Collecting Decades: The 1960’s Tech

Did you embrace your psychedelic with your lava lamp? This Astro mini lava lamp sold for $89.40 in January 2013.

Did you embrace your psychedelic with your lava lamp? How high does a Super Ball go? What stations did you hear on your first transistor radio? Always wanted a 1964 Ford Mustang? Did you master the Etch A Sketch? If you remember any of the above you grew up with 60’s Tech.

Each item was innovative for its time when they were introduced, but do they hold up as collectibles today?  Follow along with Modern Marvels “60s Tech” on the History Channel and compare recent auction values. You just might have one or two of these innovations somewhere at home.

Lava Lamp – Add wax to a colored water mix, put it in a glass bottle, heat it up from below and watch the colors and patterns that emerge as the wax rises and falls, like lava. That was the idea from British accountant Edward Craven Walker in a bar in 1963 and the “Astro lava lamp” was born and sold through Mathmos. It sold millions in the 1960’s for about $20 ($163*). The original Mathmos lava lamp design sold for $89 in 2013; other versions sold for much more.

An original Manta Ray GTX RTR Series 2 slot car, a best seller, sold at auction in its original box from $70 to $162.50 in 2017.

Manta Ray Slot Car – The fastest motor sport ever devised. “A slot car goes from 0 to 130 miles an hour in under half a second,” says Jim Cunningham on Modern Marvels. Small 1:24 gauge metal racing cars hooked to electrified race tracks were quite the rage from 1960 until they burned out by the end of the decade. An original Manta Ray GTX RTR Series 2 slot car, a best seller, sold at auction in its original box from $70 to $162.50 in 2017; others sold higher. Complete home race sets bought for about $20 ($163) in original boxes have sold from $80 to $550.


This used Etch a Sketch sold for $125 in original box, but most sell from $25 to $50.

Etch A Sketch – Turn two knobs on a box and watch a stylus move inside a window and scrape a dark line through a silver gray coating creating a picture. Shake the box and the lines disappear to create new “art.” This was “L’Ecran Magique” (The Magic Screen) when it was first devised by Andre Cassagnes in France in the late 1950s. Renamed Etch A Sketch by the Ohio Art Company in 1960, it was a huge bestseller for $3 ($24.50). A used one sold for $125 in original box, but most sell from $25 to $50.

This vintage Wham-O Ball in its original package sold for $53 in October 2013.

Wham-O Super Ball – The only rubber ball that can go higher and farther than anything before it. It was truly a super ball. Chemist Norman Stingley created its first rubberized version in 1964 for Wham-O toy company after his own company turned it down. Manufactured similar to tires, the mix of vulcanized rubber and sulphur heated at extreme temperatures creates the bounciness that was loved by millions. It sold for about a dollar in 1965 ($8) but has auctioned for $53 to $70 in original package or for about $10 or so by itself.

Color Television – The world was greyscale if you had early television. But by the late 1960’s, analog technology through vacuum tubes was finally able to see the world in “living color” over three astounding channels – without a remote (unless you count the kids). RCA sold a 21’” color television console that we watched the moon landing at grandma’s on for about $395 ($3341) in 1960 that sold for $500 in 2009 and a Sylvania 1960s console sold for $100 in 2013 if they worked. 

1964 Ford Mustang – “…It was almost the car that wasn’t,” says Modern Marvels. With all the trouble this car went through to be made by Ford, it became the iconic automobile of the 1960s, selling more in its first year of production than any other car before or since. The cost was  $2,368 ($18,995) with more than a million sold in its first 18 months. Today, one of the first convertibles, called a 1964½ (about 122,000 cars) for some styling quirks, sold for nearly $29,000 in 2012 in UK; a V-8 coupe sold for nearly $7,300 in 2013, also in UK. Can’t afford one? How about a Ford Mustang pedal car for about $300 to $500 or so instead.

An original SonyTR-63 hand held transistor radio sold for $225 in October 2017.

Transistor Radio – With the introduction of the Sony TR-63 into the US market from Japan in 1957, this “pocketable” radio sold very well. By the early 60’s, the transistor radio allowed teens to “…take the dance party with you,” says Modern Marvels. An original SonyTR-63 hand held transistor radio cost about $24.95 ($213) or so with auction values ranging from $225 in 2017 to twice that for a Packard Bell AR851 “Gilligan’s Island” transistor radio. Most 1960 era commercial “pocketable” transistor radios are still easily available from $10 to $30.

This 1960’s push button phone sold for $86 in April 2013.

Push Button Telephone – Rotary dialing a phone call was just too darn slow. Rotate the button, wait. Rotate another, wait. The push button moved things along much faster. Just push a button to call as was demonstrated at the 1964 World’s Fair. By the way, the arrangement of the numbers is credited to John Elias Karline of Bell Laboratories after extensive research. Back then you didn’t buy your own telephone; it was owned by the phone company. But you can buy the early push button phone today from $15 to $85.

This vintage 14k white gold Bulova Accutron TV mens watch sold for $1005 in October 2015.

Accutron Watch – It didn’t tick; it hummed. As watches go, this was the most unique innovation in 700 years. Made by Bulova watch company in 1960, Accutron (accuracy through electronics)  used a vibrating tuning fork powered by a transistor electronic circuit that made it hum. This made it more accurate to within a minute a month. The cost was about $150 ($1,268) or so. Different styles of Accutron watches sold at auction from $65 for a men’s watch to 14k white gold popular “space view” versions from $400 to $950.

Shure Unidyne 3 Series Microphone  – Amplifying sound at large outdoor music concerts in the 1960’s so that everyone can hear it clearly was a challenge. That changed with the introduction of the Shure SM57 in 1965. “It’s like a Christmas tree upside down,” says audio engineer Bill Hanley, audio engineer at Woodstock. It picks up sound if directed into the mic, but not from the sides. It was such an innovation, the SM series has been used by all presidents since LBJ. The only SM57 available at auction was for $205 in 2017 with accessories, but many SM57 mics are still available individually for about $60 to $100 or so elsewhere.

The 1960’s. Turn on, tune out, drop out was a way of life for many then. But, like, check it out, man, its technology continues its “groovy” ways as collectibles. So righteous!

*Note that the selling price of the time is inflation-adjusted in parentheses, if it was known, using the Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Tom Carrier is a General Worthologist with a specialty in Americana, political memorabilia and he has been the resident WorthPoint vexillologist (flags, seals and heraldry) since 2007. Tom is also a frequent contributor of articles to WorthPoint.

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