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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.