Emerson 511 "Moderne" Table Radios in Plaskon (1947/1948)
Emerson's model 511 "Moderne" is a
collectible and eye-catching radio attrib-
uted to famous industrial designer Ray-
mond Loewy. My experience with this set,
and its sister model 517, is that collectors
either love the unusual, slightly quirky
styling or they hate it. Needless to say, I
can be counted in the former category!
The 511 was introduced in ivory colored
plastic early in 1947 with a list price of
$29.95. The ebony colored 517, which
used the same cabinet style and chassis,
was introduced at the same time, also at
$29.95. Versions of the 511 in red, green
and ivory plaskon, with bronze marbling,
appeared later, in the fall, as part of
Emerson's 1948 line-up, priced too at
$29.95. A walnut bakelite 511 was also
offered, listed at $27.95, bringing to 5
the number of color combinations offered
for the 511. It appears the 517 remained
available only in ebony. For further disc-
ussion on the 511 versus the 517, see
"Is it a 511 or 517?" below.
The 511 tunes standard broadcast from
540-1620kc. The examples shown here
all use a type-I chassis, with tubes
12SA7, 12SK7, 12SQ7, 50L6GT &
35Z5GT. Later versions of the 511 and
517 employed a less-common type-II
chassis, using the miniatures 12BE6,
12BA6, 12AT6, 50B5 and 35W4. The
schematics may be found here, court-
esy of NostalgiaAir.
Is It a 511 or 517?
The precise distinction between the 511
and 517 can be a source of confusion.
The two models use a common chassis
and cabinet style and were introduced at
the same time in early 1947, priced at
$29.95. Among collectors today the two
numbers are often used interchangeably.
So what's the truth? From my research,
I've concluded that the 511 was originally
offered in early 1947 in polished ivory
only and the 517 in ebony, i.e. the two
models were differentiated solely by
cabinet color. Later, in the fall of 1947,
additional 511 colors were introduced,
namely ivory, red and green, each with
bronze (sometimes referred to as gold)
marbling. Together with a 511 in stand-
ard walnut bakelite (just when that app-
eared I'm not sure), this brought the
total number of 511 color combinations
to 5, a fact often explicitly stated in ad-
vertisements for the 511 from late 1947.
The 517, it appears, remained available
only in its original ebony.
Adding to the numbering confusion,
some early advertisements referred to
the 511 and 517 as each having been
available in either polished ivory or
ebony. Some ads for the 517 mistakenly
claim it to have been offered in 5 colors.
Was this all just the result of sloppy ad-
vertising, the distinctions between the
511 and 517 having become blurred in
the minds of copy writers and retailers?
To be sure, I've found no reference to
the mythical ebony 511 or ivory 517 in
any single ad featuring both models.
Ads mixing things up show just one mo-
del number in the ad, not both. In fact
any ad I've seen from late 1947 that
shows both the 511 and 517 together
side-by-side refers to the 511 as being
available in 5 colors and the 517 with
only an ebony finish. Surely, had there
been an ebony 511 then the ads would
have claimed the 511 to have been av-
ailable in six colors, not five (the five
being walnut, ivory, red with bronze,
green with bronze & ivory with bronze).
One twist is that my plain ivory plaskon
model (photo right) has a sticker, atta-
ched to its metallic bottom cover, claim-
ing it to be a model 517. Could the cov-
er have been swapped, on what was
originally a model 511?
Variations in the 511 and 517 include
models with grille colors other than gold.
My ivory set has a maroon grille. I've
seen both the 511 and 517 with alternate
grille colors, including gold, maroon and
blue. Grille color variation therefore
appears to be a characteristic of both the
511 and 517 and not a distinguishing
characteristic of either.
Another variation is that some of the
ivory sets are made of plaskon, whereas
others use painted bakelite. Again, I've
found no consistent pattern that would
suggest model differentiation on this
As a final comment, it surely doesn't truly
matter what the correct number is, for "a
rose by any other name would smell as
A magnificent modern creation by the World's Largest maker of Small Radio.
Modern plastic cabinet.. of exquisite styling with three-dimensional dial.
lovely bronze-ivory marble-tone cabinet - it's a sight to behold!
Sparkling - and modern as tomorrow.
|Cutting from a Dec 1947
newspaper ad for Emerson
radios that showed the 511
and 517 side-by-side in
the same ad
|Emerson 511 ad from
Feb 1947, correctly
|Was the 517
truly available in
ivory, as implied
by this ad from
April of 1947?
...in a beauty and performance class all by itself.
Superbly designed - inside and out - to give you real tone, performance and value satisfaction