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Murphy A104

  • Object:

    Radio

  • Place of origin:

    Welwyn Garden City (manufactured)

  • Date:

    1946 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Thwaites, A.F. (designers)
    Murphy Radio Ltd. (manufacturers)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Mahogany veneer; steel, tin, PVC, electrical components

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Ernö Goldfinger

  • Museum number:

    W.44-1978

  • Gallery location:

    20th Century, Room 74, case CA1, box 41

By the 1940s, some believed that enclosing radio receivers inside Bakelite or wooden cabinets was detrimental to audio quality. Searching for an 'improved, high fidelity sound', Murphy Radio produced this design, known popularly as the 'Baffle Board'. Behind the slender, curved mahogany face, the receiver is contained inside a lightweight structure made from perforated steel sheet, through which its internal workings are visible. The 'experimental', technological aesthetic of the radio is reinforced by the optically-projected scale located on the right-side of the tuning dial, showing the short wave band displayed on a small screen. This model was shown at the V&A's 1946 exhibition, 'Britain Can Make It', organised by the Council of Industrial Design. This exhibition was a precursor to 1951's Festival of Britain in that it intended to showcase excellence in contemporary British, post-war design. This radio is an early post-war example of a high-quality radio set, although it was far from cheap: a brand new set would have cost £25.

Physical description

AC mains radio receiver, rectangular with rounded corners. The receiver itself is held inside a curving structure made from pressed perforated steel, fastened to the back of a gently curving wooden board, veneered with mahogany. In the centre of the front is mounted the loudspeaker and operating controls. The short wave scale is optically projected onto a small screen to the right of the main scale.

Place of Origin

Welwyn Garden City (manufactured)

Date

1946 (made)

Artist/maker

Thwaites, A.F. (designers)
Murphy Radio Ltd. (manufacturers)

Materials and Techniques

Mahogany veneer; steel, tin, PVC, electrical components

Dimensions

Width: 60.3 cm, Height: 45.7 cm, Depth: 14 cm, Weight: 12.6 kg

Object history note

Given to the V&A in 1978 by the architect Ernö Goldfinger, FRIBA [RF 77/1359].

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.

Murphy Radio Ltd was established in 1929 in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, by Frank Murphy and E.J. Power. Murphy was one of the first companies to work with furniture designers, entering into partnership with Gordon Russell early in their history, and producing highly modern cabinet designs. Initially it was insisted that their radios be made from wood. This design dates from 1946, nine years after Frank Murphy had departed the company to found FM Radio.

An example of this model was shown at the V&A's 1946 exhibition, 'Britain Can Make it', organised by the Council of Industrial Design. This exhibition was a precursor to the 1951 Festival of Britain in that it showcased contemporary British design. The exhibition ran for only three months but was visited by over 1.4 million people. The intention of the show was to demonstrate the transition from wartime to peacetime industrial production. A brand new radio of this type would have cost about £25.

Descriptive line

model A104; British 1946 des. A.F.Thwaites man. Murphy

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

Hawes, Robert, Radio Art (London, 1991)
p.105
Hogben, Carol, The Wireless Show!: 130 classic radio receivers, 1920s to 1950s, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1977

Labels and date

[20th century gallery]

MURPHY MODEL A 104
Designed by A.F. Thwaites (active 1940s)
Made by Murphy Radio Ltd., Welwyn Garden City, Great Britain, 1946
4 valves; mahogany 'baffle' cabinet
Given by Erno Goldfinger

Murphy's search for 'improved, high fidelity sound' determined the form of this radio. Acoustic considerations led to the placing of the speaker behind a wooden baffle. A narrow, easy to reach steel shelf was introduced at the back, to provide better access to internal components.
[]

Materials

Mahogany; Electrical components; Steel; Tin; PVC

Techniques

Pressing; Veneering

Categories

Audio equipment; Electrical appliances; Household objects; Product design

Production Type

Mass produced

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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