RCA Pencils and Pens

RCA made all sorts of promotional goodies available to the dealer or repairman, often for free for buying a certain number of tubes.   On this page are a selection of RCA promotional pencils and pens spanning a period of about 40 years.  They are shown roughly in chronological order.

The earliest example is an ordinary wood and graphite pencil from the mid 1920's.  This pencil proclaims RCA Radiotron tubes as the "Heart of Your Radio" and suggests a Westinghouse Electric Supply Company distributor in Allentown, PA as the appropriate place to buy them.

This colorful pencil promoted RCA's sister brand of tubes, Cunningham.  It featured the Cunningham colors, blue and orange, on the celluloid barrel.   A metal plate on the opposite side of the pencil was engraved "Birthday Greetings".  It appears to be original, so it may be that these pencils were given to employees on their birthdays.  Note the miniature replica of a tube at the top of the pencil which resembles a tube such as the CX-301A (as seen below).  The cap, which conceals the eraser, is nickel-plated brass, and the tube "base" is black celluloid and is embossed with their slogan "Cunningham-Since 1915".  The globe-shaped tube was being gradually phased out by the early 1930's, so this pencil would be no later than that.

This generic looking pencil featured a simple "RCA Radiotrons" inscription engraved into the black Bakelite barrel.  What sets it apart, though, is a tiny, colorful celluloid insert in the cap shown to the right.  This pencil was made by the Dur-O-Lite Company of Chicago.  It was probably made circa 1930. RCA Radiotrons Pencil Cap
The next four pencils feature resistor color code calculators in the form of three rotating bands.   These were set to match the color code pattern on a resistor, and the corresponding resistance value could be read directly.  The color coding of resistors became common in the early 1930's.

The first color code pencil dates to the early 30's.  The color code bands are brass, with painted colors (now, mostly worn off), and they are based on the obsolete "body-end-dot" color code scheme.  The RCA "meatball" logo is embossed on the flat end of the cap.  The manufacturer of this pencil is unknown.

The next pencil was introduced in 1935 as part of the promotion for the RCA metal tubes, though it still shows the "body-end-dot" color code.  This pencil bears the Cunningham logo, though there was also an RCA version with a red body, as shown  below in an advertisement from a 1937 RCA accessories catalog.  Also available was a fountain pen version and a 3-color mechanical pencil.  removing the cap revealed the eraser, and "pulling the tube" revealed a small screwdriver.

1937 RCA Pencil Advertisement

The third pencil is marked "RCA Victor Electron Tubes".  RCA began selling tubes under the RCA Victor name in 1938, so this pencil can be no earlier than 1938, though it may be as late as the late 1940's.  The metal tube was no longer new technology then, and was replaced by a small plastic magnifier.  The resistor color code calculator now shows both the modern 3-band color code, as well as the obsolete body-end-dot code.

The fourth pencil is still later, and shows another marketing change for RCA.  It is marked "RCA Radiotron Electron Tubes", and it probably dates to the late 1940's or 1950's. This pencil, and the two that precede it, were made by Nichols Products of Moorestown, NJ.  Though not marked, the blue Cunningham pencil and the black RCA pencil (with the color code bands) were probably also Nichols products.

The inventor, Edgar Nichols, received a number of patents for pencil designs.  The magnifier-ended pencil was covered by patent number 2,234,942 (issued in 1941). 

The hidden screwdriver idea was covered by patent 2,190,910 (issued in 1940).

A Nichols design patent, number D97,203, issued in 1935, appears to have a design on the barrel representing the RCA "Magic Eye" (radio tuning eye), which was part of the 1935 "Magic Brain" promotional campaign.  I have never seen one of these pencils, but I would certainly like to!

Above are a mechanical pencil (top) and a ball point pen which were issued to promote RCA's line of long life industrial tubes, which were distinguished either by red Bakelite bases, or a red painted metal shell.  A type 5693 tube is shown below.  These tubes were guaranteed for a minimum life of 10,000 hours, and were introduced in the late 1940's.

The pencil is marked "RCA Tubes for Industry and Communications" and the pen is marked "Special Red Tubes" and shows the RCA "meatball" logo.  Both bear the name of RCA tube distributors.

These items are most notable for the tiny (about 1/2 inch) replicas of an RCA red tube floating in oil inside a clear plastic shell.

RCA 5693 Tube

This is a standard Cross ball-point pen, bearing a tiny enameled RCA logo, probably from the 1950's.  There was most likely a matching mechanical pencil that came with this pen originally.
This pencil was not a promotional item, but was the standard pencil as used by RCA employees throughout the corporation in the 1950's and 60's.