Not currently on display at the V&A

Pye model MM Transportable

Radio
1931 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Pye's famous 'rising sun' motif first appeared in 1927, supposedly inspired by a design taken from a cigarette case. This successful logo appered on many Pye radios during the 1930s, but it was hastily dropped in 1948 (see Pye model 78F; V&A museum no. W.15-1992). This radio, although heavy, was designed to be portable. Its cabinet is made from walnut-veneered plywood; a cheap, industrial material covered with thin slivers of a more expensive wood. In 1931, it would have retailed at £17 17s.

Object details

Categories
Object type
TitlePye model MM Transportable (manufacturer's title)
Materials and techniques
Walnut-veneered plywood
Brief description
model MM; British 1931 des. and man. Pye
Physical description
Portable radio receiver. Wooden veneered cabinet, upright and rectangular in shape, top rises into a point. There are two decorative wooden projections on either side, with a cutaway handle. The controls are situated on the right-hand side, the knobs and tuning scale contained within a cutaway metal insert at the top, stamped 'Pye, Cambridge'. On the front is a large, circular aperture for the loudspeaker, with a fretwork sunset, clouds and sea motif, behind which is a fabric covering.
Dimensions
  • Height: 46.3cm
  • Width: 46cm
  • Depth: 23.5cm
Measurements taken from paper records - not checked on object.
Style
Production typeMass produced
Gallery label
[20th century gallery] PYE PORTABLE MODEL MM Designed and made by Pye Radio Ltd., Cambridge, Great Britain, 1931 3 valves; plywood cabinet, walnut veneer Circ.332-1972 Pye's fretwork sunrise was inspired by a motif seen by the sales manager on the cigarette case of a colleague. It first appeared as their logo on a 1927 portable model. It was used for ten years and made a brief reappearance in 1948.
Object history
Purchased by the Circulation Department in 1972, from Chiu Antiques, Camden Passage, London N1 [72/988].

On entry to the Museum the condition of this radio was noted as 'scratched and stained'.
Historical context
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.

Pye Ltd. was founded in Cambridge in 1896 by William George Pye, an employee of the Cavendish Laboratory - the physics department of the University of Cambridge. In its early days, the company specialised in making optical scientific equipment, this expertise being exploited during the First World War when Pye were contracted to manufacture gun sights. Pye also manufactured thermionic valves during the war years, placing them in a favourable market position once peace dawned. Domestic wireless receivers begun to be manufactured shortly after the war’s end. The company expanded significantly after it was acquired in 1928 by Charles Orr Stanley, who directed Pye to begin producing its first television sets. Pye would later make a significant contribution to the Second World War effort, producing radar receivers. Post-war, Pye became the leading British manufacturer of portable radio receivers.
Subject depicted
Summary
Pye's famous 'rising sun' motif first appeared in 1927, supposedly inspired by a design taken from a cigarette case. This successful logo appered on many Pye radios during the 1930s, but it was hastily dropped in 1948 (see Pye model 78F; V&A museum no. W.15-1992). This radio, although heavy, was designed to be portable. Its cabinet is made from walnut-veneered plywood; a cheap, industrial material covered with thin slivers of a more expensive wood. In 1931, it would have retailed at £17 17s.
Bibliographic reference
p.79 Hawes, Robert, Radio Art (London, 1991)
Other number
G.A36460 - serial number
Collection
Accession number
CIRC.332-1972

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Record createdJune 24, 2009
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