Mitchell Lumitone Lamp Radio (1941)

              

              

The Mitchell Lumitone lamp radio is prized by collectors for its futuristic rocket shaped body. Built in 1941, it belongs to a small fraternity of radios shaped like lamps.

Description

The Mitchell company was based in Chicago and it produced a handful of radios from 1941-1955. Its best known models are the Lumitone, shaped like a table lamp, and the Lullaby, a radio that incorporated a night light and hung from a bed frame.

This photo shows my Lumitone after restoration. The shade is a temporary substitute until I find a better match.

Lumitones were sold with a couple of different shades and slightly different color schemes. The cabinet (lamp body) is made of dark Bakelite, painted completely in ivory or, like my radio, with an ivory body and gold base. This 1941 ad shows one version:

Shortly after I got my Lumitone, a fellow collector sent me photos of his radio with an original shade in a different style, with straight sides. The second photo shows the plastic bowl that supports the fabric shade. These fragile bowls were often broken and discarded, and the owners substituted a harp support on the lamp socket.

  

The Lumitone's model number is 1260 and it uses a conventional "All American Five" chassis, as can be seen in its schematic. This label inside the cabinet shows the layout of the tubes and other major components:

The radio has a built-in loop antenna and its speaker faces upward, emitting sound through slots in the "nose" of the rocket shaped body. The power/volume switch is located near the bottom and the round dial is a large thumbwheel protruding through recesses in the base. The dial has two complete sets of markings, allowing you to tune the radio from either side of the lamp.

Restoration

I bought my Lumitone at a second-hand store in the late 1990s and restored the electronics and lamp wiring at that time. These photos show the restored chassis:

  

The lamp wiring is independent, so you can turn on the light with or without the radio.

My Lumitone's base had been broken and sloppily glued back together. I could have used it in that condition, but it looked ugly! Not keen about fixing a botched repair, I stuck the half-finished radio in a box and forgot about it for more than a decade.

In 2012, while clearing space for a major new project, I ran across the Lumitone parts and decided to make it a radio again. The old, sloppy glue adhered so poorly that the breaks practically fell apart in my hands when I tested their strength.

These photos show the project at this stage. The broken pieces comprise the "foot" for the rear half of the rocket body.

  

The second photo shows how the chassis sits in the cabinet. The two halves of the cabinet are screwed into a heavy metal plate at the bottom; the weight of that plate makes the lamp less top-heavy.

I carefully cleaned the old glue from the broken edges, checked to see if they fit cleanly, and then re-glued the foot pieces to the barrel with epoxy, securing them with tape while the epoxy set. I also placed the two cabinet halves together and taped everything firmly, to make sure that the assembly would fit correctly after the repair.

  

I let the epoxy cure overnight and then brought one of the cabinet pieces to a hardware store to choose the paint. In the next photo, I have sprayed both colors onto a piece of cardboard to check the match—pretty close!

In the previous photo, you can also see where I did a little sanding around the newly glued joints. I want to make those glue joints invisible after repainting.

Next, I masked the gold bases with tape and sprayed one coat of ivory on the barrels.

  

The glue joints were still slightly visible, so I brushed a little primer over those spots and then smoothed them with bits of flexible sanding block.

By the time I was done, most of the grey primer had been removed, leaving only a tiny amount filling in depressed areas. In hindsight, I could have applied some bondo and sanded before painting, but the total amount of time would have been about the same.

While examining the bases, I saw that they originally had little rubber cushions.

In the photo, I circled what's left of the cushions. The parts below the frame hardened and crumbled away decades ago, leaving only the nubs up above. I'll need to supply new cushions, since their height is necessary to hold the tuning dial clear of the table when the radio's assembled.

The red numbers on the tuning dial are badly worn. I'll fill them in with a red lacquer stick, a technique that I learned years ago when restoring my Hallicrafters SX-28.

To make sure that the new lettering adheres properly, I scrubbed the dial with isopropyl alcohol and a toothbrush, removing the flaking original paint. Then I rubbed the sticky red lacquer into the recessed numerals and waited a while for the lacquer to set up.

  

I removed the excess by wiping with a dry paper towel:

The trick is to wipe lightly and briskly, constantly using a fresh piece of towel. This avoids lifting the semi-soft lacquer out of the recesses.

I let the lacquer dry for several hours and then carefully polished the dial with Novus Plastic Polish #2, to remove all traces of lacquer from around the numerals.

Final Thoughts

After reassembly, my Lumitone was finished . . . only ten years after I began! Just for fun, I created an animated .GIF file to show off the radio in different lighting:

Collectors with extremely sharp eyes may have noticed that my Lumitone's power/volume knob isn't correct. When these photos were taken, I was using a subsitute knob from another radio. After that, I obtained an original knob with fluted sides:

I own another lamp radio, the Radio Lamp of Company of America model with a beautiful brass body and glass shade. Here are the two, pictured together for comparison.

     

In the Lumitone, the lamp body itself provides all of the structural support. The brass lamp radio is built like a conventional lamp, with the metal parts screwed onto a heavy metal pipe running through the center.

Although very different in design, each lamp radio is pleasing in its own way and it's a joy to have them around the house.

©1995-2014 Philip I. Nelson, all rights reserved