Q: My family lived in Brussels in the early 1960s. We became very attached to a couple who lived next to us. I was only 5 years old when we moved there, and this couple became my "grandparents." When they moved into an apartment, they gave my parents an old radio. I would like to know more about it. I have the manual and other accessories including headphones, lamps, etc. I don't know if I need to insure it and for how much. What can you tell me?
A: Vintage radios are not something we know much about, but you sent us pictures of the radio's manual, so we can provide a bit of history on the piece and some other insights. It is an Audionette made by Etablissements Radio L.L. The L.L. stands for Lucien Levy.
Levy was born in Paris in 1892 and was a radio engineer and manufacturer of radio receivers. In 1916, Levy was made head of the Eiffel Tower Radio Telegraphy Laboratory, which was basically wooden barracks on the Champ de Mars that used the Eiffel Tower as an antenna.
Probably Levy's most notable accomplishment was that he invented the superheterodyne method of receiving radio signals, which is used in almost all AM radios. Edwin Howard Armstrong was granted a U.S. patent for superheterodyne some months after, but in 1920, an American court granted Levy seven of the nine claims made in Armstrong's application.
Levy founded Etablissements Radio L.L. in 1920, but mass production of radio receivers did not begin until 1922. Levy's company's first mass-produced superheterodyne unit came in 1924, and this radio was made in a separate block like the one you own. In 1925, Etablissements Radio L.L. produced a superheterodyne unit with a single turning control.
The example in today's question is a great-looking piece of equipment. We cannot be sure from the photographs, but it appears to have been made from seven separate components probably cased in ebonized wood. We particularly like the six blue tubes the French called "lampes."
Now for the value of the rather rare piece. While doing our research we found eight lampes like the ones in today's question that sold at auction for 1,200 euros (close to $1,400). But the only comparable item for the radio itself that we could find was for an Etablissements Radio L.L. that sold in 2014 for around $5,000 without the "lampes." The specialist in this area appears to be Auction Team Breker, Otto-Hahn-Straße 10, 50997 Koln, Germany, and yes, this radio should be insured.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you'd like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Av., Knoxville, TN 37917, or e-mail them at treasuresknology.net. If you'd like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.