What's in a Name (or model number)?

So is it a model 506 or 566? Were there in fact two
versions? One often sees the Bluebird referred to in
guidebooks and on internet sites as the model 506. I have
even read elaborate discourses arguing how there were
two versions of the bluebird, the 506 and 566, the latter
being an upgraded version of the former. So what is the
real story here?

It is my belief that the truth of the matter is that the Blue-
only came as the model 566, and that all references
to it as model 506 are in fact misinformed. Not only did
Sparton "
proudly announce Bluebird Model 566" in one of their
brochures (see extract above) but there is also the matter
of their approach to model numbering. In June of 1935
they announced to the world their line of 1936 "regular"
models, the entry level set being the
model 506, a small
5-tube ornamental mantel set priced at $29.95, the
cabinet being made entirely out of wood. Later that year
they unveiled their "Teague" line of upscale models, and
shortly after that the Bluebird. Now, Sparton's model
numbering system at that time used the number of tubes
(often not counting the eye tube) as the first number, a
model identifier as the second, and the last digit of the
model year as the third. Key here is the fact that the
second number was chosen to create a unique identifier,
ensuring that no two models ended up with the same
number. Thus, the 5-tube 1936 mantel set was the
and the 5-tube 1936 Bluebird the 566. Exactly how the
middle number was allocated remains a mystery, but the
main point is that it was always chosen to make the
number unique to a given model.

I think the confusion over numbering arises from the fact
that the Bluebird uses the very same 5-tube chassis as
the model 506 mantel radio, a relatively unknown set that
is perhaps even rarer than the Bluebird. The Rider's
manuals do not contain a schematic labelled 566, so
vintage radio aficionados, often lacking any other means
of identification, have come to associate 506, for which
there is a Rider's page, with the Bluebird. Not helping
matters is the observation that most (but not all)
advertising for the 566 simply refers to it as "Bluebird"
without showing a model number (see newspaper
clippings above). Furthermore, although my set sports an
original rear cover clearly stamped with "566 Bluebird"
(see upper near right photo ), these covers are often
missing or have undecipherable markings. I should add
that ALL the readable cover stamps that I
have seen were
marked 566. One final point, the Rider's master index
does list the 566, but it points to the 506 schematic
Sparton 6.7).
Sparton Model 566 'Bluebird' Blue Mirror Radio (1935/1936)
Sparton 566 Bluebird
The celebrated Sparton "Bluebird" 566 glass mirror
radio was one of a group of Sparton sets for 1936
attributed to noted industrial designer Walter Dorwin
Teague. The
first of these sets was unveiled at  the
National Electrical & Radio Exposition held in New
York's Grand Central Palace during September of
1935, following several months of tantalizing build up  
in the media. Prior to the show, Sparks-Withington an-
nounced that their 1936 line would consist of two lines;
the regular line already introduced that June and the
"sensational" Teague line, which was to be unveiled at
the Sparton show exhibit on September 18th 1935.

The Bluebird, with its bold and daring use of crystal
glass, ebony and chrome, is today universally recog-
nized as one of the true masterpieces of the 1930s Art
Deco radio movement. It comprises a 14" circular mirr-
or of "midnight blue" glass accented with chrome strips
and circlets, concealing a cab containing the chassis.
The mirror has a cut-out for the loudspeaker and dial
and the set sits upon a pair of ebony balled feet.

The Teague portfolio for 1936 also included the highly
Nocturne, truly one of the holy grails of radio
collecting. Teague is also credited with having design-
ed or inspired the creation of several more fabulous
Sparton radios offered over the course of the next
several years, including the models
557, 558 & 409.
The Bluebird is occasionally seen today sitting atop a
matching 14" round plateau mirror. Early advertising
almost always shows the Bluebird with this mirror
present. However it originally had to be ordered
separately and most sets today turn up without it.

The original purchase price of the Bluebird, based upon
newspaper advertising, was $39.95 in eastern and
central regions. The plateau was extra.

The 566 was also available in peach (old rose) tinted
glass with copper-toned trim. These models have
become (and perhaps originally were) known as
"peachbirds". Another  variant is the Canadian model
154B that features a peaked cab housing an upward
rather than forward-facing loudspeaker. Apparently
Canada had more stringent safety requirements than
the USA at the time, necessitating the employment of an
ac-powered chassis with power transformer and
consequently a larger cab and re-oriented loudspeaker.
Yet another variant turned up at the
Ed Sage radio
auction in November 2005, constructed using
mirror glass. However, I have no information as to its
Technical Details
The radio itself, housed in the rear cab with a forwards
facing loud- speaker, features a modest ac/dc powered
super-heterodyne chassis covering standard broadcast
and shortwave. The band-switch is found at the rear.
Tube line-up is 78 (LO/mixer), 78 (IF), 75 (2nd detector/
AGC/1st AF), 43 (AF output), 25Z5 (rectifier). A resistive
"curtain burner" line cord is employed. The 506/566
schematic is available
..beautiful circle of rich, dark, midnight blue mirror surface slants backwards at an
artistically correct angle..
..concealing a dependable five-tube radio receiver of finest design and construction.
"The repertoire of the Bluebird embraces not only the usual broadcast
programs, but interesting police, airplane and amateur events as well."
Bluebird newspaper ad from Dec 22nd 1935
Original ads from Dec 1935 (above) and Feb 1936
(below) showing the Bluebird. Can you find the
errors in each of the descriptions?
What impressions might the designer have been
attempting to create with the Bluebird model 566?

Some have whimsically likened the radio to a tri-plane,
with a spinning propeller and landing gear, flying
against a clear blue sky. It's certainly an idea that's
easy to fly right along with! Or, continuing the theme of
streamlined machines in motion, are proponents of the
Art Deco genre who argue that the set was inspired by
contemporaneous "automobile grilles and dashboards"
- a topic they claim was a particular favorite of Teague.

Others perhaps look to the radio's "Bluebird" name to
furnish them with insights. Sparks-Withington used this
name for the radio right from its conception, and to
some it might conjure the illusion of the mystical
bluebird of ornithological fame soaring almost sight
unseen in the blue sky up above. Indeed, it appears
some of the sets even featured a figure of the bluebird
on the dial. But there's perhaps more to this viewpoint
than just that. Bluebirds have long been the subject of
romanticism and myth in popular writing, and for good
reason. Naturalist John Burroughs, in his book
Wake-Robin", first published in 1885, wrote that the
bird was like a "
dis-embodied voice; a rumor in the air,
....before it takes visible shape before you
" and that it
brings one of the primary hues and the divinest of
them all
". In fact the bird's divine blue hue is
attributable not to pigmentation but to the refraction of
light through the tiny barbs of its feathers. Accordingly,
if one changes ones viewpoint to this magical bird, the
elusive blue coloring will oft all but vanish, prompting
Burroughs' claims that the bird "
does not exist" and
that he "
changes color when he is caged". So what
better name for a radio comprising a blue mirror, also
known for its many moods attributable to its playing of
tricks with the light?

Perhaps equally poignant is that the "bluebird" has for
eons been an international symbol of joy, good fortune,
good health and success. What better sentiments
could the purveyors have hoped to have been evoked
by this fabulous novelty radio, that more often than not
was purchased as that special gift for a wedding,
birthday or ceremonial event?

The creative words from a Sparton brochure featuring
both the Nocturne and Bluebird furnish us with some
additional insights regarding its conception. These
words play along as shown in the box to the right:-
"SO OUT OF the ordinary, so daringly distinctive was Sparton's
midnight blue Nocturne that the desire to own was immediate. Size
and price, in many cases, however outweighed immediate action on
that desire. Believing from this, that a radio receiver much smaller
in size but incorporating the glass and metal motif created for us
by Walter Dorwin Teague would quickly awaken this desire Sparton
now proudly announces Bluebird Model 566. Created with the same
artistry as the larger model and employing the same unusual
combination of crystal, chrome and metal while not an actual
reproduction in miniature its appointments harmonize so well that
its appeal is instantaneous. Sparton's Bluebird emphasizes a
fourteen-inch circle of deepest midnight blue mirror glass. Set into
this slightly below center is a chrome circlet the border for a
silvery speaker grille which is the field for a second chrome circle
that holds an illuminated dial. Three controls blend perfectly into
the outer chrome ring. The ensemble rests at a slight tilting angle
upon two ebony balls. Although strikingly beautiful by itself its
smartness is accentuated when it rests on a fourteen-inch round
midnight blue plateau mirror, which must be ordered separately"
Another view of the radio in different lighting
Sparton 566 rear view
Sparton 566 side view
Who was Major Bowes?