Majestic (Grigsby-Grunow) Model 161 Chrome-Front Tombstone Radio
Grigsby-Grunow introduced their fabulous Majestic model 161 "smart
set" during the "twilight" of their regrettably all-too-short reign in the
radio business. The first of the company's modernistic "smart sets"
had been introduced back in the summer of 1933 and they had been
instant hits. Encouraged by their success, the company went on to
introduce additional models, including in late September the four mod-
ernistic consoles of which the Lido , Ritz and Park Avenue are striking
examples. The rarely seen model 161 appears to have been one of
the last of the line to have made its debut, in late 1933 or early 1934,
shortly before the company closed its doors for the last time.
Grigsby-Grunow was declared bankrupt in February of 1934. If there
was ever a perfect illustration of "twilight's last gleaming", it occurred
when the company introduced their "smart sets". For these magnifi-
cent examples of the radio art came tantalizingly close to averting the
company's inexorable slide towards bankruptcy and corporate oblivion.
So popular were the sets that for the nine months ended November
'33, the company sold eight times more radios than in the correspond-
ing period a year earlier. However, it was not enough to save them.
..without a doubt the most beautiful mantel radio ever designed.
Advertising for the 161 (click thumbnail) gives its
1933/34 list price as $47.50.
Most "smart-sets" were given an official name,
such as Lido, Mayfair or Ritz, a practice which
Grigsby-Grunow had begun a few years earlier.
However, for whatever reason, the 161 is amongst
the minority of the sets that had to make do with
just a model number.
Just when the model 161 was introduced is unclear. It does not feature in the list of models introduced during the summer of 1933, nor
have I found any evidence of it being introduced in the fall at the same time as the Lido. Moreover, the earliest advertising that I've found
for it was in April of 1934 for a clearance sale (see below and thumbnail above).
On November 24th of 1933 Grigsby-Grunow went into equity receivership. They continued to manufacture their "smart sets", albeit at a
reduced rate, through February 20th 1934, when they were declared bankrupt. Announcements in Radio Retailing reveal that new model
introductions continued during receivership, through at least January of 1934 (one of the last was the model 608 "Mayfair"). Additionally,
the press release announcing a company hosted meeting of Majestic distributors that was scheduled to take place just days prior to the
bankruptcy spoke of yet more new model introductions; what the models were and whether or not any were manufactured appears lost to
the annals of time. Media advertising for Majestic radios and refrigerators was sustained through December 1933, the receiver having
allocated a $35,000 advertising budget for that month. Corroborating this, newspaper ads are plentiful through December but dry up after
that. However, I've found no mention in any of these sources of the model 161. This all leads to a conclusion that the 161 was first offered
for sale in late 1933 or early 1934. If this is correct, its late introduction, not long before the company closed its doors for the last time,
offers a good explanation as to why it's such a rarity today.
Model 161 Advertising
On April 26th 1934, two months after Grigsby-Grunow's untimely demise, Gamble Stores ran an advertisement in numerous newspapers
across the central USA that featured the model 161 along with several other Majestic "smart sets" (see thumbnail above). This is the only
newspaper ad that I've found that shows the model 161. According to this ad, the store chain had purchased $200,000 worth of late prod-
uction sets, which they then proceeded to liquidate at discounted prices. This particular ad appeared only on this one date, as I found no
earlier or later occurrences of it*. One might therefore conclude that Gamble Stores was successful in quickly selling off most of its invent-
ory of these sets. Given the stylishness of the merchandise, this should be no surprise!
For more about the rise and fall of Grigsby-Grunow, see my two-part article published in Antique Radio Classified:- part 1 & part 2.
I purchased this set "as found" from an online sales site. It sports the original chrome, grille-cloth, knobs and finish. The ivory stripes below
the two knobs are I believe original to the set (i.e. not retouched), however the lighting has accentuated them to some extent in the photo-
graph. I generally cleaned up the set, touching up sections of the black trim using black lacquer applied with an artist's brush. Perhaps one
day I'll feel brave enough to attempt a cleaning of the grille cloth, for which no reproduction is currently (or likely to be) made. For now I'm
leaving it well alone!
|When was the Model 161 Introduced?
*Actually, one small ad, embedded in a larger one, does show up for a SINGLE store of the Gamble chain in July of 1934. It advertises the 161 and one other model at the same prices
as shown in the April ad reproduced above. So perhaps this one store had just a few models left over from the initial sales campaign!