Sears Roebuck & Co.
F6505 Sears, Roebuck & Co., Chicago, Illinois, USA
Brand(s): WLS, Defender
Sears was on the scene with Radio products as early as any catalog company, however, they only carried RCA and Cunningham in the 1923 Sears Radio Catalog. It was after Xmas 1924 that they entered into the Radio Tube OEM business. As 'the World's Largest Store', it was no surprise that the first brand was WLS.
Originally I believed that the tall, engraved bases pre-dated the short base versions with labels, but evidence may suggest that rather than a 'before & after' scenario, these variants were made under contract by different manufacturers, and may have existed together on some store shelves.
If Sears issued their 201a equivalents in sequential order, it is thought that Sears would stop selling '2964' tubes when they offered "2976" and again when offering "4600" tubes.
When we look at existing variants, we see engraved examples of all makes, BUT we see unengraved examples - the ones with the nice black/cream WLS stickers on the envelope - for the "2976" model.
To the author, this suggests that Sears may have originally intended each model number to represent a big contract for 201A tubes branded WLS...which worked out ok up until the 2976 where they ran out of tubes?
I can imagine stock becoming low, and either a manufacturer offered a stickered version, or Sears stickered the tubes themselves.
For our purposes, engraved are earlier variants, suggesting the sticker versions are actually more scarce.
WLS brand variants:
Sears Defender variants:
At some point before September 1930, Sears began selling an additional line of branded tubes. The 'Defender' brand would still carry the WLS that customers were used to seeing but were not 'WLS' brand tubes, they were from the Worlds Largest Store. Regardless of the branding, Defender tubes were a low cost offering in a market that was already racing toward zero. Toward the middle of the 1930's, 201A tubes could be had for 50 cents or less.
Defender variants include an engraved base version, marked 'X-501', another has an unmarked base. The former used a small defender label, so I assume that the engraved version was first, and the second version was improved with a larger label, and the confusing engraving number dropped.
Both clearly use very lightweight bases that must have been the cheapest available.
WLS variant boxes
- Radio Retailing, Jun-1929, pg. 267. From AmericanRadioHistory.com. Retrieved 30-Nov-2018. !
- Radio Broadcast, Dec-1929, pg. 123. From AmericanRadioHistory.com. Retrieved 30-Nov-2018. !