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Electronics Through the Ages: A History of Vintage Technology in Pictures

The history of consumer electronics goes back to the early 20th century, most precisely the 1920s. It was then when radio broadcasting incorporated the first major consumer product that went to mass production: The broadcast receiver.

Manufacturers were overwhelmed by the demand for receivers. Existing units in dealers were sold out while customers lined up to complete order forms. The craziness for consumer electronics had just began.

The phonograph, invented by Thomas Edison in 1877 didn't use electronics until 1927. Since its invention–and for 50 years– only mechanical technologies were used to make it work.

Bell Labs invented the transistor in 1947, which led to important research in the field of solid-state semiconductors just a few years later in the early 1950s. This was, indeed, the decade when the television gained popularity.

Soon after that, the market received products included telephones, personal computers, audio equipment, televisions, calculators, and eventually MP3 players and smartphones.

The demand for consumer electronics hasn't stopped. On the contrary, it increases year after year. In 2015, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), a standards and trade organization for the consumer electronics industry in the United States, estimated the value of consumer electronics sales at $220 billion.

That's for a reason. The world of electronics fascinates many around the world. Electronics engineers, researchers, collectors, and historians of vintage electronics, technology journalists, and anyone with a passion for learning about the evolution of electronics can hardly resist the attraction of vintage electronics. So, electronics museums were created.

 One private museum run by a single person housed an incredible over 10,000 artifacts. Unfortunately, after the passing of its owner, Enrico Tedeschi, the exhibition was shut down.

A life devoted to researching, collecting, & cataloguing electronics

Enrico Tedeschi was an Italian-born independent computer software professional, historian, writer, and passionate private collector of electronics for over half a century. He lived in Brighton, England, where he created his private museum offering personally guided private tours, until his passing in 2014 at the age of 74. Born in 1939, Tedeschi moved his collection from his first Radio Museum in Rome to England in 1993.   

Unfortunately, after Tedeschi's passing, his son, Richard, had to sell all his father's artifacts, which are now in the hands of collectors around the world. However, Tedeschi's self-published books for collectors and historians of vintage electronics, The Sinclair Archeology published in February 1996, and The Magic of Sony remain as Tedeschi's legacy.

“Collecting should not be just amassing the largest possible number of artifacts and memorabilia but also and mainly for the research and understanding of how, when, why, and who invented and produced what, and the social impact and consequences that these products had on the life of millions of people. Collecting should be a way of learning, growing, and self-improvement, and not just a hobby, or an investment,” Enrico Tedeschi wrote in the Introduction of his 1999 self-published book, The Magic of Sony.

Though this slideshow, I have tried to recreate a tiny part of Enrico Tedeschi's work as a small recognition to his passionate and valuable work collecting and cataloguing electronics for most of his life. Tedeschi loved and valued electronics beyond their practical use. In good part, this was the message he wished to pass on while sharing his collection 

Click on the image below to start the slideshow of his work. All photos are courtesy of Richard Tedeschi.

How it began

The Evening Argus newspaper in Brighton & Hove welcomes the opening of Tedeschi's Museum of Vintage Electronics on October 30th, 1993. 

The Evening Argus newspaper in Brighton & Hove welcomes the opening of Tedeschi's Museum of Vintage Electronics on October 30th, 1993. 

What would you preserve if you were the curator of your own tech museum? Let us know in the comments section below. 

18 comments on “Electronics Through the Ages: A History of Vintage Technology in Pictures

  1. Rangpushp
    February 4, 2017

    I admire the contents put across lucidly . Most of the info, I am familiar, having been in the field for more than 5 decades llearning and working from the telephones to basic electronic components graduating to systems with the different generation of Electronic Hardware and software with Quality and Reliability of them being paramount for the long standing use of Systems in varied Applications.

    Today's and future of electronics being in the Nano/MEMs with organic and optical technologies have a great integrating effect . Electronic Manufacturing System (EMS) for the future really will encompass all fields of Science and Technlogy known to mankind and will be really fascinating/challenging for an Innovative and Inventive Brain .

  2. Max The Magnificent
    February 7, 2017

    I love that Radio Phonola Bakalite — I wish I had one in my own humble collection. I think it's so sad that this collection had to be split up — I also find it sad that so few people care about this sort of thing (said Max, sadly)

  3. Katie OQ
    February 7, 2017

    Susan:

    Greatly enjoyed your piece about Marvelous Max.
    A nice bit of writing.

    I have been to Brighton many many times (I used 
    to live close by, in Bournemouth, just a few miles
    away), and wish I had known about this museum.

    I have one of my own, here in Oregon, much like
    his. If you count all the smaller stuff (and I don't 
    mean nuts and bolts), there must be almost the
    same number of items. But not all are on display:
    I simply don't have the room. I can though share
    a few up-to-date jpg's if I only had your URL

    The Lone Arranger      

  4. stn564
    February 10, 2017

    Pity this had to be split up and sold.  I cut my teeth on some of the Sinclair stuff, I had a ZX81 and then a spectrum, and learned a lot from both.  Amazing resemblance between the black watch and some of todays offerings.  I think Sir Clive was ahead of his time, and had he had access to better technology I think he would have been more successful – but who knows?   

  5. Susan Fourtané
    February 11, 2017

    Max — I also think it's sad that Tedeschi's collection had to be split up. It could have remained together, as a legacy and part of the city's museum, or even continue as a private collection. Perhaps with sponsorship and support from Sinclair. Several things occured to me that could have worked to save this collection. Unfortunately, I was late. Did you check the link to the Sinclair's Archaeology PDF? It's an electronic copy of Tedeschi's original manuscript. There, you can see the work he put into all what he did in connection with his collection. He typed the whole thing using a vintage computer and all. He photocopied, cut with scissors, and glued the pictures. I have thought so much about the incredible amount of time and dedication he put into his passionate work. If you haven't yet, you really need to have a look. I also find it sad that so few people care about this sort of thing. I think one of the main reasons for that is the lack of understanding of the whole thing. I am glad you liked it. And happy to took some time to stop by EBN. I wish a Radio Phoola Bakalite could join your collection one day. -Susan

  6. Susan Fourtané
    February 11, 2017

    David — Yes, a pity the collection had to be split up and sold. I thought the same about the Black Watch. Sinclair was ahead of his time without a doubt. Yes, I think that his ideas required more technology, which was not available back then. However, having a look at his inventions and in particular at those that were not successful, you can quickly tell that his ideas, prototypes, and devices were of influence to creating some of the products we see on the market today. The use of the cell batteries to make the calculator thinner and smaller was one example. The same the Black Watch was the first wearable of the kind, as far as I know. Looking into the past of electronics and technology is fascinating. We can always learn a lot from them. And yes, I agree, with today's existing technology things wold have been different. Who is the Sinclair of today for you? /Susan

  7. Susan Fourtané
    February 11, 2017

    Thank you. The piece is not about Marvelous Max, but about Enrico Tedeschi and his work collecting, cataloguing, and writing about Sinclair and Marconi's works. 🙂 /Susan

  8. stn564
    February 11, 2017

    Hi Susan, and thanks for the article.  Re using coin cells for the calculator – this was one reason they didn't take over the world – coin cells powering LCDs is fine, but powering LEDs they don't last long.  A prime example of being ahead of his time and technologies…..

    I would have loved to manage a collection like this, but I suppose there were other considerations besides someone having the time to do that, I suspect it would not have made much money.  Still, something great has been lost, and that's a shame.

    The Sinclair of today?  I don't think there is one.  Sir Clive was trying to make money, sure, but I think he honestly had a more altruistic vision of bringing technology to the people. Steve Jobs maybe, but Apple's always been more about money.  Maybe Bill and Dave (HP) in the early days? A little bit closer maybe.  But let's face it, Sir Clive Sinclair was pretty unique.

    And PS… I thought the article and the slideshow were spot on, I didn't find it confusing as did one of your other correspondents, the article mentioned Marconi and Sinclair, and that's what we got.  Thanks again.

  9. stn564
    February 11, 2017

    Yeah, we don't want to be making Max's head any bigger 🙂

  10. Susan Fourtané
    February 11, 2017

    And it doesn't mean Max is less magnificent just because the story is not about him. 🙂 -Susan

  11. Susan Fourtané
    February 11, 2017

    David — Thank you for the feedback. To be honest, it was disappointing to learn that someone thought it was confusing since it took me quite a long time to put it together giving it a thought on how to connect the fact that the collection was gone even though I was talking about the collection. Sinclair and Marconi were central topics in Enrico Tedeschi's work, so this is something I wanted to show. I responded to that on EET, and I am always happy to answer to questions that someone may have. When I asked you about the Sinclair of today, I thought of Steve Jobs. Anyone else came to mind. But yes, Sinclair had a particular obsession with making his ideas work, something I admire. About the collection, perhaps it would have worked well with someone with passion and knowledge on vintage electronics, or someone willing to learn, with good a marketing strategy, good publicity, and ideas of activities that could be done within the exhibition, something similar to the Museum of Computing History in Cambridge, England. The link to it is in the article as well. Great museum to visit as well. The collection could have been preserved at the same of beeing a business. Tedeschi believed in preserving collections. That's why he is attributed with having saved the Marconi collection from being scattered around the world. -Susan

  12. stn564
    February 11, 2017

    Hi Again Susan…. yes, considering I am a big fan of both Marconi and Sinclair, and have never heard of this collection before, Tedeschi was definitely hiding his light under a bushel.  Maybe it could have worked as you say with good publicity and (dreaded word for engineers 🙂 marketing, but we'll never know.  But thanks for the nostalgia trip….

  13. stn564
    February 11, 2017

    Susan…while viewing this column I have noticed that whenever you get into it it defaults to “Newest First” view, which makes little sense when you have threads (like ours) with nested replies.  Threaded view makes it much clearer…can you get the web gurus to make the default Threaded?  First time I've been on EBN, other sites don't seem to do this. Thanks

  14. kuzey10
    February 23, 2017

    I agree with you!

  15. Susan Fourtané
    February 27, 2017

    Hi, David — Sorry for the late reply. Right below under “Comments” you have the three options you can choose from for viewing comments: Newest First, Oldest First,Threaded. Newest is not intended to be default, it's just in alphabetical order: N, O, T. 😀 Hehe. If you click on Threaded you get the comments on your preferred view. I think it's good that everyone can choose this. 🙂 -Susan

  16. Susan Fourtané
    February 27, 2017

    David — Yes, I agree with you. I am just sorry I didn't find this collection before. The Marconi collection is in Oxford now, thanks to Enrico Tedeschi. I am thinking of going there and write a story with slideshow about it to bring it closer to Marconi fans around the world. You will definitely know about it. 🙂 -Susan

  17. stn564
    February 27, 2017

    Hi Susan, thanks….. I agree that it's nice to have the options, but every other EET site has threaded as the default.  Which lets you see replies in their context.  Horses for courses (or: Whatever turns you on, baby… 🙂 but threaded seems to suit most people.

  18. Susan Fourtané
    March 13, 2017

    Yes, David, I see what you mean. However, your threaded preference is just one little click away on EBN. 🙂 This is how it has worked for years and years on this little planet. On bigger planets, like EET, the settings might be different depending on the user. In fact, now that I am thinking of it, I don't remember how are my settings over there. I'll have to go and have a look. -Susan

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