Collecting Decades: The 70’s Tech

Were you afraid of your new microwave oven? An early 1970s microwave oven that fit into a household kitchen sold for $149.99 in April 2016.

Were you afraid of your new microwave oven? Were you one of the first ATARI or Odyssey gamers? What was your handle on your CB, Good Buddy? Was Mr. Coffee your new best friend? Were you the Bandit with the 1977 Firebird Trans Am?  If you remember any of these, you were part of 70’s Tech.

Each was innovative for its time when they were introduced, but do they hold up as collectibles today?  Follow along with Modern Marvels “70s Tech” on the History Channel and compare recent auction values. You just might have one or two of these innovations somewhere at home.

Odyssey – This very first commercialized video game console was created by Ralph H. Baer whose main feature was three dots that players manipulated with handheld controllers on their television screen with different game cartridge formats. Model #1TL200BLAK, known as RUN 1, sold for $99 ($597*) retail in 1972; later versions have different RUN and model #’s until the system was discontinued in 1975. A complete 1972 RUN 1 version sold for $160 to $338.

It was the first “pocket size” calculator to do more than add, subtract, multiply and divide. This particular vintage HP35 calculator sold for $363.21 in June 2012.

HP-35 CalculatorIt was the first “pocket size” calculator to do more than add, subtract, multiply and divide; it did trigonometric and scientific functions as well, with LED illumination in red and a microprocessor chip. Retail in 1972 was $395 ($2382); auction value complete with original box and accessories sold for $363 in 2012, but individual ones sold for $15 to $60.

LED Watch – Using the new “space age” technology of LED (light emitting diodes) to illuminate an all electronic watch in digital format, the Hamilton Pulsar was the first consumer model in 1971. It was featured in the James Bond film “Live and Let Die.” An 18k version sold for $2100 ($13,078); a 14k version sold at auction in original box for $776 in 2010. By the end of the decade, LED watches were available for $10 ($42) or about $5 to $25 at auction today.

The first handheld educational toy by Texas Instruments for ages 7 and up. This Speak and Spell sold for over $200 in January 2012.

Speak and Spell – It is the first handheld educational toy by Texas Instruments for ages 7 and up “..with something to say,” according to Modern Marvels. The first to use a voice synthesizer so that it “spoke” to the child when the word they spelled was correct or “Wrong. Try again.” Interchangeable cartridges allowed for a range of additional uses. Released in 1978, it retailed for $60 ($238); auction values for complete in original box for $232 with individual ones about $100.

Concorde – The first passenger airliner with supersonic transport, traveling 21 miles a minute or 1350 miles per hour flying from Paris to New York City in under 3 hours, less than half the time of a 707, according to Modern Marvels.  The Concorde flew for 27 years, from 1976 to 2003, at a cost of $33.8 million each ($120m); a scale model  is available for about $300.  Memorabilia such as tickets (much less than the $3000 to $6000 for original ones), authentic inflight and commemorative items are available.

Taking pictures was as easy as aim and shoot with the Polaroid SX-70; the camera even processed the pictures for you. This SX-70 sold for $169 in December 2017.

Polaroid XS-70 – Take a picture, push a button, and in minutes you have a color picture you can put in your pocket instead of sending film to be developed for you. It is a foldable, single lens reflex handheld camera that debuted in 1972 at a cost of $180 ($1,085). At recent auctions, an original XS-70 camera with case and accessories sold for $300-$400; other individual ones near $100.

Mr. Coffee – Can you make coffee with a baseball player? You can with Mr. Coffee and Joe DiMaggio. In 1972, an automatic drip coffeemaker from Vincent Marotta and Samuel Glazer from Cleveland, Ohio, reengineered coffee to remove the harshness of constant percolation. Mr. Coffee sold for $40 ($230); auction values for original Mr. Coffee in unopened box from early 1970s sold for $170; otherwise auction values are $15 to $30.

Microwave Oven – Cooking with radar was an unusual segue from military use in World War II, but, it turns out, microwaves from radar also produces thermal energy enough to cook water-based food, too. Through trial and error, the first successful home use of microwave ovens was in the 1960s, but it found its market by 1971 due to smaller size and lower price of about $100 ($622). The only available 1970s microwave auctioned was for a 1976 Radarange for $149; others of the same era sell elsewhere for about $100 to $150.

This 1977 Pontiac Trans Am sold for $8900 in September 2011.  “…One of the baddest muscle cars to ever hit the road…”

Pontiac Firebird Trans Am –  “…One of the baddest muscle cars to ever hit the road,” according to Modern Marvels. Produced from 1967 to 2002, the Super Duty engine had 8 cylinders, a 6.6 liter 400 big block engine rated at 290 horsepower with the distinctive “screaming chicken” on the hood and ducktail spoiler that said “cool.” It went from 0 to 100 in 10 seconds – at 10 miles per gallon. Most sold for about $3000 ($16,000), 1977-78 for $7000 ($29,000); auction of 1977 trans am in yellow (yellow?) for $8900 in UK (ah, UK). See the “Smokey and the Bandit” version in action here or the “Rockford Files” Trans Am version here.

CB Radio – For Bandit to clear the way, he needed a Smokey report from Fred and Cletus. To do that, they needed a CB and a handle. “The official mouthpiece for the American motorist,” according to Modern Marvels, the citizens band radio, a short distance over-the-air electronic personal radio, was instrumental for truckers and boaters to stay in touch between them, like a chat room today. Your call sign was your “handle” and an entire new lingo emerged. Movies helped popularize its use. A 24-channel CB radio was about $100 ($622); one auctioned for about $50 in 2016. That’s a big 10-4, good buddy.

It was called the “Me Decade” with a Cold War still on and an actual war winding down, an energy crisis, and men still on the moon. Yet, the innovations kept coming and the 70s marvels are still with us, just more modern.

*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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