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Early Electronic Television

How Many Pre-1945 Sets Still Exist?

Every year, a few more sets are discovered. The Andrea 1-F-5 in our collection was found in an attic in New Jersey, where it had been stored and forgotten since 1965. However, every year a few more sets are discovered. How many sets still survive?

To estimate the number of sets that are still out there, we start with the number which were manufactured. In the U.S, about 7,000 sets were made before the war. In Britain, the number is around 19,000. Production in other countries was much less: about 1,600 in Germany and only a handful in France and Italy.

Michael Bennett-Levy, a collector and author of two books on the subject, Historic Televisions and Video Recorders, published in 1993, and TV is King, published in 1994, estimates that around two percent of the original sets should still exist. Using this figure, about 140 American and 400 British sets should have survived.

For his first book, he compiled a database of sets. He found: 

I have evidence of 130 pre-war British sets, of which about 80 are either Marconi or HMV. I list 44 sets in museums or other institutions, and 22 sets overseas in the USA or Europe.

By the publication of his second book, he had found 180 sets. Since then, only a few sets have surfaced, bringing the total to around 220, far less than the 400 that he predicts should be around. Are there another 200 yet to be found?

Here is a quote from a television repair shop owner in England:

To think only twenty five years ago I was offered a Cossor 137T for free by a customer only a few yards from the shop, I was returning a repaired set to him when he asked if I wanted an old TV. He led me out to a large workshop in his garden and uncovered the Cossor. It was very clean but all those years ago it was difficult to justify keeping such a monster! Oh dear.......... As a school lad a local repair shop used to give us all his old models to experiment with but would not let us have any mains derived e.h.t. models for fear of us cooking ourselves. I watched him smash up many pre war models in that shed.

Prewar sets used power supplies ("mains derived e.h.t") that were lethal. Perhaps the danger of these power supplies resulted in many of the sets being destroyed, and explains the relatively few British sets still around.

Our database of American pre-1945 sets includes about 260 sets either verified or reported, well above what Michael Bennett-Levy predicted.

Michael Bennett-Levy said in the introduction of Historic Televisions and Video Recorders:

Suffice it to say that the surviving pre-war television sets known and yet to be found are almost certainly rarer than violins made by Antonio Stradivari and I challenge anyone to provide evidence to refute this assertion.

I suspect that many more mechanical sets are in attics, flea markets, or antique shops. Since they don't obviously look like TV sets, they may have not yet been identified.

If you have any comments about the number of sets still around, please contact the foundation.