January 1957 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Gray market electronic components are not just a recent
problem. Long before IC foundries were set up in China, Indonesia,
Vietnam, etc., to produce counterfeit semiconductor components,
there were unscrupulous manufacturers turning out bogus components
of all sorts. Marking unauthorized microprocessor and amplifier
packages with an industry-leading brand name and part number
is a real problem, but such practices extend back to the vacuum
tube era. This story from a 1957 edition of Popular Electronics
tells the story of how companies like General Electric and Sylvania
dealt with the situation.
System Design: Fraudulent and Forged Parts Part I,
Part II, by Walter Shawlee, Avionics magazine.
Foil Those Tube Forgers
You can help stamp out crime in the electronic tube trade
The old warning about taking wooden nickels has returned
in electronic guise: beware of counterfeit radio tubes! Every
trade has its own kind of crooks. Electronics' contribution
to the criminal roster is the fly-by-night dealer who buys up
old, defective tubes for next to nothing, forges a new brand
on them, and sells them at "bargain prices."
Forgers sometimes get hold of discarded tubes by pretending
that they are to be used as targets in a shooting gallery. The
tubes are then cleaned and polished to a fresh-looking gloss,
and rebranded with the name of a prominent manufacturer.
Most important, the rebrander removes the old warranty number
and replaces it with a current code. Some forgers, equipped
equally with gall and skill, actually have the nerve to turn
their newly "guaranteed" tubes back to the manufacturer, complaining
indignantly that the tube does not work and "please send a new
Of course, the crook and his customer will be the first to
yell when the manufacturer's loss shows up in a price increase
to be borne by the entire public. Large manufacturers, like
Sylvania and G.E., estimate a million dollar loss annually through
this kind of fraud.
It's Up To You! The tube industry recently started an all-out
campaign to stop this racket. Each tube returned to the manufacturer
is now closely examined to make sure that it is legitimate.
Furthermore, the factory destroys all defective reject tubes
to keep them from falling into the hands of the forgers. Only
first-rate tubes are put on the market.
Nearly 500 million receiving and allied type tubes were manufactured
during 1955, with a considerable percentage destined for the
replacement tube market. For each new replacement tube sold,
a dud of that type usually was discarded. The above figure highlights
the importance of halting the flow of duds into illicit channels.
But public cooperation is also needed to dry up the black market.
Huge tube crushers are stoked with reject
tubes at the General Electric Tube Department. (upper) and at
Sylvania's tube plant at Emporium, Pennsylvania (lower). Such
a procedure keeps substandard tubes off the market. These companies
feel that all burned-out or defective tubes should be smashed
to keep them out of the reach of criminal rebranders. After
crushing, a flotation process separates glass splinters from
the heavier metals, which are then recovered.
REAL TUBE BARGAINS
Rebranded tubes should not be confused with legitimate "surplus
tubes." Surplus tubes are available at low prices from honest
discount dealers. As a rule, they are new tubes obtained from
equipment manufacturers who may have gone bankrupt or out of
business, or may have changed the design of their products so
that they no longer need their tube stock. Since such manufacturers
usually buy tubes at wholesale prices, their remaining stock
may be legitimately sold to surplus dealers at low rates. These
legitimate discount tube distributors offer the radio experimenter
good values at low prices. /p>
The industry is urging all electronics amateurs, experimenters,
repair shops and the general public to cooperate in driving
the rebrand racketeers out of business. Smash everyone of your
used-up tubes. Don't sell them and don't give them away.
The tube manufacturers themselves are aiding local law enforcement
in bringing these forgers to trial. Some companies have assigned
detectives to obtain legal evidence against the rebranders.
A recently convicted rebrander was sentenced to two years in
prison. He boasted that counterfeiting could have brought him
an income of $25,000 annually if he hadn't been too lazy to
Sylvania Electric Co. has offered a $1000 reward for "information
leading to the arrest and conviction" of individual or company
fraudulently branding tubes with the Sylvania name. The Philco
Corporation buys up all old tubes for five cents each. These
and other measures are designed to pull the rug out from under
the rebranding racket.
Junk-Selling Methods. The tube counterfeiter usually is a
pretty slick operator. He tells a good story. The pitch might
be that he bought unused quality tubes at an auction, when a
service shop went out of business, and is passing on the saving
to you. He might claim that an equipment manufacturer discontinued
certain tube types in his equipment and sold these unused quality
tubes at a loss.
To sidestep suspicion, the forger often mixes a number of
good tubes into a pile of duds to be palmed off to gullible
Quality control programs supplement regular
production testing to make sure that all tubes sold under brand
name meet specifications. Scientific sampling techniques validate
One sure way to know if the tubes you buy are unused factory-tested
quality products is to insist on a carton with the warranty
information printed thereon. You are not likely to go wrong
if each and every tube comes in a new brand-name carton.
There are no legitimate tube "seconds." Tubes that fail to
meet specifications are not marketed by responsible manufacturers.
Instead, they are smashed at the plant in large machines to
make sure that no defective tubes reach the market; for a dud
is never a bargain.
Posted February 26, 2013