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What's an old TV receiver worth?

I get quite a few people asking me to put a value on their old TV sets. Sometimes they are members of the public, with no interest in collecting or understanding of the market. If I give them an honest answer, I suspect most of them think I am either mad or lying, since they are invariably convinced their set is worth a small fortune and that there are dozens of collectors who'd give their right arms for this particular model. I wish these people good luck and a strong constitution since they will have a long wait realising the fabulous sum they expect to receive from their heirloom!

Just as frustrating is the person who doesn't state which make/model/screen size their set is, nor the year of manufacture. The maker's name should be somewhere on the back, front or top, whilst if there is an original receipt, instruction book or TV licence with it, this may give a clue to when the set was first bought. Try looking for the date of printing in tiny figures at the very end of the instruction book (it may be in some code, e.g. 10M 0653, indicating 10,000 copies printed in June 1953).

Some points are very important, for example screen size (measured diagonally - the nominal size is always larger than what you can measure because some of the tube front is covered by the mask which surrounds the tube) and the state of the cabinet. Collectors prefer table sets to console models and small screen models to those with large picture tubes. The state of the cabinet is also important, since clean, unblemished ones are obviously more attractive than faded or scratched ones. In most cases it's still a buyer's market - the only shortages are of bakelite-cased sets and pre-war models.

In general terms, let's assume the set was bought in the mid-1950s and that it's from a well-known make and has a 12" or 14" picture tube. In absolutely perfect condition it could fetch about £50, otherwise between £20 and £40. On the other hand, if it's a Pye or Invicta 9" console of 1946 to 1950 (slim and lightweight), the price would rise to £75 or £100 for a really good specimen. Pre-war sets in good condition fetch at least £2,000 and up to double this figure if really special.

These prices are what a keen collector will pay; dealers tend to offer 50 per cent lower since they are taking a gamble on reselling the set and have their costs to recover. Not all collectors are prepared to travel to view a set, which can be a problem for the advertiser. Collectors also get rather annoyed if they travel a long way to buy a set described in good condition and find it is nothing like that, so it is worth looking objectively at the TV - if it was a piece of furniture, would you give it house-room in the state it is? Are there scratches, woodworm holes or pieces of missing or lifting veneer?

It is almost impossible for a non-expert to give an opinion on the electrical state of a set. Do not attempt to switch on a TV that has stood unpowered for many years; this will almost certainly end in smoke, if not a bang. Instead let somebody qualified give it the once-over.

© 1998 Andrew Emmerson.

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