Leon Theremin (Teletouch) Theremin , c. 1938

Leon Theremin (Teletouch)  Theremin ,  c. 1938

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Item # 5165
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Leon Theremin (Teletouch) Theremin, c. 1938, made in New York City, dark brown varnish finish, walnut cabinet containing fixed stamped steel chasis. This is one of the few instruments that Leon Theremin personally made or had built under his direction his New York workshop while engaged in the Teletouch Company (as opposed to the RCA instruments that were manufactured under license). There are no Teletouch or Theremin Studio markings on the chassis or inside the cabinet but many hand written markings. It had been discovered in the basement of a private home in Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn in NYC. Theremin himself hand built very few instruments - perhaps ten prototypes and soloist instruments of the electromagnetic variety between 1928 - 1938. Unfortunately there are no hard facts as to how this particular Theremin came to be hidden away in a Brooklyn basement. Coincidentally, Theremin's 2nd wife Lavinia Williams did live in Sheepshead Bay until 1953.

The instrument itself is quite unique to Theremin's work. Lev made a handful of soloist instrument most notably for Clara Rockmore and Lucie Rosen. This is one of handful of instruments that were made through his later connection with the Teletouch Corp. with the speaker section built-in to the lower section of the podium (those by RCA, having separate speaker cabinets). Theremin made instruments were also distinguished by the use green silk or cotton-insulated wire for the electrical coils.

Green cloth insulated wire was used by hundreds of radio manufacturers in the 1920s. However, similar to Lev's use of the older style capacitors, he continued to use the green wire long after the electronic industry drifted away from that color (cream or beige silk insulated wire superseded it in the mid to late 1920s). Therefore, when we see a Theremin that was clearly built in the 1930s, but with green wire coils, chances are that it's a Lev-built or Teletouch. It's worth noting that a Teletouch Theremin survives that was made a few months after Theremin's departure from the U.S.

There is also a version completely made by Teletouch after Lev had left the USA and it does not use green silk insulated wire for the main coils. One of uncertain date was made for a soloist named Juliet Shaw and at this time, still privately owned - another is depicted in a news clipping from Tennessee c. 1940 being played by Evan McKinley of 'The Musical Messengers' (also noted for performing on the "largest set of piccolo bells and musical glasses in America". Lev's hand-written numbers appear on the chassis top of the particular instrument we have here and is probably the very last instrument Leon Theremin had a hand in personally building before leaving the USA.


Unlike many surviving instruments nothing had ever been done to alter or customize the original design and construction. Even the original antennae survived! We've spent over two years painstakingly rebuilding the instrument using NOS tubes and parts. It now works flawlessly - as it did when it left Mr. Theremin's shop in 1938.

The cabinet is of the extremely rare Teletouch variety. This instrument utilizes both voltage regulation and a rotary tone color selector. Tone color switches were a feature of Lev's own personal demonstration instruments in the 1927-28 era, but are not generally seen on Theremins built for others, until appearing on this unit. The oscillator and resonance coils employ the green silk-insulated windings a feature employed only on Theremins made by Leon himself. "Bathtub style" capacitors are used in portions of the construction, as seen in other Lev-built Theremins, although this instrument utilizes fixed-value oscillator capacitors in lieu of Lev's usual stacked mica capacitors.

This is the only currently known surviving instrument that employs both an inductively-heated volume control tube, (in this case a UX-120 and generally typical only on his earlier designs), and the "Type 53" dual triode tube (employed in Lev's later custom instruments for Clara Rockmore and Lucie Rosen).
 
Height is 44 in. (111.8 cm.), 20 in. (50.8 cm.) across at the widest point, and 12 3/4 in. (32.4 cm.) deep. Minor bumping and scratching to the cabinet. Original finish with the exception of one section of replaced decorative molding. Several replaced wax capacitors with the newer ceramic components being fit inside the original paper sleeves to preserve the look of the 75 year old components. Fully restored and operational. Excellent Condition.