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 up-
graded version of the former. So what is the real story here?
It is my belief that the truth of the matter is that the Bluebird 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, one of which was 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 506 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 Blue-
bird. 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
the photo bottom left), 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).
|What's in a Name (or model number)?
|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 that was a particular favorite of Teague's.
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, but not unheard,
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 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
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 follows:-
|"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"