TV’s Aura from the MCM Era

CA-Modern story explores today’s quirky appeal for the coolest mid-century TV sets
Fridays on the Homefront
The earliest TV sets of post-World War II, including the Philco Predicta model pictured here, bear all the whiz-bang earmarks of mid-century design and marketing. Several MCM-stylish ones are featured in ‘Aura of the Era,’ a whimsical feature on the mid-century’s coolest TVs in the new Winter 2018 issue of CA-Modern magazine. Photo: courtesy Magnus Rubsam
Fridays on the Homefront
The 1959 Sylvania Dualette with its bold MCM lines and coloring.
Fridays on the Homefront
Sacramento Eichler owner Mark Saunders of GoogieTime with a snazzy Admiral console from his collection. Photo: Mark Saunders
Fridays on the Homefront
Sylvania ‘Halolight’ and its glowing screen.

It's interesting to speculate what mid-century modern would have looked like in the U.S. absent the influence of World War II.

Would there have been as extreme a housing shortage as Joe Eichler responded to with his inspired building instincts? Would architectural disciples of the Bauhaus like Gropius, Neutra, and others have come to work in the U.S. were there no Third Reich to flee?

And what of technology? The science and engineering of manufacturing televisions, for one, was put on hold by the American war effort. Otherwise, would the original televisions and TV stars have come out of the 1940s instead of the '50s?

As it turned out, the earliest TV sets became available to consumers only after the war, and they bear all the whiz-bang earmarks of mid-century design and marketing. These are the products featured in 'Aura of the Era,' a whimsical feature on the mid-century's coolest TVs, several of them MCM stylish, in the new Winter 2018 issue of CA-Modern magazine.

"Today," reads the lushly illustrated story, "a cottage industry of hobbyists, many of whom got into electronics as pre-teens, has sprung up across the country to restore vintage TVs. Many of their clients are mid-century modern fans."

"It's a very small group…We like what we do, and I care about what we do," Sacramento-based MCM furnishings retailer Mark Saunders admitted recently. "Magnus has people send him stuff [TVs] from all over the world," Saunders adds of local television restorer and friend, Magnus Rubsam.

Saunders and Rubsam are central to the CA-Modern story. Saunders owns GoogieTime, a vintage furnishings store in the Midway Antique Mall in Sacramento, where he lives in the Southland Park neighborhood of Eichlers. Rubsam is an expert TV technician who runs a vintage TV restoration business called Stellar Vintage Electronics of California.

Both describe a clientele who love the look of '50s and '60s televisions, but who have basically two options if they want the set to do more than just sit there looking pretty: restore the antiquated technology, or do a 'color conversion' in which a modern set is fitted to a vintage TV cabinet.

"These color conversions, they can run anywhere from $2,500 to $4,000," says Saunders, noting that going this route does have its advantages for the modernist viewer. "The originals were not designed to play all day…They weren't designed to run more than three or four hours because they overheat."

"If you go with color conversion, you can run it 24-7 for a month, it doesn't care," he observes.