Recreation of a Stewart Warner Dionne Quintuplets Radio
- Restoration Articles
By Larry Weide CRC Member
The Flash January, 2019
At a club meeting some years ago one of the CRC members came up to me with a smile on his face, handed me a radio and said, “This is for you”. Well, I had mixed feelings. Here was a bakelite cased table radio that was all broken up.
At the same time though, it was obvious that he was giving me a gift. So I said, “Thank you. But tell me why I would want this radio as it really looks like a lot of work and just another old bakelite radio. “Ah.” he said, “But this thing has the same chassis and cabinet as the Dionne Quintuplets radio.” Well, that got my attention in about 5 micro seconds.
In 1934 the first known surviving and thriving quintuplets were born in Ontario Canada and they became an overnight world-wide sensation. There was a great deal of controversy surrounding these children in terms of their care and public exploitation. If you’re interested you can read about them on Wikipedia.
Suffice it to say that the quints became very famous indeed. Famous enough so that in 1938 Stewart Warner created three different versions of bakelite radio cabinets that were covered with Dionne quintuplet decals. Any collector who has been around for a while knows that these radios have become quite collectable.
|Model A-6S||Model 03-5A1||Model R-435|
So, again, I thanked the member and couldn’t wait to get home to get started on my restoration project. Little did I realize just how much work it was going to take to get this radio restored as a “quint”.
When I took the chassis out of the cabinet and got a really good look at it the sobering truth became apparent. This radio not only had a badly damaged cabinet but mechanical parts were missing, a complete capacitor replacement was required, the dial indicator was beyond saving, the knobs were missing and somehow I had to find decals that are now “unobtainium”, as they say.
I decided to start on the chassis. The first thing was that one of the four preset station selecting levers was missing – as you can see in the picture below. The next picture shows an original lever and one that was cut out of heavy sheet metal for me, by CRC member Dave Boyle, and which I then finished and mounted a bearing on its end.
When the front end of these levers are pressed down they cause the tuning shaft to rotate, The amount of rotation (thus station selection) is determined by the positions of off-set cams on the tuning shaft that are in turn adjusted by a slip and lock arrangement on the manual tuning knob at the right end of the shaft.
The next step was electrical restoration. The good news here was that no one had done a hatchet job on the wiring. Basically, aside from cleaning and checking out the tubes (all good), it just took a complete re-capping. The pictures below show the under chassis before and after parts replacement.
Now I turned my attention to the cabinet. The bakelite shards that you can see in a previous picture were glued back in place with “super glue” and epoxy. However other pieces of bakelite were missing. In these cases I used flat pieces of bakelite salvaged from another cabinet and fitted and glued them in place, and existing cracks, also with glue and epoxy.
Finally, after a lot of filling, sanding and polishing I spray painted the cabinet with two coats of wet sanded white enamel and then did a rub out and final polishing on a third paint coat.
We now come to the interesting part of the project; creation of graphic images that are not commercially available. The first one was the radio’s dial as seen above. It was bent and distorted, likely due to age and heat. My preferred method of recreation of parts like this is to take a picture of the item, bring the picture into my favorite drawing tool (CorelDraw) as a template and then do a complete restoration drawing. For something like a dial face the drawing is printed and then adhered to .020” plastic.
On to the decals. These I would have to make from scratch. The catch was where was I going to find an example that I could photograph for further processing? Good and bad news. I finally found a then club member who had a Stewart Warner model A-6S. However, as you can see from this radio’s picture, the main quint decal is wrapped around one side of the radio. How was I going to be able to take a picture of it in a way that would be useful? The method I finally decided on was to take photographs from different angles and then integrate them as segments into one image. For this work I used Photoshop as my graphic tool, as I’m now working directly with bit-mapped images. After a good deal of editing the results were printed in my color ink-jet printer on readily available white based water-slip decal stock. I also photographed and processed decals for the words that go in front of the radio and the head shot of the girls that went on the left side. The following pictures show my process for capturing the main decal.
The final restoration steps included ordering a set of replica push button knobs and creating and replacing the rather odd old back.
Am I happy with the results? Quite honestly, yes. I think any restorer would agree that it’s very satisfying to make something rather nice from what otherwise is really not even worth repairing.
Good luck with your next restoration project.