The Antiquarian Detective Investigates the Atwater Kent Speaker

I’m not a stickler for total accuracy when I’m restoring old things, but I do like to learn as much as I can about these items before altering them to suit my tastes.  Sometimes you learn something completely unexpected and other times you get to see how our predecessors solved manufacturing problems or used available materials in ways you may not have considered.  The Atwater Kent E3 speaker that I’m restoring/repurposing is a good example of this and with a little detective work, even on items like this speaker that is in horrible condition, you can learn a tremendous amount of information that can help you in your restoration projects.  It’s true that my speaker is the epitome of horrible condition.

Atwater Kent E3 speaker (front)

Atwater Kent E3 speaker (front)

 

However, the sheet metal case is undamaged (no dents or deformities) and there are no cracks in the cast iron base.  Also, the brass Atwater Kent medallion (as shown below) is present and undamaged, and the small name plate on the back of the speaker housing is undamaged.

 

Atwater Kent Speaker Medallion

Atwater Kent Speaker Medallion

 

Everything else is of little importance to me.  When starting a restoration project, it’s important to purchase an item that has no structural or mechanical issues that would make the restoration financially difficult.  For instance, a missing Atwater Kent medallion would be difficult to replace unless you were to buy another speaker to salvage.  Ergo, you need to identify what’s important and what’s not before making a purchase.

So what do we know about this speaker?

  • The sheet metal housing was painted black and the metal grill was painted a different color that has faded away.
  • The grill cloth is too faded and damaged to make out any detail.
  • The speaker cord was brown or burgundy.
  • The base has indentions for six feet that upon closer examination of the remaining feet reveal that they are leather (you knew they would be leather before we started, right?).

 

Atwater Kent Speaker Base Leather Feet & Star

Atwater Kent Speaker Base Leather Feet & Star

  • The indentions are one inch in diameter which is very convenient because currently available felt pads are made exactly this size.
  • The inside of the base casting shows that the base may have been painted a different color than the housing.
  • There is also a star cast into the underside of the base (upper right side of the base interior in the picture above).

Like all restoration projects, the fun part is taking everything apart and learning the real story.  Below you will see that the original speaker cone is wood veneer.  Amazing!  I’ve never read about that online.

 

Wood Veneer Atwater Kent Speaker Cone & Internal Parts

Wood Veneer Atwater Kent Speaker Cone & Internal Parts

 

You’ll also notice that there is a metal band that is used to hold the front grill cloth in place.  It is spring steel and expands outward pinching the cloth against the sides of the front housing.  The speaker cord has a single knot tied into it to prevent it from being pulled through the grommeted hole in the back of the housing.  A section of the original cloth wrapped speaker cord was protected by the speaker case.  This protected section shows that the cloth wrapping was probably cotton and was originally a flat brown color.  The speaker cone was held in place by securing the electromagnet to the back of the speaker housing (shown below) with two threaded studs leaving the front to free float.  This is opposite of modern day speakers which have the front of the cone secured to the front grill and the electromagnet free floats.  The grill cloth on the back of the speaker was held in place with large heavy rubber bands.

 

Speaker Cloth, Securing Rubber Bands, & Electromagnet Mounting Holes Inside Atwater Kent Speaker

Speaker Cloth, Securing Rubber Bands, & Electromagnet Mounting Holes Inside Atwater Kent Speaker

 

These rubber bands disintegrated upon removal, but some of the original cloth was protected underneath as can be seen below.  The portion of cloth in the left foreground was completely protected and the portion in the right background was not.  As can be seen below, the cloth was a bright gold weave that was crossed by dark brown (almost black) thread.  This gives us a complete picture how detailed and beautiful the original grill cloth was.  This is drastically different than the cloth in the header picture!  And remember, this cloth is almost 100 years old.

 

Atwater Kent Speaker Cloth

Atwater Kent Speaker Cloth

 

Upon removing the base, you can see below that the paint was protected in one area and it’s clear that the entire base was originally painted gloss bright gold.

 

Gold Paint on Atwater Kent Speaker Base

Gold Paint on Atwater Kent Speaker Base

 

Likewise, removing the Atwater Kent medallion (which was backed with cardboard for support) reveals that the grill was also painted gloss gold but unlike the base it was a type of wrinkle paint.  The back of brass medallion, which can just be seen in the bottom of the picture below, is shiny brass (but not polished to a mirror shine) that has been clear coated to prevent tarnish.  We can assume that the front would have looked the same.

 

Gold Paint Exposed When the "Atwater Kent" Medallion Was Removed

Gold Paint Exposed When the “Atwater Kent” Medallion Was Removed

 

We’ve learned quite a bit about this speaker:

  • The housing was painted with black and gold wrinkle paint.
  • The base was painted gloss gold (not wrinkle paint).
  • The cord was flat brown (which seems odd given paint colors).
  • The feet were leather instead of being rubber or some other material.
  • We also know the exact look of the original cloth grill.
  • We know how polished the brass medallion was.
  • The medallion was supported by cardboard (which on other antiques might help date the item).
  • The speaker cone was wood veneer.
  • The electromagnet was hard mounted and the cone free floated.
  • Also by measuring the nuts and bolts, I determined that they are national coarse thread standard sizes (which could be used to date this and other antiques), so I can replace them with off the shelf hardware.

For visual comparison, there is a good picture of an unrestored E3 speaker in very good condition here.  However, our investigation has revealed more detailed information than I’ve found about this speaker anywhere online.

The simple deductive techniques demonstrated above can greatly enhance your restorations.  I encourage you to don your detective hat and take a closer look at your antiques.  You never know what you might find!

(And while we’re on the subject, check out this page on the Throughout History blog for some facts about the world’s most famous sleuth.)

 

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