Amongst other things that I have decided to collect, one is tube boxes. There are about 1,000 tubes in my ‘collection’, and it would take far too much time and space to show you everything, but this is an excellent sampling of what I do have. I do not collect vintage tubes because I think they are ‘better’, but because they simply appeal to me visually. Most are of the every day occurrence variety, but there are a few ‘gems’ and some that it seems no one else has seen. They all address my nostalgic advertising fancy. With that in mind, here is an alphabetical sampling of my vintage tube box collection, with any anecdotes I can provide. Keep in mind, too, that I bought many tubes at ham radio swap meets not even knowing what the tube inside was, but the unique box compelled me to add it to my collection. Dating tube boxes is based on educated guesswork from (a) when the tube first appeared in any of my tube manuals (I have dozens to refer to) and (b) articles from past issues of Vacuum Tube Valley dealing with specific tube type history. I have also received a lot of information on tube ‘Manufacturers’ versus ‘Distributors’ from reader Charles MacDonald. He appears to be a walking encyclopedia of tube companies and their history. His anecdotes appear where relevant, and are marked (). I’d also like to personally thank reader Brent Romanuk for supplying the tube boxes marked (). Brent has a tube collection to make most people envious, and he graciously provided the samples that even I didn’t have in my personal collection. I wish I had more friends like Brent. And last, but certainly not least, I’ll thank Steve Warren for the tube boxes marked (). Steve provided some very unusual tube boxes, and I am grateful for the opportunity to get my hands on them, and share these with you all. Should you care enough to want a glimpse into the Canadian Tube Industry during the 1960’s; CLICK HERE.
Oh, I may as well date myself right here and now, and relate how the very first television set my parents brought home when I was just a little gaffer happened to be a B&W Admiral TV (I still remember Sunday nights watching ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’). The box above left appears to be of slightly earlier vintage, and my tube collection has an armful of 6AQ5’s (a popular TV audio output tube) in this box style. The box also claims to be from the Canadian Admiral Corporation Limited, but the tube inside still has ‘Made in USA’ silkscreened on it. Many Admiral TV’s were sold here in Winnipeg from the ‘Hudson Bay’ department store, and they were indeed the most popular television set in this part of the country. So it’s no surprise that quite a few old-time television technicians I have met worked for an Admiral dealer, and the fellow from whom I procured this Japanese-made 35W4 (the rectifier from an All-American Five radio set) seen in the box above right had many other Admiral radio and television tubes in his tube-caddy. Since these were usually radio and television tubes (Admiral started making radios about 1929-1930), finding a pair of Admiral 6L6’s isn’t something to hope for. The box could also have had a red/white color scheme, as opposed to the orange/white color scheme seen above. The tubes inside a red box are purported to be a ‘Premium’ tube and would cost more(*). Either tube inside usually had the ‘Admiral Supertron’ logo in a bright yellow paint, along with the ‘Made In USA’ or ‘Made In Japan’ designation in white silk-screening.
Reader Gary Roufosse was kind enough to send me a few tube box ‘scans’. These are of tubes from his personal collection, and are of brand names I hadn’t heard of previously. Very cool! Without further ado….. ‘
First up is ‘Aladdin’. According to Gary, there is absolutely no other markings on the tube box except for what you see. You can almost bet the farm on Aladdin being a rebrand. There is also no tube designation on the box lid, making it harder to ascertain if these were primarily aimed at the Radio and Television industry or the general tube market. This may sound like an asinine statement, so let me expand on that thought. Many ‘oddball’ tubes I have found, including those you’ll meet later, are of the series-string filament variety. Finding a pristine 6L6 isn’t something to hope for, as very few Television sets used a 6L6. A common TV audio output tube is the 6AQ5, yet very few audio amplifiers used them. Other common TV tubes include 6AL5, 6AW8, 6CG7, 6EW6, and 6GH8. Quickly now; which Tweed Fender amplifier used those very same tubes?
Here is the first of many mystery tubes. I didn’t know anything at all about AMC tubes.
Reader Brent Romanuk sent the tube box to me to share with you all here. Unfortunately, there was no box top, and no tube inside! Therefore, I can’t tell you anything about this tube, although judging from the size of the box, there was at least an octal tube inside at one time or another. There is no labeling on the box to indicate what the acronym AMC stands for, nor is there any ‘Country of Origin’ markings.
Reader Don Jankura has been a wealth of information. An email sent to me contained the following information;
As a kid in Detroit, Michigan, my parents used to shop at J. L. Hudson’s Department Store (now owned by Target stores and re-named Marshall-Fields). The store brand was AMC, which stands for Associated Merchandising Corporation; this company supplied goods for various department stores in the USA, including typewriters.
My instincts tell me AMC was an importer/rebrander, and that any tube inside the box above was probably Japanese. To hedge against changing suppliers, no labeling on the box itself would indicate where the tube inside came from. You’ll see later I have a few other boxes marked ‘Made In USA’ while the tube inside states it was ‘Made In Japan’. This is a common occurrence with all ‘brands’, making it a gamble to buy NOS tubes ‘long distance’.
Toward the tail-end of the tube manufacturing business, even a big factory like Philips realized that money could be saved by rebranding tubes. Amperex tubes were simply tubes purchased by Philips elsewhere (usually Japanese) and given a new name. Why not keep using the name Philips is a mystery to me, but Philips had many other ‘names’, as we’ll see later. The 6GH8 inside this box looks to be a quality tube, with the tube designation in a not-quite bright white silkscreening, and the Amperex logo in a dull Orange paint.
Ask any ‘tube-ologist’ who the oldest name in electron tubes is, and I’ll wager not a soul comes up with Arcturus. Who the heck were they? Where was their ‘factory’? There are many mysteries surrounding Arcturus, and the only proof I have that they even existed at all is the lone sample below.
What I can tell from the box itself, and the 1U5 inside, is as follows. The box is a nice multi-color pattern repeating in a mirror image on adjacent sides. This was done by many other manufacturers during the 1940’s and 1950’s, as you’ll see a little later. The tube type is nicely stamped on the box lid, so these are not just ‘bulk boxes’ used by a rebrander. It is claimed that Arcturus has been making ‘electron tubes’ since 1925. The 1U5 is a ‘fairly’ old battery-radio tube. It first appears in the RCA receiving tube manual RC-15 (1948), so this is definitely not one of their early efforts. I haven’t seen a second Arcturus box, so I cannot speculate if it is only bravado or if they really have been around since 1925. If I ever find an Arcturus 2A3 or even a 30, I’ll know they really are that old. But to date this is the one and only sample I have ever seen.
I have very few CBS tube boxes to show you, even though they are a very old tube manufacturer. Located in Danvers, Massachusetts, CBS has a plethora of vintage ads to show you, some of which can be seen back at the page of tube advertising. As for the boxes themselves, these later-day tube boxes had a red and black checker-board pattern repeated on alternate sides of the box. The box above shows two side of the same 6AU6, and also ‘features’ the dot pattern we’ll see below as we learn later how to determine tube manufacturer origins by examining the tube structure. For now, believe me when I say this is a USA made tube with a pale white silkscreening.
Here is one of a handful of tube boxes supplied by Steve Warren. What is unusual is the absence of any indication of where the Columbia factory or warehouse is located. Also missing is any indication of the tube type on the box! There is a small white rectangle on the top of the box, where the tube type can be stamped on, or a sticker affixed. In this instance, someone had written in ballpoint pen that there was a 6AL5 in this box at one time. No country of origin is noted on the box either, making me believe that a ‘Columbia’ tube could have been anything that they could bulk purchase at the right price, and use up their existing stock of boxes. This box appears to be from the mid to late 1950’s, possibly suggesting that Columbia rebranded USA manufactured tubes, as the Japanese imports wouldn’t arrive for a few years yet.
Courtesy of Gary Roufosse, we can see that if you are stuck for a moniker for your new tube line, naming them after the first thing you see out your window can work if you live in an affluent neighborhood. I’m just thankful these tubes weren’t named ‘Edsel’.
According to Gary, these Corvette tubes were a rebrand for the Marshall-Wells department store chain. Gary claims to have ‘a pile’ of these tubes, and they are of various origins; USA, Japan, and England to name a few. Most likely ear-marked to supplement any Television or Radio sold through the store, we can again safely assume finding rebranded Blackplate 6L6’s ain’t gonna happen.
Perhaps Bo and Luke only put Dixie tubes in the General Lee’s radio. Well, maybe not, seeing as these are not Yankee Doodle Dandy issue. The tube inside does not have a country of origin labeled on the tube itself, but the box clearly admits the oriental pedigree (i.e. ‘Made In Japan’). It is an interesting little tube, in that it has a ‘Chinese’ looking getter, and the tube designation is in a very odd pale gray color, almost unreadable, even though the tube is new. I only have a few of these tubes, and other than a pair of 6BQ5’s, bought them solely for the box. The rest were all B&W television tubes, with oddball filament voltages.
Thanks to Gary Roufosse (again), I am able to say I have seen an Ensign tube. According to Gary, this is a subsidiary of Admiral. My guess is this is a ‘house-brand’ for someone. Later you’ll see a Signet tube box; these were RCA tubes sold to the McLeod’s store chain here in Canada, and offered as the house brand to upkeep Televisions sold through the store. Apparently this was a common practice, so I will go out on a limb and hypothesize that Ensign was an Admiral house brand for some department store chain in the US. I say that because we saw Admiral already had more than one tube line, and having the same tube in at least three different boxes doesn’t seem practical to me.
These are typical GE boxes, ones of many I’m sure you’ve seen. The ‘vintage’ is early to mid 1940’s on the left, late 1950’s in the middle, and late 1960’s to mid 1970’s on the right. I have collected many tube types in the 1970’s box, including very microphonic 12AX7’s. I purchased those bad 12AX7’s in lots of 100 from a high-end audio outfit when they went out of business; I threw out every single one of those tubes. My own tubes from these boxes also include; 2A5’s from the box on the left, a handful of early 1960’s era 5AR4’s (similar to the box in the middle; these are the American ‘equivalent’ to a GZ34), and two pairs of gorgeous ‘big bulb’ 6550’s from about the late 1960’s (similar to the box on the right, and possibly a Tung-Sol rebrand). Most, if not all, of the tubes I have seen from inside these boxes stated they were made in the U.S. of A. and had either red or white silk-screening on the tube itself. The tube designation number is almost always silkscreened in a stencil style, and in a pale gray coloring.
Here is a tube box very few (if any) have seen before. It comes from Guardian Electronics Limited, of Knowlton, Quebec. It seems many ‘rebrands’ came from Eastern Canada. The box looks like a modified Tung-Sol to me, and the ‘Made In USA’ tube inside adds to the suspicion. This box came free with a 6AH4 inside, from an elderly TV repairman. No surprise, then, that the 6AH4 is a octal-based low gain vertical amplifier used in television sets (an amplification factor of only 8). The tube has the ‘merit’ of being designed to take a steady 500VDC on the plates, with a peak swing of the vertical oscillator taking the plate voltage up to 2,000VDC! This is the only Guardian tube I have ever seen, and was one of those I had to buy for the box alone. The 6AH4 was popular during the mid 1950’s, so I will date this example similarly.
Here is the first group of many tubes and tube boxes I have that are very unfamiliar even to the most savvy old-timer. The ‘GUARANTEED’ tubes are a rewash/rebrand, a common occurrence during the late 1950’s. As tube priced climbed, the frugal experimenter bought used tubes pulled from military equipment that still measured a strong emission/transconductance. The tubes are tested, cleaned off, and re-silkscreened. Factory ‘seconds’ were also packaged in these boxes, as stated on the box above left. The boxes I have are all filled with 6AQ5’s, the 7-pin equivalent of a 6V6. These Haltron tubes above center claim heritage from London, England on the outside of the box, but most tubes I have are silk screened ‘Made in Japan’ in lovely white paint! That’s OK by me, as Japanese tubes are far superior to Chinese offerings, and are comparable to U.S. made glass. This Haltron tube one of an armful of 12BH7’s I have, nice to have if you collect or service old Ampeg amplifiers. As a piece of trivia, many a Vox AC30 I have worked on still had the original Haltron ECC83’s inside. I can read that the Heintz & Kaufman tube box above right claims ‘Since 1927’, but that’s about all I or anyone else I’ve asked can figure out about these ‘gammatrons’ as they are called over in their native country.
I do know that in the ‘old’ days (meaning about 1980) the same Television and VCR was marketed under the names RCA, GE, and Hitatchi. But tubes? I really don’t think so, because these tubes are silk-screened Made In Japan in white on tubes that looks nothing like an American product. The box above left holds one odd 6V6GT and a few 6AQ5’s (a popular TV audio output tube), while the box above right holds one of many 6AV6’s I have. The 6AV6 is exactly 1/2 of a 12AX7, and was the 12AX7’s predecessor. Strange that since the 12AX7 came out in 1948 someone would still make 6AV6’s some 30 years later, although the 6AV6 does have a pair of diodes thrown in for free. This made the 6AV6 a popular radio tube, where the diodes did duty as the detector, or in conjunction with the triode as an AVC circuit. I have seen some real oddball guitar amplifiers use the 6AV6 as a voltage amplifier, and ‘tie’ the diodes to ground. As a side note; the 6AT6 is exactly 1/2 of a 12AT7 with a pair of free diodes. Lastly, I have no answer as to why these boxes look so different, yet the tubes inside appear to be manufactured and silkscreened similarly. Hitatchi is also rumored to have manufactured(?) tubes under the name Fleetwood*.
Japanese tubes became an industry force to be reckoned with during the late 1950’s. This ITT 6SN7 (above left) tube is a later example of Oriental technology. They are built far better than Chinese tubes, and it’s a shame there aren’t modern Japanese tubes for us to sample. I don’t know what the ITT stood for, and I have seen as many tube boxes that had the logo as RTT, a very strange mystery (to me at least). Above right is an RTT 6BN8, a good tube to have if you collect B&K tube testers, as I do.
The military has a history of paying $815 for a toilet or $249 for a hammer, so God only knows what they paid for this 12AX7. They were also buying vacuum tubes long after any war I’ve ever heard of ended, as evidenced by the date code on the box above. I’m only half joking here, as most of my tube testers purchased from ham radio swap meets have labels indicating they were used by such people as the Department of National Defense! In case you didn’t know, JAN stood for Joint Army/Navy. I have quite a few JAN tubes, but this one also once held a mystery for me because during the 1970’s RCA sold their tube manufacturing facilities to GTE, the named manufacture of this 12AX7. However, the tube inside clearly states in green silk-screening that this particular 12AX7 was manufactured by Sylvania! Apparently GTE owned Sylvania*. JAN tubes can be made by literally anybody, and I have examples manufactured by GE, Tung-Sol, and others. Are JAN tubes any better than regular offerings? Maybe if you’re restoring a B-52 bomber. If you’re restoring a tweed Bassman, however, a $249 hammer doesn’t hit the nail any straighter, if you get my meaning.
Yet another Japanese import. The box end states that this tube was ‘Made in Japan for Keldon Electronics Limited, Pointe Claire, Quebec, Canada’. The 6L6GC inside is a short, squat little sucker, not unlike a certain U.S. made tube that was available NOS in large quantities up until recently. The tube has pale gold lettering designating the tube type on the glass, with red silkscreening repeating the Keldon/Citation logo on the plastic tube base. Since Marconi had a distribution office in Montreal during this period, my guess is that this tube is a Marconi rebrand. Compare this box to a later day Marconi box below.
This Magnavox tube looks very familiar to me. Raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the tube itself brags it was born in the US of A in a bright yellow silkscreening that looks identical to the style seen on Sylvania tubes. The construction style and the getter also look like they are related to Sylvania tubes somehow. The 6CG8 inside is yet another triode/pentode pairing I have, typically seen in the IF strip of B&W televisions during the mid 1950’s. I like the idea of using a single triode/pentode tube to drive a pair of 6BQ5/6V6 output tubes.
According to the book Empire of The Air and past Vacuum Tube Valley articles, RCA bought out the Marconi company in 1919. After a lot of back-room politics between RCA, GE, and AT&T, the results were a consolidation intended to reduce the duplication of R&D and manufacturing efforts. The early receiving tubes were manufactured by GE and rebranded RCA, Cunningham, and Radiotron for each region of the U.S. of A. while RCA chose to use the name Marconi in Canada, in view of his early radio-transmission experiments up here in Newfoundland. Still with me? If you’re a Canadian (like I am) you’ll find thousands of Marconi tubes at swap meets. The box above left holds one of dozens of 6SN7GT’s I have. These early 1950’s dual-triodes are stamped Made In Canada in pale gold silk-screening and the Marconi-Radiotron logo on the black bakelite base is in red ink. You are allowed to think of these tubes as RCA’s. I also have a handful of 12AY7’s in these boxes, and one pair of ‘big-bulb’ 6550’s; a real oddball. Most books don’t mention anybody other than Tung-Sol making 6550’s (and not KT88’s) until GE did in 1970. Old Tung-Sol 6550’s have the same ‘ST’ or ‘Coke bottle’ shape as my Marconi’s, while GE and others adopted the typical straight-sided appearance. Are my Marconi 6550’s a rebranded Tung-Sol? Maybe, eh? The box above center uses the ‘newer’ logo (CMC), loses the globe graphic, but still keeps the Radiotron designation. The tube inside still claims to be ‘Made In Canada’. The most recent offering, as seen in the box above right, also includes the Citation designation. Compare it to the box seen earlier with the Keldon tube inside. The 5AR4 inside also states it was ‘Made In Japan’. This tells me that although I may have 70 or 80 different tube boxes, there were only a handful of tube manufacturers, and everybody else simply bought and rebranded tubes. And, finally, the oldest Marconi tube and/or tube box I have seen to date;
This is about as old as it gets for me, other than the RCA UX859 you’ll see a little later. My best guess is that this box comes from during the time RCA bought out Marconi, and that would make this a real gem. The ‘valve’ designation also suggests that this was a British offering. Also from this era – well, the late 1930’s actually – I have a pair of Marconi KT66’s to show you. The glass looks like it was from GEC (the British GE), and the smoked interior suggests it is of the earliest KT66 lineage.
I also have five similar tubes in Westinghouse boxes, complete with the Westinghouse logo on the brown bakelite base. A few of the Westinghouse tubes are of a clear glass, suggesting they are a little newer than the Marconi labeled KT66’s. I am scared shitless to actually use any of these tubes; so they are earmarked for my son to decide what the hell to do with them. Perhaps he’ll pay for his first car with them by the time he gets old enough to know about eBay.
You don’t see many of these late 1960’s era Motorola tubes. Motorola manufactured two separate lines of tubes; one for consumer goods, and a second line exclusively for communications tubes*. The tubes in my collection state in green silkscreening they are manufactured in the U.S. of A. They are also usually TV tubes, and this example is a 6LE8.
I own a few Mullard tubes that are ‘pulls’, which is a fancy way of saying used. They test fine, and I keep them around for restoring British amplifiers. But I own hardly any Mullard tube boxes. Therefore, I cannot say whether these boxes are typical of what you’d find or not. I do know that the EF86/6267 inside the box above left states it was ‘Made In Great Britain’ in a semi-gloss white paint, complete with the Mullard logo atop the tube designation. I’m scared to use this tube, because finding another one is impossible unless you’re not adverse to taking out a second mortgage on your house. The not-quite as rare ECC81 in the box above right(**) appears to be of more ‘modern’ production, yet still has the same type of silkscreening and identical logo.
There are a seemingly endless number of tube rebranders, and I really believed that when I first conceived this page that it may have ‘a dozen or so’ different boxes to show you. Well, I am officially at eighty-two(!) different tube boxes here, and I believe I have a source for yet a few more. You just know there wasn’t that many tube manufacturers during even the most lucrative years. Heck, I doubt even the military could purchase enough vacuum tubes to keep this many ‘companies’ in business. Here I am looking over a Mytron ‘electronic tube’. It is a simple box with no ‘country of origin’ stated on the outside. Inside, the 6BK7 looks American made, so perhaps Mytron purchased vacuum tube from wherever they could at the cheapest rate, and just stuck them in boxes. The printing on the top flap is not just rubber-stamped on, making me believe they actually ran their boxes through some sort of offset printing process. Later as I show you how to look at the screening on the tube itself, you’ll see a stencil design with a ‘dot’ pattern beneath the tube designation. This 6BK7 has that appearance. I have a hunch it is a GE tube, but cannot say for certain. I can say for certain that the 6BK7 inside came in handy when I restored a pair of old Heathkit oscilloscopes that we’ll meet on the Bassman biasing page.
I went through quite a few National tubes in my day; they were one of a few brands available throughout the local music store here in a mid-size Canadian city. Not surprisingly, every National tube I have seen has been guitar amplifier related. Usually imported rebrands, the 5881’s in the multigraphic box above(**) are clearly Russian, identical to the Sovtek brand. Now is the time to remind everyone that Sovtek is not a manufacturer of tubes, but a rebrander themselves. Sovtek usually use tubes manufactured at the Reflektor plant, who have supplied tubes to many American manufacturers, as we’ll see.
As odd as odd can get, I have seen none more odd than this NJRT tube. The New Jersey Radio-Television Company, apparently located in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was probably not a tube manufacturer, but a rebrander. The tubes are usually Radio and Television types (hence the name) so finding a pair of 6L6’s is not something to hope for. The 6BQ6 inside this box claims to made in the U.S.
Most Philco tubes were manufactured in the U.S. of A. or Canada, unlike Philips, which usually came from Holland. My Philco tubes have a dark gold silk screening, and claimed Canadian manufacturing, along with the ‘warning’… “Insist on genuine Philco tubes”. It’s not mentioned what happens if you don’t. Philco was eventually bought out by the Ford Motor Company. I have many 6GH8’s in these, and other, boxes. If you track down even one old time electronic technician, they’ll have hundreds of 6GH8’s in their tube caddy. Ask them why they carry so many. A 6GH8 is a 9-pin triode-pentode tube and fun to use with the pentode as a voltage amplifier coupled to the triode as a split-load phase inverter. This allows you to use just one tube capable of driving a pair of 6BQ5’s or 6V6’s, say.
Philips had many looks over the years.
Here’s a group of Philips boxes, from when the future was looking rosy, all the way to when they had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. The early European Philips, like those found in box #1, had a pinout diagram on the box top to help jog your memory as to what the heck the tube was if the number alone meant nothing to you. Philips made tubes for many other European folks, such as Amperex, Mullard, and Telefunken. Philips was also labeled Rogers in Canada, and ECG took over the tube end of the business until the demise of tube manufacturing in the United States. The 12AU7 seen in box #2 was still being advertised/labeled as a radio tube, a holdover from when radios were the only item around requiring those new fangled vacuum tubes. The very early Canadian manufactured tubes were called Rogers Majestic, and the mid 1950’s box #3 hold one of my many 6K6GT’s, handy to have when you are restoring a stand alone Fender Reverb unit. The mid 1960’s box #4 has a 6CA7 inside that looks suspiciously like a Mullard (read above). What I like about Rogers tubes is they also usually had a pin-out diagram on the top of the box making it a little easier to guess what the tube inside was. The Rogers box #4 also holds many 6SN7GTB’s I have. My tube collection also features metal 6V6’s in box #5, as well as an armful of 12AY7’s, and 12AU7’s. The ECG era tubes in box #6 were offered by guitar amplifier makers like Mesa Boogie and home audio equipment manufacturers like Audio Research. Lastly, I have 6650’s from the late 1970’s/early 1980’s in box #6.
There was so much importing of Japanese glass even before the declining years of tube manufacturing, that is hard to keep track of all of the ‘brands’ available. Here is one more that you may very well be unfamiliar with. Radio-Vision tubes look well-made, and the graphics make me think this tube is of an early 1960’s vintage. The 6CG7 inside also makes me think of the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, as this vertical/horizontal oscillator was primarily used in B&W televisions during that era. The tube box has a pin-out diagram to help determine what the heck the tube is, and one side of the box is set aside to print your name and address!
A very old name in electronics, and vacuum tubes, is Raytheon. Yet these later day examples are all that I have. Even during a narrow time frame, the logo can be slightly different, as seen in the two boxes above left and right (these are two completely different tube types, and not two sides of the same tube box). The 12SA7 above left looks to have the older logo, and not coincidentally the older metal tube. The 12SA7 is a pentagrid converter, a very common radio tube, identical to the glass12BE6 (used extensively in All-American Five radios). This tube has the ‘Raytheon Uniline’ logo in a dirty yellow paint, and claims USA heritage. The 1950’s era box (above, center) has an American-made 6CB6 inside. The 6CB6 was a popular tube in early B&W TV’s, used as either an RF or a IF amplifier in VHF tuners. The more recent looking logo (above right) is very reminiscent of the earlier box style (a ‘reissue’ box?), and is from a very common 6GH8 TV tube. Also with a dirty yellow paint, and a ‘Made In Japan’ designation, I have a pair of 6BQ5’s in this most recent Raytheon box.
These are the tubes collectors seem to favour.
These RCA boxes can hold the Holy Grail of vacuum tubes to most collectors. I have a modest number of these boxes, holding such tubes as 5R4GYB’s, 6SC7’s, 6SL7’s, 6BQ5’s, and 6V6’s in the late1950’s box style #3, along with a curious 6CA7 ‘rebrand’. The tubes inside are clearly marked ‘Made In England’. Boxes 1 and 2 are just boxes, and if I had the tubes to go in either of them (especially the 1930’s UX859 box #1) I’d be filthy rich. The ‘Nipper’ tube box #2 usually held early 1940’s audio/radio tubes like the 2A5. Box #4 is from the Montreal manufacturing plant, and holds one of many ‘oddball’ (at least to the packrats who hover around ham swap-meets looking for RCA ‘Black plate’ 6L6’s) Television/Radio tubes I have, this one a 25L6GT. As a side note, if you’re old enough to remember AC/DC radios, you’ll remember the 25L6GT. While not as popular as the 50L6GT, it still has possibilities, if you can avoid UL and CSA people. Box #5 comes at the tail end of RCA tube manufacturing (mid 1970’s), as evidenced by the death knoll ‘Country of Origin As Marked on Tube’. Surprisingly, the 6AU6 inside is still made in the good ol’ U.S.A. Ditto for the handful of 6EU7’s I have, which help keep my Gibson amplifiers period correct. Nearly every RCA tube I have and have seen has claimed to be manufactured in the U.S. of A. except for a pair of 5881’s(**) that claim to made in France. Unfortunately, they are clearly Russian-bred tubes.
I don’t know who made Realistic/Radio Shack tubes, but they must have been around for a while as evidenced by this metal 6SJ7; only very old radios used them. Later tubes also advertised gold-plated pins, something no one else did, making me wonder if ‘Realistic’ plated the pins themselves, or custom ordered these. The example above states the tube was manufactured in Canada, making it a possible Marconi product.
A total mystery to me is the Regency tube line. The tubes state they are Made In USA, the glass has a yellow silkscreening unlike any other tube I have seen, and the construction ‘style’ in unique. The multi-graphic box doesn’t give away any secrets such as stating you are buying a tube from Regency Distributors, or The Regency Electronic Corporation, etc. So I cannot even speculate if these are rebrands. I have a surprisingly modest number of Regency tubes, all Radio types. The above box holds a 6X5GT.
This Siemens tube (and a few others) above left and center are a slightly different picture on each side of the same box. The 3rd side has the ELECTRON TUBES phrase in three other languages, probably meaning the West German company exported their tubes all over the globe. This box holds another of my 6DJ8’s. The box above right(**) holds a Teutonic ECC83. It doesn’t have tone like a Panzer, but is surprisingly much quieter than other European ECC83’s I have tried. It appears to be older, and the single language box suggests it was not for export, but for domestic use only.
More tubes I am unfamiliar with. The Sheldon tube box (upper left) is marked… ‘A Division of Allied Electric Products, Inc. Irvington, NJ’. You now know as much as I do about them. The Sheldon tubes I have are all oddball filament voltage types, suggesting to me they are from the era of the series-heater B&W Television days. The Standard Brand tube box (above center) holds one of many 12BH7’s I have, and this one claims U.S. manufacturing in pale gold silk screening. A rebrand? Probably. The Shield brand tube box (***) is an example of the box yielding more questions than answers. There is no mention of where the Shield ‘plant’ is located. There is no mention on the box of where the tube was manufactured. And finally, there is no tube type designation on the box itself. The tube type can be stamped on, or hand written and affixed to a little sticker, as it is on the box seen above right. The 6AL5 inside looks like a quality tube, but this lone example cannot speaker for the typical tube from this rebrander. I had never heard of Signet tubes, nor had most old-timers I have met, until recently. One fellow who worked for RCA up here in Canada years ago claims he handled the purchase order for the McLeod’s store chain, and sold them many RCA tubes rebranded for the department store chain. These were intended for the televisions sold through the store. The 6BS8 inside this box (lower right) claims to be made in Canada in green silk-screening. Ditto for the Superior tube (lower left), which is also marked Superior Electronic Industries Ltd., Montreal Quebec, Canada. Superior was actually a distributor who ‘resold’ to many other distributors, so the same tube could possibly be rebranded a few times over*. Inside this box is yet another 6GH8 I have, with the tube type screened in pale gold lettering, and the Superior logo in Red ink.
You may be familiar with Seeburg jukeboxes, but I’ll bet you’ve never thought about putting only Seeburg 6L6GC’s in that jukebox for better tone! If you put this Seeburg tube in your Super Reverb, will the amplifier only allow you to play ‘The Battle of New Orleans’? (In 1814 we took a little trip,down to buy a 6L6 across the mighty Mississipp.) All kidding aside, this U.S. made 6L6GC is an obvious rebrand, a practice made popular even during the 1960’s. One electronics manufacturer told me if they bought tubes in a minimum lot of 10,000 (not hard to use them up either if you are a serious manufacturer) they got their name and/or logo silkscreened on the tubes for free. Getting your own brand name on the boxes was usually not included.
Another ‘oddball’ brand to most people I have quizzed is STC. The box is labeled ‘Scientific Tube Company, Montreal’. Most likely a rebrand, I really hadn’t seen these tubes before until Brent Romanuk sent me a pair of 0D3 tubes in boxes as seen above. A really strange looking tube, I like to show it to people who can’t help but comment how different it looks. Does anyone know why the base extends up the glass like it does? The 0D3 is a voltage regulator tube, something you don’t see in many guitar amplifiers. Actually, a few really old Ampegs are the only amplifiers I know off-hand that use voltage regulator tubes. The 0D3 is vastly different, however, in that it is a cold-cathode tube.
As you can see from the photo above, the base extends up nearly the entire length of the glass. I do know that the tube would give an eerie purplish glow when in use, so perhaps the buyer didn’t want to see the purple glow and had the manufacturer extend the base to suit this paranoia.
I have an armful of very old Sylvania tube manuals in my collection, but not that many old Sylvania tubes themselves. Even the tubes I do have are not usually guitar amplifier related in the least, but otherwise feature the Sylvania logo in either yellow, white, or green paint on the tube itself and most of mine claim to be manufactured in Canada. Mesa Boogie have used old-stock Sylvania tubes in their salad days. The early 1950’s box on the left holds a 12AT7, while the other two boxes (1960’s in the middle, and the much more common 1980’s are on the right) hold more of my 6GH8 cache. The box on the right is also seen with a few ‘mystery’ tubes I have. One box holds a GZ34 stating the tube was Made In England, another holds a USA made 6SL7, while another claims the 6GH8 tube inside is manufactured in Korea, yet the tube itself states it was made in Japan. I also have a quartet of 6V6GT’s that look 101% like a ‘Sovtek’ offering. This is a common occurrence repeated by several other manufacturers, as I’ll demonstrate later. This is all strange to me because these boxes are seen during the swan song of American tube manufacturing, and money is saved by importing Asian tubes and rebranding them. Yet American tubes are still seen (using up stock?), as well as European. Other countries you’ll ‘see’ making tubes include USSR, India, and Czechoslovakia.
The tube is a EL802, which I have no idea what the hell it is offhand (it might be equivalent to a 6LD6), but the box alone made me pick up this Telefunken tube. I haven’t found many other Telefunken tubes, nor have I seen a Telefunken tube manual. This strikes me as strange since Telefunken had distribution offices in Montreal and Toronto. As we learned above, many Telefunken tubes were made by Philips. The TEL-RAD tube is another 6AV6 I own, and appears to be American made, with its’ pale gold tube-type designation. In teeny-tiny microscopic lettering on the box it also states… ‘This electron tube is warrantied against defects in materials and workmanship for a period of ninety days from date of purchase from your dealer.’ With lettering that small, were they hoping nobody noticed it? The Tri-plex 12AX7 is another probable U.S. rebrand, with the tube-type and the Tri-plex logo in an off-white ink. My guess is a GE tube, but I could be wrong. The ‘AGS’ logo was from the American General Supply of Canada Company, whose oxymoron is only overshadowed by such phrases as ‘jumbo shrimp’ and ‘common sense’.
The Japanese really started to have an impact on the American tube industry shortly following WWII. There are many samples of their vacuum tubes around today, and some American manufacturers simply rebranded Japanese tubes for sale here in North America. Above is a sample from Tenco, of whom I have no information. Their name is most likely an acronym, but even this is educated guesswork. The 5U4GB inside is a solidly made tube, and much sturdier looking than any Chinese tube I have. Because of the glass shape, and the ‘GT’ suffix, we can safely date this tube to approximately 1956.
Perhaps to cash in on the name, one factory christened their glass Tesla. I was unfamiliar with Nikola ‘s research into speaker design and construction principals, but still the brand name was also seen on speakers during the 1960’s. Although the box above states these bulbs were manufactured in Slovakia, I’m sure fellow Yugoslavians everywhere asked for these tubes by name. Recently, the Tesla factory was sold to JJ Electronics, and for the teething period of this merger the tubes were labeled Tesla/JJ. Now they are just labeled ‘JJ Electronics’. Another tube to come from Yugoslavia was the Ei brand. I’ll add that box brand when I find mine! Until then, here is some information on the Tesla ‘tube company’, from reader Veronika Placek.
As WWII ended the Czechoslovak government was nationalizing the industry. A decision was made to merge all electronic industry into one cartel. The decree was issued on Aug.10, 1946. The pan-Slavic euphoria reflected itself in a desire to name this new cartel after an extraordinary scientist of Slavic origin, and the genius of Nikola Tesla (a Serbian) was clearly the first choice. Martin Hajek has a Tesla story on his site but, regretfully, only in Czech. The 1991 split of Czechoslovakia left one Tesla vacuum tube plant operating in a Slovak city named Cadca. The new owners seem to piggyback on the good reputation of Tesla tubes. However, they liked to emphasize the Slovak location as well, hence the Teslovak brand. The JJ Electronics (or whatever the name is) would I guess sell as bad as Chinese tubes.
Thanks for the information, and now I wish I spoke Czechoslovakian!
Through the dogma heralded in certain guru-written tomes, Tung-Sol remains the Holy-Grail for certain tube collectors. It seems that finding a pair of Tung-Sol 5881’s in a Tweed Bassman was all the ‘proof’ needed that these tubes made the sound of the amplifier. Second in hyperbole only to RCA ‘Black Plate’ 6L6’s, Tung-Sol 5881’s are highly sought after (and therefore very expensive when you do find them) by those trying to recapture the original Bassman sound in their reissue amplifiers. Tung-Sol was a little ‘Mom and Pop’ factory in New Jersey(?) that probably survived on Government contracts, although they did sell quite a few tubes for ‘rebranding’. As a piece of useless trivia, Tung-Sol helped develop the 5881 (basically a derated 6L6) specifically for the servo-control systems in B-52 bombers. I have quite a few JAN tubes made by Tung-Sol, but not a lot of ‘civilian issue’ glass. The above example holds one of a boxful of my 6AU6’s. All have the Tung-Sol logo silkscreened in white paint on the tube itself, along with ‘Made In USA’ and the code ‘3226409-1’ that I’ve never been able to decipher.
Although I am sure they were a rebrander, Western Electronics changed their external look over a few short years. None the less, there are usually quality American-made tubes inside these boxes. The squat little 6SL7 inside the box above left appears older, and has the designation ‘Made For Western Electronics Supply Ltd’ silkscreened in a pale white on a pretty-looking light tan colored bakelite base. The newer looking 1S5 from the box above right has the same silkscreened designation (on the glass this time), and a decisive GE look to its appearance.
p style=”text-align: center;”>
Trying to make the Reissue Fender Bassman sound more like its’ ancestor takes a little bit of skill and a good 12AY7 for starters. I have a healthy cache of 12AY7’s in my collection, and most of them are in the 1960’s era Westinghouse boxes like box #3. I also have a quartet of American 6L6’s, one of which has a lovely rattle to it. The 12AY7’s claim to be manufactured in Canada, as do the older coke-bottle 5U4G’s I have in the ca. mid to late 1950’s boxes above #2. Box #2 also holds a handful of rebranded GEC KT66’s that I don’t have the heart to use. They have the Westinghouse logo on the tube base, but the GEC paper sticker logo and Made In England silkscreened on the glass. Box #1 is from the late 1940’s and contains a 6F6. 12AX7’s fill the common NOS boxes like the one above in #4. These were purchased at a local music store dealing in vintage guitar equipment. These appear to be late 1970’s vintage from the tell-tale marking… ‘country of origin as marked on tube’. This was usually done at the tail end of the U.S. tube manufacturing era, when it was common to rebrand Japanese imports. And finally, to avoid those nasty import tariffs, Westinghouse Canada (located in scenic Hamilton, Ontario) was the proud home of Television tubes such as #5 above. While the 12DQ6B is another tube avoided by neurotic guitar players who frequent flea markets looking for vintage tube bargains, it does have possibilities. If you’ve read these pages thoroughly, you’ll recall Traynor used 6KG6’s (another TV Horizontal Output tube) to get almost 400-watts from a Super-Custom-Special amplifier. Strangely enough, the box states the tube was manufactured by Westinghouse Canada Limited, but inside it clearly states the tube was made in the good ol’ U.S. of A. And, as a final warning about buying NOS tubes in a panic, consider this true story. I purchased a handful of NOS Westinghouse 6V6GT’s, as in box #3 above. The box was clearly labeled ‘Made In England’. The tube itself had a white silkscreening that repeated the ‘Made In England’ statement. Yet the tube looked 101% identical to Russian 6V6 available from Sovtek until recently. Oh, well. You pay your money and you take your chances. I also bought a batch of Sylvania 6V6GT’s in a bright yellow box (seen earlier above) that also had the same Russian 6V6’s inside. Most old-time tube technicians knew about the Russian 6V6’s for years before ‘Sovtek’ existed and tried to avoid those tubes. I found out thankfully only a few dollars later.
What the hell is a Zaerix? The box also states the tube was made by the Z & I Aero Services, Ltd., London, England. OK, but what the hell is a Zaerix? My tube box holds a 6DJ8, silkscreened in a pale green paint. No country of origin is mentioned on the tube itself.
Although Zenith made radios and even televisions for a very long time, I have only ever seen these 1970’s era tube boxes as seen above left. Another brand of tubes usually for Television and Radio needs, these from my collection hold triple triodes like the 6U10 plus a handful of 6SN7’s. They also feature the statement… ‘country of origin as marked on tube’ box markings denoting probable Japanese rebrands. As an interesting side-note, Zenith was the only big-name manufacturer of their lineage to not have a Canadian manufacturing division, which may be why I haven’t seen many Zenith tubes. Many of my tubes pictured above are manufactured by names such as CGE (Canadian General Electric), Canadian Marconi, Philco Corporation of Canada, Canadian Westinghouse, etc (I think you get the idea). Was this done in order to avoid import tariffs? Discuss this amongst yourselves, and then visit that link way at the top of this page. The Rauland tube beside the Zenith 6U10 above is another TV/Radio offering. Rauland was a subsidiary of Zenith, perhaps sold on the West coast. The box is clearly marked as being a Zenith product, and the pale Red ink logo states the tube was born in the U.S.A. along with a date code of 10-58. The tube glass also has the tube designation silkscreened with the type ‘C’ as seen below, confirming American heritage. This box holds one of a boxful of my 6EY6’s, a common vertical deflection tube from the days of Black & White TV.
Lastly, here is a brief glimpse into how I ascertain the manufacturer of almost any tube I come across. These are not hard-and-fast rules, just generalizations. The first thing we need to remember is that only a few factories built most of the world’s tube supply, as I hope to demonstrate. This section will be a slow ‘build’, as I add photographs of what to look for in certain tubes. First, I need to round up specific tubes that are exemplary of what to look for. Second, I need to find ‘dead’ tubes, as disassembling them makes it easier to ‘see’ what I am discussing. Third, I need to learn to use a camera properly.
The first place to check out any tube is the getter(s), seen above circled in red.
The first, and best, place to check out almost any tube for an indication of its lineage is the getter or getters. Seen above, the tubes are (from left to right); a Philips 6L6WGB, a Mesa Boogie STR420, and a Russian 5U4. I have removed the glass and bent the getters vertically to give a better view; usually the getter is laying horizontal, and you have to tilt the tube on an angle to see it clearly. The first type of getter (seen on the Philips) is what is usually referred to as the ‘halo’ type. You can see a single or a double halo getter, and these are almost always used on American and European tubes. The getter can also sometimes be seen on the top or on the side(s) of the tube, in front of the plate structure. The Boogie tube, seen above center, is a Chinese tube. This getter is a thin piece of magnesium or barium in a rectangular tray shape, and you can usually see the ‘crimp’ marks, where the piece is pressure crimped to a support rod. Typically, with rectifiers and output tubes there will be one getter if it is situated on the top of the tube structure, and two getters if they are placed at the bottom of the tube. Some getters appear to be spot welded or soldered onto the support rod. The Russian 5U4 (above right) has a distinct bowl-shape to its getters, and the ‘bowl’ holds the magnesium or barium. Once the tube is ‘flashed’, all that remains of the magnesium or barium is a blue residue, which can be seen in the photograph above. As with the Chinese tubes, the Russian getter can be a single unit on the top of tube, or a pair of getters on the bottom.
This RCA 5881 tube is not what it claims to be.
Here are perfect examples of the deception that had been prevalent throughout tube manufacturing history. At first glance we have above a desirable RCA 5881 tube(). The tube states it was made in France. So far, so good. At second glance, however, we sense an eerie familiarity about this tube. It looks identical to a ‘Sovtek’ brand 5881WXT, with its wafer-thin base. Inspecting the getters at the top of the tube, we see they are identical to any Sovtek tube, including the 5U4 we saw earlier. I have a pair of Westinghouse 5881’s() (similar to box #3 above in the Westinghouse ‘section’) that look 101% identical to the RCA 5881, although Westinghouse admits the tubes were ‘Made In USSR’. Not that Westinghouse was any more honest than other tube makers, as I have a pair of 6V6GT’s with the box and tube clearly stamped ‘Made In England’ and the tubes are obviously Russian. Below is another example of deceptive rebranding. At left is a photograph of two 6V6’s for your consideration. Below right is the similar top of each of these tubes.
Russian 6V6’s are very distinctive, and easy to identify. Above right is a photo of the similar tube top.
Here are a pair of Russian 6V6’s, above left a ‘Selectron’, that came from an Electrohome box marked ‘Made In Great Britain’, and above right a Sovtek. They both have the smoked glass that obscures the internal construction, except a 1″ round area at the top of the tube, as seen in the photo above right. The tell-tale sign for me is the similar support structure that resembles a horse-shoe. This is pretty well a Russian trademark, and no other tube I have seen has this ‘feature’. Below are two more 6V6’s for your consideration.
While at first glance these may appear to be similar Russian 6V6’s, look more closely. The Rogers tube on the left does not have the tint extending nearly as high as Russian 6V6’s. It also does not have the horse-shoe structure viewed from the top that Russian 6V6’s have. The Westinghouse 6V6 on the right has the black tint extending as high as any Russian tube, but the horse-shoe is missing here, as well. In fact, these 6V6’s have the identical mica spacer and similar support rods and ‘flash’. Possibly from the same manufacturer, but the difference in tinting is strange. Maybe the tubes are from different batches over different time frames, and the tinting changed over the years. I don’t know for certain, but I do know these are not Russian 6V6’s.
You can also look at the actual printing on the tube itself, and get an idea about the heritage of a tube. There are a few different schemes you’ll see on most tubes, and here are a few;
First up (above ‘A’), we have the common ‘stop sign’ octagonal border around the tube type numbers. This graphic is usually seen on Canadian tubes, although a few Japanese tube makers used it as well. You’ll see the word ‘Japan’ underneath the stop sign symbol to identify it as an Oriental tube. Sometimes you’ll see this silkscreening on top of the tube as opposed to being on the side. Look back at those 6V6’s I showed you earlier, and you’ll see this symbol. The suffix to the tube type is always on a separate ‘line’. Since there is always an exception to every rule, you may recall the ‘French’ 5881 we saw a minute ago; it also had the stop sign symbol on a Russian built tube. In this case, we need to remember to check out the rest of the tube, and the getters would have set us straight. Next up (above ‘B’) we have the ‘Stencil’ style of designation. Pretty well only seen on American tubes (meaning I haven’t seen it on any others), this silkscreening is seen on CBS, GE, and RCA tubes. There is a good chance all these tube ‘brands’ we made by the same little old lady. A slight variation to that is seen above, at ‘C’. Here, the filament voltage is always separate from the rest of the tube number, and there is a pattern of dots below the remaining tube numbers. Below is a photo of an example, with a getter type that is uncommon.
The getter is seen circled in red, and you can hopefully make out the tube type, and the dot pattern. I have seen dot patterns of different arrangements, and have no idea what they mean. Perhaps they are a production or batch code, and help designate for whom the tube was made. A final example (above ‘D’) resembles a stretched-out stop sign, and is seen on pretty well all tubes that don’t have the stencil or ‘regular’ stop sign graphic. This type never seems to have a suffix to the tube type (e.g. 12AX7WA) as part of the silkscreen, although the box can and often does. As with any generalization, there are many exceptions and variations. The tube type can be silkscreened on the base of octal tubes. Different manufacturers used colors in their silkscreening, for example Sylvania usually used a pale yellow paint. Most GE tubes have an off-white or red paint, and I have seen some pretty weird colors, as on the Zaerix tube seen earlier.
I will try and add photographs of what else we can look for, and hopefully in a timely manner. Any help here from other readers would be greatly appreciated. There are a few websites out there that show specific brands or tube types, and collections with some nice photographs. I cannot take pictures this good, so I’ll guide you over to these sites, and you can see for yourself. Compare construction techniques and stylings, and you’ll get the feel of who actually made tubes, and who rebranded. Plus, you may get a sixth sense for determining the age of that NOS tube you are thinking of buying, by combining this experience with the estimated dating of the box. And, if you’re like me, the vintage advertising of a unique box will be worth the price of the tube alone.
THE SYLVANIA 6CA7 PAGE is part of a website belonging to Cathedral Stone. Sylvania made their 6CA7 with essentially their 6L6 platform, but many people swear by the tone of these tubes. If you’re one of them, checking out this website will give you a good understanding of the history and stylings of this tube.
THE TELEFUNKEN ECC83 PAGE is another page belonging to Cathedral Stone. This poor fellow spends his time documenting this ‘stuff’ so you don’t have to! If you worry about the history and stylings of this very highly esteemed preamplifier tube, you will definitely want to visit this page.
ANDY’S VALVE PAGE is the home page of a bloke who collects tubes, tube boxes, and vintage tube advertising from Mullard, Brimar, GEC, and the like. A fellow after my own heart.