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Radio - Marconiphone AC42
  • Marconiphone AC42
    EMI Records - The Gramophone Co. Ltd.
  • Enlarge image

Marconiphone AC42

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Hayes (probably, manufactured)

  • Date:

    1931 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    EMI Records - The Gramophone Co. Ltd. (manufacturers)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Veneered wood, plastic

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

When domestic wireless sets became more widely available in the mid-to-late-1920s, they were initially seen as a new form of furniture. Sometimes they were concealed inside cabinets but more often, for middle-class buyers, radios were made which related stylistically to existing home interiors. By 1931, plastic (usually Bakelite) radio cabinets were just beginning to become popular. However, this wooden Art Nouveau-inflected Marconiphone set would have been more typical, revealing the British public's more conservative domestic tastes.

Physical description

Mains wireless receiver. Large upright veneered wooden 'tombstone'-style cabinet, with sides sloping in towards the top; both sides are slightly concave. The top of the cabinet curves upwards to a convex curve at its centre. The front of the cabinet has a large symmetrical curvilinear cutaway, behind which is mounted a large wooden panel with a bold, organic, symmetrical fretwork design. This panel in turn is covered from behind with a gold covered fabric. At the centre base of this panel is a narrow vertical rectangular brown plastic insert incorporating a small tuning scale. The the front bottom edge of the cabinet are three wooden control knobs in a line. There is an additional, similar control knob, set into a plastic recess, on the right hand side of the cabinet near its base.

Place of Origin

Hayes (probably, manufactured)


1931 (made)


EMI Records - The Gramophone Co. Ltd. (manufacturers)

Materials and Techniques

Veneered wood, plastic


Height: 43 cm, Width: 51 cm, Depth: 29 cm

Object history note

Purchased by the Circulation Department in 1977, from Rupert's of Ealing [77/1310].

On entry to the Museum, the condition of this radio was noted as 'fair; some scratching'

Historical context note

The first successful radio transmission was made by David Edward Hughes (1831-1900) in 1879. Some years later, in 1896, Gugliemo Marconi (1874-1937) patented a system of electromagnetic radio wave communication which, unlike the already-established telegraph system, was ‘wireless’, meaning signals could be heard by anyone with a radio receiver in range of the broadcast. Marconi established the world’s first radio factory in Chelmsford in 1898, where sets were hand-built to high specifications for mostly scientific, governmental and military customers. Another early customer was Queen Victoria who in 1898 had a set installed at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, so she could communicate with the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, as he convalesced aboard his yacht at Cowes.

Military applications meant that radio technology advanced rapidly during the First World War, and in the 1920s regular civilian broadcasting began, changing the domestic experience forever. The previously diverse parts of the radio; the valves, controls, wires and speakers, began in the mid-1920s to be enclosed inside a single cabinet. In this early period, radios were seen essentially as furniture and some companies employed cabinet-makers and well-known furniture designers. As radios were new to the domestic interior, their design had no precedent, which allowed manufacturers to design them creatively. This struck a chord in the late-1920s and 1930s with the expanding synthetic plastics industry; oil-based plastics were also a recent innovation, the first, Bakelite (phenol-formaldehyde), having been successfully synthesised in 1907. The collaboration between industrial designers and manufacturers gave rise to many very modern radio designs, particularly in America. Tastes in Britain remained, in general, more conservative, favouring wooden cabinets or Bakelite cabinets imitating wood. During the Second World War the manufacture of civilian radios essentially ceased in the United Kingdom, with the exception of the ‘Utility’ radio (see V&A CIRC.678-1975) produced under government directive by 42 companies.

After the war, domestic radios became smaller and lighter, incorporating wartime technologies such as miniature valves and polystyrene, and later transistors and printed circuit boards. As the components became smaller, radios became less important in their own right and were incorporated as a single function of more complex audio systems.

Marconiphone started life in 1922 as a branch of the Marconi Company, manufacturing for the domestic market. The company was bought in 1929 by the Gramophone Company (later EMI), who purchased the right to use the Marconiphone name and trademark ‘G. Marconi’ signature.

Descriptive line

model Marconiphone AC 42; British 1931 man. Gramophone Co. Ltd

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Hogben, Carol, The Wireless Show!: 130 classic radio receivers, 1920s to 1950s, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1977

Labels and date

[20th century gallery]

Made by the Gramophone Co. Ltd., Hayes, Middlesex, Great Britain, 1931
3 valves; veneered wood case

This conservative model with its Marconiphone grille was conceived as furniture for the living room of a middle-income family. It contrasts with many of the 'Moderne' cabinets of the period.


Wood; Plastic


Veneering; Sawing


Furniture; Electrical appliances; Entertainment & Leisure; Product design; Household objects; Audio equipment

Production Type

Mass produced


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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