as cabinet repair to the bakelite which is now very fragile.
However, in recent years the cabinets of the earlier models have been re-manufactured using modern plastics and fillers, and good examples are difficult to detect especially for the novice collector. Be wary also of coloured sets! The colour should go all through the plastic, and not just on the surface. There are some unscrupulous individuals who would spray over plain cabinets to improve their value.
If you want to see a good selection of Ekco's products, you should visit the Prittlewell Priory Museum, Victoria Avenue, Southend-on-Sea.
The collection hosts all of the classic sets made by the company, together with a large selection of background material. The museum is surrounded by parkland, and has many amenities for the family to enjoy (which is a good excuse to take the kids). The original Ekco factory actually overlooks the park, and is only a short distance by foot.
Rumours still persist that the original bakelite presses exist at the old factory site, if anyone can confirm or deny this rumour, I for one would love to know!