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Housing: Prices of Home Items 1930s-50s


Cost of a radio, known as a wireless, in 1930s UK

Why radios used to be so expensive

These days we tend to forget that back in the middle of the 20th century, radios - known as wirelesses - were very expensive in real terms because they used the old valve technology. In real terms, for the price of a radio, people could buy an entire dining room suite. Valves frequently 'blew' and had to be replaced which added to the maintenance costs of owning a radio. Also there were no portable radios, and radios had to be installed in position by a workman with an aerial fitted in the loft or on the roof.

Receipt showing the cost of a 1930s radio

In November 1938 my parents bought a radio. The receipt, dated November 15th 1938 includes installing the aerial. This was four months after they moved in, so they were without a radio for these four months - not particularly unusual at the time. Incidentally the receipt called the radio a 'receiver'.

1938 receipt showing cost of a radio and its installation, thumbnail

Receipt for radio. Tap/click for a larger, legible version

My parents went to a local Edgware supplier who charged them £9.10.0 for the radio itself, 7/6 for the work of installing it and aerial, and 5/- for the various bits and pieces. Below is a transcription of the receipt.

One Murphy Receiver (radio) Model A.46. £9-10- 0
Installing aerial and earth system     7- 6
75 feet of electron wire     2- 6
1 earth rod     2- 4
Quantity of staples          2
    TOTAL £10-2- 6

Appearance of a 1930s home radio

Like most pre-war radios, this was a good quality piece of furniture in a large polished wood case and although we only ever used the two channels of the home service and the light programme, its dial showed that it was capable of receiving from much further afield.

UK Murphy wireless (radio) 1938, A46

The wireless shown in the receipt

I understand that before World War Two people did listen to European programmes, but these were blocked during the war.

The receipt is on professionally printed paper and the breakdown of costs is handwritten.

Purchase tax

Note that purchase tax had to be paid by buying a 2d stamp and signing across it to invalidate it for other use. I am not sure why some receipts and not others seem to show this stamp. Perhaps radios were deemed a luxury. Do you know?

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

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