Posted on August 28 2019
By Peter Skiera
Everyone has heard of MIT University, but did you know from April through October, on the third Sunday of each month, MIT sponsors a flea market (they call it a “swap fest”) in MA? I went for the first time two years ago, and in some ways, it was like going to an audio museum. I missed all of the swap fests last year, as I always seemed to have a conflict on the day of the swap fest. It is held in a parking garage on Albany Street in Cambridge, MA. This has the added advantage of holding the swap fests rain or shine. I managed to get there this month, and although I did not purchase anything, it was very cool to see the wide variety of items and to listen to buyers barter.
The MIT Flea occupied 3 levels of a parking garage and buyers were plentiful, but not wall-to-wall.
I walked by one seller who had a long table covered with vintage vacuum tubes of all sizes. I do not think I have ever seen so many vacuum tubes. A few spaces down, a seller had about 15 big boxes of used 78 RPM records. On the next level, a seller displayed a variety of items including a lot of colorful vintage metal Lionel trains. There was also testing equipment, PA speakers, mixing boards, and outboard equalizers. There was even a gentleman displaying code machines from World War II including a German Enigma machine (two years ago, a working, four-rotor Enigma machine sold at a Christie’s auction for over $547,000).
A rare German Enigma cypher machine from World War II. Captured Germans had orders to destroy it to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy.
All aboard: Anyone for Lionel trains?
Being a self-confessed audio geek, the main things I was interested in was vintage stereo equipment, turntables, and radios. One guy was selling a working McIntosh receiver in its original wood case. Another had Sony and Denon cassette decks and a Nakamichi RE-2 stereo receiver. Another seller had a couple of old record players in very nice shape, an old Philco tube radio, and a portable record player.
A small collection of vintage portable plastic AM transistor radios on offer at the MIT swap fest.
A vintage Philco vacuum tube AM table radio in nice condition.
One gentleman, sitting in the hatchback of his vehicle with the hatch up, had a beast of a radio called the Zenith Wave Magnet Trans-Oceanic AM/Shortwave radio. It was wrapped in simulated alligator skin and included red plastic tone switches for Voice, Treble, Alto, and Bass. This 600 series was manufactured between 1954-1962 and was the last portable tube radio in the USA. You just never know what you will find at the swap fest.
The Zenith Trans-Oceanic Wave Magnet circa 1954-1962: The last of its kind.
A couple of vintage record players for sale in beautiful solid wood cases.
The Wondergram record player must have been a wonder in its day.
Perched innocently on top of a Marantz AM/FM digital tuner was “the world’s smallest record player”. The Wondergram was made between 1959-1965 and played both 45 and 33 1/3 records. It had three flip-down legs, ran strictly on batteries, and had a small, built-in (not-so-good sounding) speaker on the bottom. A dark brown faux leather carry case with strap was an option but was not with this unit.
Mission Impossible: This tape will self-destruct in 10 seconds.
Unfortunately, sellers started packing up around 12:30p even though the flyer advertised the event would run until 2pm! I had been told by a “regular” that the best swap fest to attend was the very first one of the year in April, but I could not make that one. Still, it was well worth the $5 admission ($6, but they deduct $1 if you bring their flyer) to see who was selling what, and to see what people listened to so many years ago to enjoy the music.
Peter Skiera joined Como Audio as Vice President of Product Development in 2016 and previously worked for Tivoli Audio, Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W loudspeakers/Rotel, and also spent nearly seven years in the radio broadcast industry in New England. He makes his home in southern MA and can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org