Duracell’s DuraBeam Fliplights From The Early 1980s

Dr. Jones

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In the early 1980s, Duracell, at that time strictly a battery manufacturer, commissioned famed British industrial designer Nick Butler to create a novel flashlight for them: the Duracell Durabeam. Butler's story can be found at this link:

https://www.woudhuysen.com/nick-butler-a-product-designer-as-an-anti-hero/

…with mention of his work with Duracell found halfway down the page.

Taking a cue no doubt from another iconic design, the Zippo lighter, the flashlight turns on when opened and goes out when closed; the uncomplicated yet ingenious switching mechanism, made from formed beryllium copper strips is internal and completely contained in the head. The design is considered a classic, and even rates a spot in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art:

https://www.moma.org/collection/works/82138

Two versions were manufactured: one that takes a pair of AA batteries, and a larger version which uses C cells. The reflector and clear cover are plastic, and changing the bulb (which in the AA version is the venerable #222, and in the C type a rather oddly-shaped 2.4V, 0.5A, prefocused flange-base and unnumbered wasp-waisted bulb, see photo) is performed by prying off the clear cover from the bottom, inserting a new bulb and replacing the cover, which snaps into place.

The pair you see here were purchased in 1983 in the U.S., where they had just begun to be marketed. The smaller light rode in my jacket pocket for years, and is about the handiest flashlight I've ever used. The fact that they can stand up or lie down, combined with the ability to aim the head where light is needed, makes them extremely versatile; these certainly won't roll away on you! Absolutely the bee's knees for reading a map under a dark rainforest canopy.

The only issue that I've ever had with them has been poor contact in the switch mechanism; as they are bare, uncoated beryllium copper, they tend to suffer from oxidation when sitting unused for a while, but working the lamp head back and forth a dozen or so times usually cleans them right up. The switch mechanism area within the head is for all intents and purposes inaccessible, unless one feels extraordinarily lucky and wants to attempt opening the head without damaging it, and although I'm sure a spray of De-Oxit would likely help matters, I've never really felt the need to apply such.

Considering that literally millions of these flashlights were produced in the early to mid-80s, they are quite difficult to find today; I suspect that most people who bought them either wore them out or have since held on to them for their wonderful and compact utility. Also, they apparently were considerably more popular in Europe, particularly the UK, than in North America. I lucked out a few years ago in obtaining a NOS AA model, still in its original packaging. As Duracell, being primarily a battery manufacturer, almost always included batteries with its flashlights, this package came true-to-form with a pair of alkaline AA cells, but over the decades they went the way of all flesh and leaked, thankfully not injuring the flashlight itself, although the paper insert was a bit worse for wear.

It's a shame that these are no longer being produced; Duracell did make a type of flip light many years later, but it was a pale simulacrum of the Butler design. Like all things, perhaps it's time had just come and gone - heck, I feel that way about myself most days!
 

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Lowglow

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Good review. I know these well, and I have owned a 2xAA version and the more common 2xC battery version. Its a proper bit of design, and definitely like a lighter as you say. But - and it's a deal-breaking but, the flickering is unbearable for me. I tried to open one, the plastic ended up getting damaged and I gave up. Such a shame as they are a good looking light.

Why they decided on bare copper for the switch is beyond me.
 

Dr. Jones

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Joined
Oct 7, 2023
Messages
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Princeton, New Jersey
Good review. I know these well, and I have owned a 2xAA version and the more common 2xC battery version. Its a proper bit of design, and definitely like a lighter as you say. But - and it's a deal-breaking but, the flickering is unbearable for me. I tried to open one, the plastic ended up getting damaged and I gave up. Such a shame as they are a good looking light.

Why they decided on bare copper for the switch is beyond me.
Agreed, in hindsight at least tinning the copper would have been beneficial. I broke one decades ago attempting to get inside the head to see to the contacts… well, I certainly got to see them, all right, at the cost of the light! :cry:

It can be done successfully, as I've seen photos online of people having gotten them open; the round yellow pieces on the sides of the head lock together with small clips molded into them, and can apparently be carefully "massaged" apart. All my lights cease flickering upon opening (and in use) if the heads are opened and closed rapidly a dozen or so times; this is required only if the lights have sat untouched for a few months. With daily use I've never had any difficulties with them.

Also wanted to comment on your remark regarding the 2C model being the more popular version; over here the 2AA version was the hands-down favorite.
 
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Lowglow

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Dec 4, 2023
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Agreed, in hindsight at least tinning the copper would have been beneficial. I broke one decades ago attempting to get inside the head to see to the contacts… well, I certainly got to see them, all right, at the cost of the light! :cry:

It can be done successfully, as I've seen photos online of people having gotten them open; the round yellow pieces on the sides of the head lock together with small clips molded into them, and can apparently be carefully "massaged" apart. All my lights cease flickering upon opening (and in use) if the heads are opened and closed rapidly a dozen or so times; this is required only if the lights have sat untouched for a few months. With daily use I've never had any difficulties with them.

Also wanted to comment on your remark regarding the 2C model being the more popular version; over here the 2AA version was the hands-down favorite.
Interesting. Back when I attempted to open mine there was nothing online to guide me and I couldn't even work out what was holding everything together. What killed mine was it being stored in the kitchen, which would have added to any corrosion of the terminals. Now I'd store it somewhere much better.

Ever Ready made a similar light but I've not had one to try. They still come up as NOS on ebay. The original Duracell ones are always a bit pricey.
 

Dr. Jones

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Interesting. Back when I attempted to open mine there was nothing online to guide me and I couldn't even work out what was holding everything together. What killed mine was it being stored in the kitchen, which would have added to any corrosion of the terminals. Now I'd store it somewhere much better.

Ever Ready made a similar light but I've not had one to try. They still come up as NOS on ebay. The original Duracell ones are always a bit pricey.
I think a great many of them became corroded from being carried in pockets, where they were exposed to sweat and the elements, and were eventually thrown away when they failed to work properly, or at all, from this issue.

I purchased mine at a rather special time in my life, and have always had a certain inordinate fondness for them because of it. If they stopped working entirely I'd risk opening them, but only after I tried spraying De-Oxit or a similar compound into them first. It's worth noting that the extra AA-cell model that has been kept in its package (albeit opened) and in a drawer for the twenty-odd years that I've owned it works perfectly, with no flicker.
 

letschat7

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West Virginia, North America
I used some lights with a similiar format in late 1994-1996 until the bulbs burned out or they broke. You would rotate the head which turned on the light. I would use them to read books late at night.
 
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