Authenticating the Fraccaro Set
From the first time this set was listed on eBay, questions were raised about its authenticity. The concerns were:
1. The set was discovered at a flea market in Italy. The condition appeared to be too pristine. It was thought that there should be more damage to the finish and the interior.
2. The style was unlike anything seen before in mechanical TV sets, and appeared to be from the 50s rather than from the 30s.
3. A number of very elaborate fakes of early scientific instruments had come out of Italy in recent years.
4. The seller was alleged to have sold fakes to buyers in Europe. The suspicion was supported by the fact that the seller runs a business that makes high quality replicas of old scientific instruments.
I recently took the set to Peter Yanczer, the foremost American expert on mechanical TV, for his analysis. He inspected the bolts, nuts, screws, and other hardware and concluded that they were from the period. He had the same opinion about the terminal strips, wire, coils, motor, potentiometer and other parts.
There were three things that looked questionable. There is a small piece of extruded aluminum under the motor. Peter wondered when aluminum extrusion was common. I checked on the Alcoa website and found that they were producing commercial extrusions in the early 20s, so that part is OK.
Peter also wondered if the on/off switch was American made. I checked with a friend in England who told me that switches of that type were commonly used in European radios of the period.
The other is the wire into the motor. It looks like rubber or plastic. Rubber wire from that era usually rots, and plastic wire is from the early 40s. I need to investigate further. However, the wire could have been replaced to make the set look better at some point.
Everything else looks real. There are a number of scratches and dents in the wood and the brass trim pieces that were not visible in the photos, so the condition is more what you would expect from a 70 year old item. The trim pieces are actually gold colored, though they look like aluminum in the photos.
The disk was originally drilled for the 30 line Baird standard. Then, a second set of holes was drilled for the German standard, with the original holes covered with small pieces of fabric glued in place. It appears that the disk is identical to the ones John Logie Baird sold in 1930.
As for the style, items such as radios, clock, and toasters were being made in Germany and the U.S. with similar styles in the late 20s and early 30s. I have found several photographs items with a similar "modern" look.
Finally, I investigated the reputation of the dealer. His eBay feedback is excellent, and I heard from several collectors who had bought expensive items from him and were completely satisfied. In addition, the dealer has been very cooperative in allowing me to authenticate the set before purchasing it.
It appears that there was an intentional campaign by a couple of dealers in Europe to discredit the set before and after the auction, in an attempt to keep the price down and to discourage bidders.