Vacuum Tubes: Shipping Through EBay Now Challenging?

There is disquiet in the world of vacuum electronics, that something as simple as shipping a vacuum tube could now be very difficult to achieve. It’s a concern expressed among other places in a video by [Guitologist] that we’ve included below, and includes tales of vacuum tubes being impounded as either dangerous to ship, or not allowed to be shipped across international borders.

Upon investigation it appears that the common thread in all the stories lies with eBay’s Global Shipping Program, the centralised shipping service operated by the online auction giant. We reached out to eBay’s press office on the subject but have yet to receive a reply. It’s best to ask someone who ships a lot of tubes for comment when you have a tube shipping story, so we also had a conversation with TC Tubes. They’re a small company dealing in tubes, and as you might imagine they ship a lot of them (Their website is likely to detain you for a while if you are a tube-head). [Chelsea] from TC Tubes told us that they have encountered no regulatory barriers to tube shipping, and that their only bad experience has been yet again with eBay’s Global Shipping Program.

So it seems there is no cause for panic if you ship tubes, CE marking or RoHS rules haven’t come for your EL34s and your 6550s. Ebay have evidently got some kind of issue with tubes in their shipping operation, and perhaps you should ship by other means if you wish to avoid your tubes going astray. The consensus here among the Hackaday crew is that it could be as simple as uninformed employees not being aware of what tubes are because they aren’t as common as they used to be. After all, with over a hundred years of history behind them it’s not as though any potential issues with their shipping haven’t been comprehensively explored.

We’d still be interested to hear from eBay on the matter though, if they would care to comment.

Thanks [Killergeek] for the tip.

Tube image: Hannes Grobe  [CC BY 3.0].

76 thoughts on “Vacuum Tubes: Shipping Through EBay Now Challenging?

      1. shipping services usually gouge me because i live in alaska. usps is the only one that doesn’t for some reason and yet still beats the other options in shipping times. that said i wont be ordering anything made out of glass just on the grounds that the usps can be pretty brutal with their packages.

        1. It’s all down to how well they are packaged. Sure if sellers are lazy and just drop them in a Jiffybag, then you’re going to end up with a bag of ground glass instead of a bag of valves but if your seller goes to the trouble of replicating the original style of packaging, corrugated cardboard wrap then inside a tight fitting box, then pack multiples inside bubblewrap in a box with padding to take up all of the extra space and an outer box then they will survive the worst of any shipping company. Remember that your little parcel has to live in the back of a truck with someone’s new oak table lying on top of it before it gets to you

          1. Someone could make a small fortune making/selling little foam socket/halos. Make them the same size as the standard box for that size of tube, and just a bit deeper than the pins. Pop one on each end of a tube, put some foam sheet around it, and voila’ safer tube. Keep in mind that due to relatively low demand, it would only be a SMALL fortune. (c)2018 B-) wan’na buy a license?

          2. Stephen, you could use cut pieces of pipe insulation foam. That comes in several diameters.
            Some weeks ago I also got a glass cooler/condensor tube with (properly) “ground glass” :-) ends from China (Aliexpress). They managed to package the delicate glass work in a way to survive the travel around the globe unharmed.
            Only the cheap thermometers came in pieces. An envelope like a plastic foil sleeve and some bubble wrap does NOT do the trick for int’l shipping of glassware.

    1. The Global Shipping Program generally hasn’t been a good experience, no. They won’t allow companies to recover VAT either. Not being able to avoid GSP is reason not to purchase an item.

    2. I usually look for the global shipping program. It may take a bit longer but it’s usually far cheaper than UPS or Fedex and includes the brokerage fees. So far I’ve had no issues. It’s not unusual to see $150US or more for shipping a few Kg parcel from the US into Canada using FedEx or UPS. The same usually ships for about $40 through Ebay

    3. Actually the rates for GSP are lower than USPS and Fed Ex, especially into areas like CA, UK and AU. What you may not be aware of is the addition of the duties and taxes are paid for by the Buyer at the time of purchase. If you ship directly and do not charge for duties and taxes, you risk the chance of additional charges from customs or having the item retuned. Additionally, the GSP Program takes responsibility for items that are lost or damaged once it arrives at the Kentucky hub with valid tracking information. If an item is deemed lost or damaged, the Seller keeps the sale, GSP refunds the Buyer and GSP opens a claim with the carrier, thereby removing any responsibility by the Seller. You are also protected from negative feedback for these items through GSP, any negative feedback is removed from the Sellers account within 24 hours.

      1. All valid points and good reasons not to sell to out of the USA buyers. Ive sold lots of tubes on Epay and stopped selling to overseas buyers years ago. Its just not worth the hassle.

  1. I was going to say my nixie tubes from Russia took a LONG time to arrive at US Customs, then spent a WEEK there before continuing by USPS to my home, but it wasn’t via eBay’s shipping, just direct RU to US post, oddly declared as “radio parts”.

  2. Well aren’t CRTs even more dangerous (yes, they’re vacuum tubes too, but this post isn’t exactly about that kind of tubes)? They can implode or statically discharge the voltages up to 68 000 volts! In the old days we used to ship the whole machines with vacuum tubes by post and nothing bad happened (at least until we wanted to ship to foreign ie. non-yugoslavia countries). People are just aware of potential risks. But if you look so, even light bulb can cause damage (at least this crap that you can buy today)…

      1. They do exist, like the first color CRTs as someone mentioned. I have used them and I remember the notice about 68kV. There were a few (high-end industrial) TV sets that used 3 phase 380V plugs which also caused such a high voltages. Again, these informations also depends on your region and can be inaccurate to you. But I know what I used.

        PS: the notice looked somewhat like this:
        “POZOR: Ne dotikajte se elektronskih komponent v notranjosti, ker so pod visoko napetostjo. /…/ Katodna cev lahko povzroči implozijo ali razelektritev napetosti okoli 68 000 voltov.”
        “WARNING: Don’t touch the electrical components because they’re under high voltage. /…/ The CRT can implode or statically discharge the voltages of about 68 000 volts.”

  3. You probably should be asking why international sales outside of the USA are also having their stuff redirected though US customs and Singapore based inspection centers.

    In general, all air-restricted materials must use USPS or FedEX ground.
    The hazardous material shipping guidelines are different from customs regulations, and are there for very good reasons.

    1. That was what happened to my replacement memory battery. Due to it not being air-shippable, it took a couple of days longer to get here but no biggie. I hope the tube shipping clamp-down gets sorted out with some common sense.

    2. I am not an expert on vacuum tubes so please correct me if I am wrong but most vacuum tubes do not contain mercury so I am unclear why air transport restrictions would be relevant for most tubes?

      1. eBay got their electrical degree out of a Cracker Jack box. They are assuming vacuum tube contains restricted or banned element or chemical and are throwing them out instead of shipping it through.

      2. The tubes that contain mercury are limited to mercury vapor rectifiers, such as the 866, and mercury thyratrons. Both are quite rare these days although the thyratrons are used in some heavy industrial switching systems.

        Just for the record, fluorescent tubes contain only a trace of mercury vapor.

  4. I used to sell on eBay a lot, and the Global Shipping Program is one of the only times I can think of that eBay put their focus on sellers over buyers. As a seller, GSP is great. But buyers often dislike it.

    There were many times when international buyers contacted me after a sale to ask if I could not use GSP, and invariably I ended up canceling the transaction. I understand why they wouldn’t want to use it (the cost can be insane for them), but the alternative for me was simply too much work to be worth it.

    1. GSP shipping from the US via Pitney Bowes is worse than outrageous. A one-ounce packet of LEGO pieces from US to Australia ended up costing me almost $50. I don’t think the US sellers have much of a notion about just how expensive the GSP is for overseas buyers. Thankfully I now use one of those US reshippers for things I really really want, but that comes at a cost too.

    2. I used to avoid the GSP since I felt they were ripping off buyers, but after too many scams involving buyers claiming an item wasn’t delivered either because they didn’t want to pay VAT/customs or were waiting for the refund eBay forced out of me before paying VAT/customs and getting the item all the same, I decided to start using it on eBay. It was basically that or don’t sell anything internationally — I make very little off the few open-source hobby kits I have listed, and someone scamming both item cost *and* shipping out of me even once in three months really made me think about stopping selling kits completely.

      To be clear, I use the GSP now because I’ve lost hundreds of dollars to provably dishonest buyers. It’s my opinion that eBay does nothing about these buyers because they want to force sellers into using the GSP.

      I do ship internationally from Tindie, but Tindie is such a different experience than selling on eBay. No real comparison.

  5. On the neonixie mailing list I’ve seen multiple cases of GSP destroying shipments without warning or compensation because they were classed as hazardous by some idiot.

  6. There are a tiny number of tube types like thyratrons and rectifiers that contain a miniscule trace of mercury, too little to be a hazard by escaping in liquid form. Only something like an ignitron or mercury arc rectifier presents any risk of leakage if broken.

        1. Wiki says this much:
          The amount of mercury in a fluorescent lamp varies from 3 to 46 mg, depending on lamp size and age. Newer lamps contain less mercury and the 3–4 mg versions are sold as low-mercury types. A typical 2006-era 4 ft (122 cm) T-12 fluorescent lamp (i.e. F34T12) contains about 5 milligrams of mercury.

          Which isn’t much unless it’s been chemically made into methyl mercury, which is nasty at these levels if you manage to ingest a lot of it. 3mg or so is the LD 50 for a small person, but luckily, it’s a rare chemical now that it’s no longer used to calibrate lab spectrometers.

          FWIW, most of the phosphors are REALLY nasty and present in far greater quantities. The saving grace here is that yes, they’re also not real biologically active unless modified chemically.
          If either were even close to the risk the self-panicking bubble wrapped life people go on about, myself and a lot of others would be long dead. As it is…we’re kickin still. Do be careful out there, but sometimes your idea of avoiding danger causes more problems than it’s worth.

  7. I sell vacuum tubes via ebay, and have stopped using GSP due to their random seizures of vacuum tubes. They refund the buyer and resell the tube. As far as I can tell, they do not seize equipment containing vacuum tubes. GSP is even less reliable than the Italian post office.

    I’ve got a bunch of mercury containing tubes and tilt switches that I can’t sell due to post office regulations.

    1. You should get in touch. I have an ENORMOUS collection of both NOS and tested-used tubes, including exotics like old radar CRTs with central deflection electrodes, Tek CRT’s, old fat-pin tube etc. Sadly, I already sold all the 350b’s, but if someone were to shop up with a *large* empty van, they could get a deal. Yeah, I have an egg crate full of 866’s too – I don’t think anyone ever wants those…and those really do have a lot of Hg in them.

  8. The answer is dont sell internationally and dont use ebays shipping system. Ive been selling tubes on ebay and other outlets for years and never ship out of the CONUS and always ship via USPS. Never any issues.

  9. Same with GM tubes. Seems that many sellers now won’t send to .CI because of repeated losses of items in some cases even AVR programmers are getting stopped and destroyed. Twice!!

  10. I live in Japan. I have not had vacuum tube delivery problems but I have two shipments of a five-ounce aerosol can of a well-known Canadian contact cleaner not available in Japan stopped at Japanese Customs and denied delivery. All they sent me was a cryptic note apologizing for the denial saying that the vendor would refund my purchase because the item was deemed “toxic” and had to be destroyed. I then had a competing chemical (basically the same product but made by a different equally well-known company) shipped to me in a squeeze bottle and it arrived with no problem. Customs might have told me that it was the “aerosol can” that had caused the panic, but they didn’t, they only said that it was “toxic”. All three shipments arrived at Customs by air so presumably any airborne danger that had been present was already past but that didn’t stop them from destroying the first two shipments anyway. Go figure.

  11. As an eBay user, frequently buying stuff online, I avoid sellers using the Global shipping program. It unnecessaryly demands taxes to be paid for second hand items that wouldn’t pay taxes anyway, once I received three phone sized batteries from the same seller in three different brick sized boxes for “safety reasons”. And essentially have to pay for double shipping. For the seller to post the item to Pitney Bowes and for Pitney Bowes to post the item to me. Whatever happened to the USPS?
    Avoid like the plague

    1. In this regard Aliexpress Standard Shiping is a similar service for international shipping, which is tracked, registered and ridiculously inexpensive.

      Usually my packages shipped thru Aliexpress service arrive in less than 2 weeks when any other non premium option takes at least twice as long. Still buy in ebay almost as much, but here you are usually stuck with only the common carriers.

      The downside of faster delivery is that you end up buying twice as much. ;P

  12. A number of vacuum tubes use radioactive elements in their cathode coatings to increase emissivity, which decreases the filament temperature needed to reach a given cathode current. I remember when I was in the Air Force, many of our miniature tubes (dual triodes, pentodes, and voltage regulator tubes) had warnings on the boxes, specifying the number of microcuries of what elements the tube contains. It was all about safe disposal, supposedly, but they never told us to do anything special with them.

    I’m guessing eBay has a list that they got from somebody in the US Govt., listing “radioactive vacuum tubes”, and responded accordingly.

    This could also be a homeland security thing, where certain tube types will set off some very sensitive alarms, when going through customs.

      1. Sometimes Kr-85 was used in fluorescent tube starters to ease ionization of the gas mixture. You do not wan any gas in a vacuum tube and especially no ionization – which would result in arc-over. It is/was sometimes thorium in the cathode-oxide to increase emissivity.

  13. We ship over 900 internation shipments annually and ebay has gone crazy in the last few months. We ceased global shipping due to impounding thousands of dollars worth of merchandise
    . will never ship using global shipping again. We need somebody else besides ebay to support vacuum tube transactions

    1. David
      Do you have examples of these? The GSP Specialist should have contacted you as the the issue with your items since we monitor Sellers that have a high volume of XOL (liquidation) over a short period of time.

  14. I always disable the GSP, as some of my items would have required a license to ship (look up CCL/ECCN ). Mostly high accuracy PTFE sensors in my case. I REALLY doubt eBay has the experts to know that kind of thing, and if they do they cannot possibly check every item. It’s a world of legal trouble waiting to happen. I would rather deal with the IRS. You even have to double-check within the USA since there are individuals that are banned from receiving controlled items…

  15. I bought 4 NOS RCA 6L6gc blackplate cleartop , 4 NOS Sylvania 6L6gc STR-387, 1 NOS RCA 7025. They refunded me, they let seller keep the money and they destroy the tubes, 50 years old tubes, rare and perfectly working…this is criminal

  16. I can actually test this. Have a box of tubes here which qualify as antique, of course unable to test as lack the proper equipment. Send one box to RM HQ and another one to somewhere else near a famous race course via signed for with a printed letter “Why are you impounding vacuum tubes?” and a Skype address in protest.

    Cost – very little. Making sure of course to go “Full Walter White” on the box so they can’t trace it back. Fscking retarded Customs should be made to work in the salt mines.

  17. The issue with tubes through the program is based on a mercury airfreight restriction. Many tubes prior to the 1980’s have mercury in them, these cannot be shipped forward due to country and airfreight restrictions. Since most Sellers do not list whether the tube contains mercury, the GSP hub cannot make a decision as to the contents of the tube and must assume that if the tube is an older model, it might contain mercury. In these cases, the Seller retains their sale, the Buyer is made whole from GSP and the item is liquidated through the program, not to be sold overseas. While this is not always a positive outcome for the Buyer, he/she is returned their money (from GSP not the Seller) and the Seller is protected from negative feedback. Recommendations is that Sellers list tubes containing Mercury in the description or item list information so these can be filtered from the GSP program and the above process can be avoided.

  18. always get the seller to post direct to my addresse from usa to uk no problem with tubes or any item with tubes in yet until now when one seller sent them through vi the gsp been confiscated. what c—p David from Derbyshire in the uk

  19. eBay is often irrational in their rules and enforcement. For example a short time ago they blocked my attempt to list the Manual for the WWII vintage SCR-522 radio set. They claimed it would violate some government regulation against exporting of state of the art military weapons. I phoned the eBay help line and I might as well have been talking to a block of wood.

    I do, however, wish to warn sellers that if they violate an eBay rule, however preposterous, they are likely to be banned for life.

  20. Hello Everyone,

    I wanted to add my voice to this very sad situation.

    I’m a regular tubes buyer on eBay since several years now.

    Since the introduction of this fabulous Global Shipping Program by eBay, I have seen more and more tubes or tubes related equipment being seized and destructed by the GSP!

    It now became a real plague with about one shipment out if five that is ending up this way when going through this shipping program and things just seem to worsen than ever; I just saw one of my order for audio TRANSFORMERS being trashed and refund by them.

    So, if you are a serious vacuum tubes seller and/or tubes lover, I therefore strongly suggest you to opt out from this program that seems so appealing to the sellers … but that is, in reality, a real scam and source of frustration for the buyers. Moreover, it’s a real shame for eBay to trash those tubes or tube related rarities!

    I’m now trying to avoid sellers that use the Global Shipping Program when purchasing tubes to avoid such frustrations. USPS International is working so well for shipments to Canada! I NEVER had shipping problem with USPS. NEVER.

  21. Here it is January 2021, and I just had a shipment of four 6BL7 tubes to Australia labeled as a prohibited or restricted item by GSP and returned to me. Obviously Ebay and its shipping partners are unwilling or unable to learn.

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