Early Television
Early Television
Early Television
Early Television
Early Television Early Television


The Challenge

The sets described in this website have been restored to working condition, unless otherwise noted.

To bring a set to life that has been gathering dust for 40 to 60 years requires many hours of labor. Many parts for early electronic sets are impossible to find, and replacement parts for most immediate postwar sets are difficult to find. In some cases, technical information is no longer available.

Video Sources

Electronic sets from the U.S. will work with today's TV standards, even the sets made before World War Two. Those sets were designed for 441 line operation, but will work with the present 525 line system.

Early electronic sets from England used a 405 line system, and used transmission standards which are different from those used in the U.S. For these sets, a 405 line test pattern generator is used to allow the set to work. Older 625 line VCRs will play back 405 line tapes, and we use this method. We also have a Pineapple digital standards converter that uses 625 line PAL signals to create a 405 line signal. Finally, we use one of the standards converters designed by Darryl Hock for 525 to 405 conversion.

Mechanical sets provide a real challenge. The approach I have taken is to use a PC to convert 525 line videotaped pictures to either 30 or 60 line pictures. We also use a number of Darryl's standards converters to drive our mechanical sets.

Restoration Philosophy

Presently, we are restoring several early electronic sets. Every few days we will be updating our progress in this site.

Because early electronic sets are so rare, we take special care with them to keep them as authentic as possible. All electrolytic and paper capacitors are restored by hiding modern ones inside the old shells. Transformers that are bad are rewound on the original core. We attempt to use the same style wire as the original, though a suitable replacement for the rubber covered wire used in the 30s is not available. If the set has been repaired with more modern components,  we attempt to replace them with ones of the period.

If the chassis is badly rusted, we have it replated. Otherwise, we attempt to remove as much rust as possible.

If the cabinet is in very good condition, we have the finish touched up. This is rare in early electronic sets - most are in pretty bad shape, and our philosophy is to restore the cabinet to an appearance as close to the original as possible. Cabinets from that period had lacquer finishes. In restoring woodwork, our cabinet shop uses the same type of finish, and the same processes used in the 30s.

There are many views on what, if anything, should be done to early electronic sets. Michael Bennett-Levy, the most respected collector in the United Kingdom, has this opinion:

I note you state on your web site that you intend to have all your TV sets in working condition in your museum. Are you sure that this is wise or necessary?

Most collectors I know have confronted the question of whether to restore early TVs to working order, I know I have. Please permit me to rabbit on a bit, some of what I say may be of use to you - if not well nothing's lost.

In the course of my business I restore many items. Here I have a well equipped workshop and each year dozens of diverse items pass through it. I also contract out many jobs to other restorers with very specific skills so that in general there is very little electrical, mechanical, pneumatic or woodworking that can't be tackled. The materials I confront are equally diverse, wood, metal, leather, paper, rubber, tortoiseshell, sharkskin, ivory, cotton, glass, plastic etc. plus all manner of coatings enamel, oil paint, stencils, lacquer, ormolu, metal platings, gold leaf, french polish etc. After many years I have come to the conclusion that restoration is more of a philosophy than anything else. When I get an object now I try to imagine how I want it to look when it leaves my hands and whether it should work and if so how. In dealing with the looks my ideal is fairly simply stated. Indeed I tell all my restorers that if their work is 'perfect' then no one should ever be able to appreciate their work and skill. Neither I nor anyone else should be able to tell that the object has ever been touched! That means cleaning should be very sensitive -over cleaning is a far greater 'crime' than under cleaning. Most of my work is just that - cleaning and lubricating. Replacing parts is something I think about very carefully indeed as it must effect the historical veracity of the object. Do I replace a broken spring in a clock? Well yes I do. Do I replace a cog with broken teeth in a clock - not if I can help it. I would first try to replace the teeth. In general my philosophy is if I think I have to replace something I put the object aside and think about the alternatives for a week or two and then if still in doubt I leave the object alone. Work once done cannot be reversed as a rule.

Pre-war TVs are very rare. To get one in to working order inevitably involves the replacement of some components, capacitors for a start. Modern capacitors are much smaller than old ones so one can hollow out the old ones and put the new ones inside them thus preserving the original look. Rewinding a transformer is probably acceptable but with both operations one has to 'put a soldering iron the set' and it is almost impossible to do so without leaving a trace - hence the restorer leaves a mark of his presence. Once a TV set is working then the tube has a limited life span. Pre- war tubes - especially the small ones suffer quite quickly from ion burn and replacement tubes are not plentiful to put it mildly. A set may work today with an acceptable brightness but then the set is 'only' sixty something years old and has probably not been used for fifty or more of them. What about when you and I are dead in another hundred years? What will be the historical importance of a pre-war TV set with many components changed and a burned out tube? Just as a piece of furniture design?

I've had a little over sixty pre-war TV sets through my hands since 1993. In all that number I only had two put in to working order (plus one that was already in working order from David Boynes). My experience in showing people my collection is that the experience is a mixture of nostalgia and historical and just seeing one pre-war set working for a few minutes crowns the experience for them. The analogy I think about is the Wright Brothers' Flyer in the Smithsonian in Washington. There it is hanging up the world's first powered aircraft still incredibly not yet even 100 years old! Presumably it could be got to work again and be flown but would one want to - for any reason? Thus it is with the TVs I possess. They are cleaned up as much as possible and mostly gleam - when dusted - but otherwise they remain many in the same electrical state as when they left their manufacturers.   

Each person must make up his or her mind as to whether they want to put a pre-war TV in their possession back in to working order. I would not dream to criticize that choice, but for me I always tried to buy 'untouched sets' and sold on the less perfect duplicates (such luxury! Now alas gone). When Arnold Chase asked me which TRK 12/120 I wanted, (he had about eight or ten in varying states) my response was to ask him to send me the most 'untouched'. He did. It had sixty years of dust inside and outside of it.

If the tube in your Cossor has a burned out filament but is otherwise intact and with a bright white phosphor does it matter? It may be a blessing in disguise because in 100 years the phosphor will still be white and the insides perfect. For all I know one or two of the sets in my collection may have burned out filaments, but I'll never know at least until they leave my hands.

If you have an opinion on this subject, I'd like to hear it, and post it here.

Postwar sets are more common, so we are less careful with keeping the parts looking original. All paper capacitors are replaced, but not inside the old shells. Bad electrolytic capacitors are left in place physically, but removed electrically from the circuit, with modern ones installed under the chassis.

With the exception of a few rare sets, such as our RCA 621 and Temple TV-1776, the cabinets are simply touched up to make them as attractive as possible.