An Icon of Modernity

Walter Dorwin Teague's Nocturne Radio

Walter Dorwin Teague’s Sparton Nocturne radio, model 1186, was unveiled at the New York Radio Exposition in September of 1935. Billed as “The Style Sensation of the Radio World” by the firm’s advertising campaign, the Sparton radio encapsulated in its design the ground-breaking architectural innovations in glass and steel of the modern skyscraper. Standing over four feet in height, the construction portrays the vibrant energy and speed of the era.

Sparton brochure distributed in 1935

The large midnight blue Tufflex mirrored glass radio was the most daring of four designs Teague created for Sparton in 1935 for their 1936 catalogs. Embracing materials of the industrial world, Teague’s Nocturne radio elegantly transforms a utilitarian object into a work of art; it was, as Alastair Duncan writes, “The ultimate icon of modernity, one grammatically ahead of its time.” Marketed to a high-end market and intended for posh interiors, hotels, theaters or other similar venues, the deluxe Nocturne cost $350-$375 (or nearly the cost of an automobile) and was a large investment during the Depression.

Daring and brilliant ensemble in glass and metal by Walter Dorwin Teague . . . A circle of midnight blue Tufflex mirror glass rests in a satin chrome cradle . . . Beautiful stage setting for High Fidelity receiver cleverly concealed behind the chrome barred grille . . . Eleven tubes . . . High Fidelity performance . . . Five bands, American and foreign broadcast and short wave, and government weather broadcast reception . . . 150 to 400 kilocycles . . . 530 to 20,000 kilocycles . . . Silent accurate tuning or program preselection by the Viso –Glo electric eye . . . Airlane guide light . . . High Fidelity . . . Two speed tuning control . . . and 12-inch auditorium speaker . . .

A Sparton advertisement published in 1935

It is unknown how many examples of the Nocturne radio were produced, but as a result of the original high price and the fragility of the materials few are known to exist today. Aside from the present lot, other examples can be found in a few private collections and a handful of museum collections including the Dallas Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Wolfsonian—FIU in Miami Beach, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Philbrook Museum of Arts in Tulsa.

We are not building big and little gadgets—we are building an environment.

Walter Dorwin Teague