Gas Discharge Tubes

This section includes Geissler tubes and their immediate descendants, including spectrum tubes, flash tubes and laser tubes.

Aerolux Bluebird Bulb
 Aerolux Bluebird Bulb

In a time before television, decorative electrical lamps were considered a legitimate form of entertainment. Such devices were birthed in the 19th century, in the form of fashionably scientific Crookes tubes, as well as more novel Geissler tubes and other 'gas sculpture' type lamps. By the early 20th century, the decorative lamp had evolved into mass-produced Aerolux bulbs, gas discharge lamps with decorative brass electrodes which could be driven with common AC line power. Aerolux lamps are usually filled with neon or argon, and often contain phosphor-coated elements to produce a multicolor display.

The lamp pictured here is an Aerolux Bluebird Bulb, constructed from multiple decorative jewelry findings which were manufactured by Guyot Brothers Company Inc. The bulb's argon fill produces a purple glow, while the green illumination is produced by a phosphor coating.

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Argon Laser Tubes (Unknown Mfr.)
 Argon Laser Tubes (Unknown Mfr.)

Argon laser tubes operate like any other ion laser, producing a multi-wavelength blue beam. The argon laser beam consists of ten wavelengths: 351 nm, 454.6 nm, 457.9 nm, 465.8 nm, 476.5 nm, 488.0 nm, 496.5 nm, 501.7 nm, 514.5 nm and 528.7 nm.

The unidentified argon laser tubes pictured here are fairly typical in construction, with a cermet envelope composed of beryllia ceramic and copper.

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Pressler Spectrum Tubes (Unknown P/Ns)
 Pressler Spectrum Tubes (Unknown P/Ns)

Devices included in this entry:

Pressler hydrogen spectrum tube (linear capillary vessel)
Pressler helium spectrum tube (linear capillary vessel)
Pressler neon spectrum tube (linear capillary vessel; pictured in thumbnail)
Pressler mercury spectrum tube (linear capillary vessel)
Pressler water vapor spectrum tube (linear capillary vessel)


Spectrum tubes are linear Geissler-style tubes with a central capillary section which dramatically increases glow intensity within the capillary. Spectrum tubes are used for various kinds of spectral research, and any respectable high school physics class has a set of them. Spectrum tubes are available in traditional tube gasses, such as neon and mercury vapor, as well as more exotic flavors like 'water vapor' and 'air'.

Spectrum tubes are typically mounted in a specially constructed spectrum tube supply, but they also light well with a common 'copper brick' laser supply, or violet ray generator.

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'H' Spectrum Tube (Unknown Mfr.)
 'H' Spectrum Tube (Unknown Mfr.)

This spectrum tube, filled with molecular hydrogen, has an unusual H-shaped envelope. Manufacturer is unknown.

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Sylvania 1B59 / R1130B
 Sylvania 1B59 / R1130B

The 1B59 is an actinic crater hollow cathode lamp used as a glow modulator in fax machines, halftone scanners and various military imaging devices. The 1B59 has two pins and a standard octal-style base.

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Hamamatsu L1788-50 NQ
 Hamamatsu L1788-50 NQ

The L1788-50 NQ is a Sn (tin) hollow cathode lamp used for spectral research. The L1788-50 NQ radiates deep UV, at a wavelength of 224.61 nm.

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Melz TH-20
 Melz TH-20

The Melz TH-20 appears to be a Soviet analogue of the General Electric NE-34 neon glow lamp. If you can provide information about this device, please contact us.

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Sylvania JAN-CHS-SS-501
 Sylvania JAN-CHS-SS-501

The SS-501 is an argon-filled flash tube, which operates at 1.5 kV and is triggered with an externally wrapped coil. Ludwell Sibley's reference guide Tube Lore refers to the SS-501 as a control tube. The SS-501 produces an intense blue-white discharge at full operating voltage. The example pictured here has an uncommon internal configuration.

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General Electric AR-1 / W1A
 General Electric AR-1 / W1A

The General Electric AR-1 is an argon glow lamp intended as a low intensity UV light source for scientific and medical applications. The AR-1 is structurally identical to the General Electric NE-34, but replaces the neon fill with a gas mixture composed of 90% argon and 10% nitrogen. Like the NE-34, the AR-1 has a pair of D-shaped stamped nickel electrodes coated with barium and strontium. The AR-1 is rated at 1000 hours of operation before UV emissions deteriorate to 50% of the specified output.

General Electric Large Lamp Catalog (PDF)

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Siemens LGR-7649
 Siemens LGR-7649

Laser tube, 1.5 mW, HeNe.

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General Electric NE-30 / J5A
 General Electric NE-30 / J5A

The General Electric NE-30 is a miniature neon glow lamp with an envelope barely wider than its E26 base. Unlike larger GE glow lamps, which tend to have disc-shaped P-2 or P-4 style electrodes, the NE-30 has a PW-5 electrode shape, with a wire electrode coiled around central cylindrical electrode. Like other E26 base glow lamps, the NE-30 has an internal resistor, and is rated for 105-125VAC.

General Electric Large Lamp Catalog (PDF)

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General Electric NE-40 / R6A
 General Electric NE-40 / R6A

The General Electric NE-40 is a compact neon glow lamp with a standard E26 base. Although its specifications are similar to the more familiar NE-34, the NE-40 abandons the P-2 electrode shape used in the NE-34 and AR-1 in favor of a P-4 shape, consisting of two stacked full disc electrodes. The improved P-4 electrode structure results in a brighter device which draws 50% more power than the NE-34.

General Electric Large Lamp Catalog (PDF)

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