Jason Clarke Antiques

Early Nineteenth Century Nairne Pattern Electrostatic Friction Machine


For sale, an early Nineteenth Century Nairne pattern electrostatic friction machine.

Consisting of a large glass cylinder suspended on mahogany frame with a handle to one end in order to revolve it. Attached to the base behind the cylinder is a brass strut with a mahogany backed leather pad which can be adjusted by means of a screw to make contact with the glass. To the top of the pad is attached a square of silk which rests over the top of the cylinder.

The act of turning the cylinder against the leather creates friction and removes a charge from the pad. Consequently, the resulting charge can be transferred to a collector.

The collector consists of a turned wooden red and black painted base with a glass rod (insulated with shellac) attached to the centre. A painted (some loss extant) and insulated wooden T shaped collector is affixed to the top of the rod with combs fixed to the back and a brass discharge ball fixed to the other end. The combs would be be placed close to the glass to collect the charge which in turn would be transferred through the collector to create a spark at the other end.

It is impossible to deduce accurately whether the two parts of this machine were manufactured together but I suspect that the collector is little later.   

The original device was patented on the 5th of February 1782 by Edward Nairne. (Number 1318),  entitled an “Electrical Machine, or a method of insulating such machine, and constructing the conductors so that either shocks or sparks may be received from them. Insulated Medical Electrical Machine”.

It was sold by the partners Edward Nairne and Thomas Blunt and was accompanied by 62 page pamphlet with five explanatory plates, “the Description and Use of Nairne’s Patent Electrical Machine; with the addition of some Philosophical Experiments & Medical Observations”. The plates provide numerous images of a gentleman attaching a variety of electrodes to different parts of his body to demonstrate the therapeutic treatment offered by this machine.

Less common than Ramsden’s slightly later single plate friction machine, this design remained popular until about the middle of the nineteenth century for therapeutic treatments however unsuccessful they may have been. An interesting painting by the artist David Henry Friston depicting a woman receiving treatment from a similar example currently resides in the Geffrye Museum in London.

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