Delta Electric Company 1920s “Buddy” Flashlight Lantern

Dr. Jones

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This is an old one, a "Buddy" flashlight lantern manufactured by the Delta Electric Company of Marion, Illinois in the early 1920s. Illumination is provided by an E10 base bulb with power supplied by 2 "D" cells, and is focusable.

This is a beautiful little light, and quite powerful for its time. The contemporary advertising for the lantern that I've seen claimed that it can project a beam 600 feet, and in truly dark conditions that may well be the case. As there is no longer any true night here in New Jersey due to light pollution, the farthest I've been able to reach on a moonless evening is around 400 feet, but in natural darkness as was the norm in the early part of the last century, along with the benefit of younger eyes, 600 feet doesn't seem out of the question. The reflector is well-designed and of very high reflectivity (it is first-surface silvered and uncoated), and the focusing mechanism concentrates the light wonderfully.

The focusing mechanism is quite ingenious, with a screw that moves the spring-loaded bulb carrier approximately one-half an inch back and forth. The beam is very tight at best focus, but does not diverge all that much at the other end of focus; it can hardly be deemed a floodlight in any sense (see the accompanying photos of both tight and open focus). Some later incarnations of this lantern dispensed with the focusing mechanism, perhaps as a cost-saving measure.

The bulb I'm currently using is a #245 of 11 lumens brightness with a current drain of slightly less than one-half ampere; standard carbon-zinc batteries can give steady illumination for up to 8 hours, more if the lantern is used intermittently. Modern alkaline batteries can of course quadruple that run-time.

There are two sets of handles present: a bail handle on top and two swing-out handles on the back of the lantern. The bail handle had at least two variations; that used on some later production is a bit taller and wider than that on the example here, perhaps to more easily accommodate a gloved hand. The swing-out handles on the back enable one to grasp the lantern firmly, although with only a three-finger grip due to their size; one can also thread one's belt through these handles to enable hands-free use.

The advertisements touted the on-off slide switch as being a heavy-duty "automotive" type, and it is indeed quite substantial. Notably, there is absolutely no point-to-point wiring in this lantern, as the entire circuit consists of brass or brass-to-silver contact points; needless to say, in order to get the best performance these contacts must be kept scrupulously clean, and the slide switch in my example benefitted greatly from a judicious shot of contact cleaner to its internals.

The circular glass lens resembles a shallow dome, and since the lantern came from the factory with the domed portion faced outwards, any sudden impact against the protruding glass, as from tipping over, could easily lead to breakage; thus I (and no doubt others) chose to reverse the glass so that it bows inwards. There is still sufficient clearance in this position to allow for full movement of the bulb as it travels when changing focus.

The reflector is silver-plated both front and back. The front has a high degree of polish, as would be expected, while the back is a bit duller and makes contact with a brass finger, with the silver plating providing an excellent low-resistance path to ground for the current. The silver naturally tarnishes over time, and since the reflector is not overcoated, contact with fingertips in the course of changing the bulb can add to its discoloration. As the silver consists of an extremely thin layer, great care must be taken if attempting to clean it. On this example I used a Kleenex tissue impregnated with a little Tarn-X, a silver cleaner that converts tarnish back into metallic silver and thus is non-stripping and non-abrasive, with excellent results, as can be seen in the accompanying photos. Very gentle wiping, with a water wash afterwards, brought it back to its former glory. Be forewarned that some reflectors may not respond to this treatment as well as this one did, so each case for such cleaning must be weighed individually.

As stated previously, the E10 screw-base bulb currently in use is a #245, producing 11 lumens and rated at 1.23 watts, roughly equivalent to the old Mazda No. 16. The lantern's paper insert also mentions using a Mazda No. 14 bulb, which is again roughly equivalent to a #233 bulb of 5 lumens and 0.7 watts. I found the #233 to be a bit dim for this lantern, but it would of course almost double the battery life over the #245, and would be fine for close indoor use. I've found that #245 bulbs, of good quality and reasonably priced, are available here:
https://www.grainger.com/product/LUMAPRO-Incandescent-Bulb-Incandescent-2FMT5

There were several variations of this lantern over the years, all of this pattern and color with slight changes, and my research indicates that this basic design was manufactured from 1919, the patent date, until sometime in the late 1940s, possibly the very early 1950s, with most of the postwar examples that I've seen being painted green instead of red.

Overall, a very well-designed, well-made, compact and useful lantern from the interwar period.

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LEDphile

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I wonder what it would cost to manufacture a light of this build quality nowadays?
In volume, likely less than a Maglite. The majority of the parts are stamped steel (an inexpensive manufacturing process once the tooling is paid for), and the reflector looks to be spun.
 

Dr. Jones

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I wonder what it would cost to manufacture a light of this build quality nowadays?

Well, the lantern sold for $1.50 from the time is was placed on the market until at least 1930, and taking inflation into account, it's equivalent price in today's money would be about $24 to $28. Its construction is fairly straightforward: mostly steel stampings, phenolic board, bent plated wire and spring brass. Lots of workers had their hands on it and thus labor would be the big cost, as this is a hand-assembled item.

I would think that a reproduction, if made in America, would easily cost upwards of $50, if not much more. A Chinese copy would still be in the $20-plus range.
 

bykfixer

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Good score @Dr. Jones. Thanks for the detailed info. And using caution on getting the reflector looking better. I use Tarn X as well.


Delta made good lights. Mostly lantterns but they did some 2 and 3D map reading lights for Navy bombers in WW2 with leftovers being used in Korea.

For a laugh try a #222 in that lantern to get an almost pure throw from it.
 

Dr. Jones

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Well, the lantern sold for $1.50 from the time is was placed on the market until at least 1930, and taking inflation into account, it's equivalent price in today's money would be about $24 to $28. Its construction is fairly straightforward: mostly steel stampings, phenolic board, bent plated wire and spring brass. Lots of workers had their hands on it and thus labor would be the big cost, as this is a hand-assembled item.

I would think that a reproduction, if made in America, would easily cost upwards of $50, if not much more. A Chinese copy would still be in the $20-plus range.

Also, the one thing that would be in extremely short supply today would be pride in workmanship, which was common back then but currently almost nonexistent. That would be difficult to put a price on.
 

Dr. Jones

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Good score @Dr. Jones. Thanks for the detailed info.

Delta made good lights. Mostly lantterns but they did some 2 and 3D map reading lights for Navy bombers in WW2 with leftovers being used in Korea.

For a laugh try a #222 in that lantern to get an almost pure throw from it.
You're most welcome!

Excellent idea… I'm going into my stash as soon as I post this, will fish out a prefocused and report back with photos. Hold on…
 

Dr. Jones

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Well, results were mixed… using a #222 prefocused bulb did change the focus pattern, and frankly the way it focused was better than with the #245.

The #245 is tightest in the center of the screw travel, with wide at either extreme, while the #222 went from really wide focus when the focus screw was completely backed out (it's a captive screw, incidentally) to a small spot when all the way in, but there was considerable side spill due to the way it interacted with the reflector, and it was also not quite as bright. That said, it's no slouch, and would work fine in a pinch.

Good call, Bykfixer!:clap:
 

Dr. Jones

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Wide and narrow…
 

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bykfixer

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The 222/224 were the work horse bulb for inspecting ear canals and engine bays at one point.

I have a pair of 2C Daylo soldier lights from WW1 era with those dome lenses. It casts a beam sideways as well as forward so I tried a 222 in one so that it would shine 10 feet. It shined about 25 feet well enough to see a crack in the sidewalk at 10 feet away.

Never did get around to restoring those two lights.

Daylo was a name Contad Hubert (Ever Ready founder) tried to call the flashlight. It was unsuccessful obviously.

Delta lights were marvelous lights.
 

Dr. Jones

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The 222/224 were the work horse bulb for inspecting ear canals and engine bays at one point.

I have a pair of 2C Daylo soldier lights from WW1 era with those dome lenses. It casts a beam sideways as well as forward so I tried a 222 in one so that it would shine 10 feet. It shined about 25 feet well enough to see a crack in the sidewalk at 10 feet away.

Never did get around to restoring those two lights.

Daylo was a name Contad Hubert (Ever Ready founder) tried to call the flashlight. It was unsuccessful obviously.

Delta lights were marvelous lights.
I have a Daylo 2C, their model #2630 with the nickel-plated case. Using a #222 will certainly give it more range. I actually prefer the original setup with a standard bulb, which casts a relatively faint but evenly-dispersed circle of light which is useful if you need to illuminate a larger area. Works well when attempting to decipher runes on cave walls, or just trying to find something in the attic.

I've been searching forever for one of these that had the clip, their 2C model #2639 "Junior Belt-Clip Daylo" in nickel. That version was much favored by the doughboys for its utility. The 2C came in both nickel and gunmetal finishes, and the 2D version only in nickel, I believe. I have a couple of clips that are identical to the ones Eveready used, in stainless, that I obtained a while back with an eye towards placing them on the light I have (the clip takes the place of the external switch "bump"), but the light's in such good shape that I've been loathe to do it.
 

aznsx

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@Dr. Jones

Great post. Thanks for posting it, as I love looking at my Grandparents' lights (as well as old electronics in general). Those photos and description really did the trick.

the entire circuit consists of brass or brass-to-silver contact points; needless to say, in order to get the best performance these contacts must be kept scrupulously clean,

If I might suggest, some DeOxit D100 might just make such issues go away for quite a while. Works for me.
Not shillin', just sayin';-)
 

Dr. Jones

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@Dr. Jones

Great post. Thanks for posting it, as I love looking at my Grandparents' lights (as well as old electronics in general). Those photos and description really did the trick.



If I might suggest, some DeOxit D100 might just make such issues go away for quite a while. Works for me.
Not shillin', just sayin';-)
Excellent advice! I have some in hand that I use for electronics, but hadn't considered using it on such connection, thanks!

Glad you enjoyed the write-up, my pleasure to contribute to the forum. I also really enjoy the older flashlights and electronics.
 

Monocrom

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I wonder what it would cost to manufacture a light of this build quality nowadays?
Likely, quite reasonable in price.... If it was Made in China.
I know, I know.... Truth is though, they are very capable of making surprisingly high-quality goods. Problem is, the vast majority of Americans want cheap junk. Well, when you run a business you have to cater to what your core customer base wants. Otherwise you don't stay in business. If the vast majority of your customers want quality goods, and they're willing to pay for that quality; the Chinese are very capable of providing that. But for their biggest customer base, the exact opposite is true. So we get cheap junk.

Don't get me wrong, their domestic companies that cater to their nation seem to struggle with original designs. But they have completely mastered reverse engineering pretty much everything you can think of.

Hand this lantern design to them, contract out the work to them, tell them to keep the quality the same; and they'll make you a barge-load of these lanterns as good as the Original.
 

Monocrom

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Well, the lantern sold for $1.50 from the time is was placed on the market until at least 1930, and taking inflation into account, it's equivalent price in today's money would be about $24 to $28. Its construction is fairly straightforward: mostly steel stampings, phenolic board, bent plated wire and spring brass. Lots of workers had their hands on it and thus labor would be the big cost, as this is a hand-assembled item.

I would think that a reproduction, if made in America, would easily cost upwards of $50, if not much more. A Chinese copy would still be in the $20-plus range.
I'd say closer to $150.oo if we're talking American-Made.
 
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