Jason Clarke Antiques

Rare Edwardian Heavy Discharge X-Ray Coil by Harry W Cox & Co Ltd London


For sale, a rare Edwardian New Variable Primary Discharge Coil by Harry W Cox & Co limited.

This enormous example is comprised of a mahogany base with a two section coil measuring 65cms across with an interruptor at the side in order to create the high voltage required. Two battery contacts are placed to the back of the interruptor and various connection points are placed in front and in the centre of the base. The power switch is placed at the front right and the makers ivorine plate remains at the centre, stating: “Harry W Cox & Co Ltd, Actual Makers of X-Ray & Electric Therapeutic Apparatus, 47 Gray’s Inn Road, London”.

The base measures 79cms in length and 42cms in depth.

An Edwardian Catalogue provides the following description:

“This coil has been specifically designed and is so constructed that the primary can be connected in ten different ways, thus enabling the operator to select whichever method gives him best results, according to the interruptor and the current employed. It is fitted with a condenser and platinum contact breaker and is in every respect similar to the Cox’s Heavy Discharge Base Coil with the exception of the primary, as stated above.”

In regards to the heavy discharge coil it relates that:

“Some of the leading hospitals and X-Ray workers have had our Base Coils, of the above pattern, in use for upwards of six years, and report to us that they still give highly satisfactory results.

With any of the above mentioned sizes, used in conjunction with our fluorescent screens, the spine, ribs and liver in the human body, as well as the movement of the heart and diaphragm can be plainly discerned.”

This superior model was sold in various sizes in reference to the size of the spark produced. With the distance between the terminals measuring sixteen inches it is likely to have been either the 12” or the 14” spark model priced at either £33 or £37 respectively. There was only one larger than this model which was priced at £73 for an 18” spark. The average cost of this machine at that point in time would have been in the region of £3000, a huge sum.

Harry William Charles Cox was born in Shoreditch in 1864, the son of a plumber. How Cox found his success remains unclear. An early catalogue quotes a feature in The Lancet of 1898 after a meeting of the British Medical Association where Cox himself demonstrated his English made coils and fluorescent screens for X-Rays. It is therefore safe to assume that Cox was in business soon after the discovery of the X-Ray by the German scientist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen in 1895.

For the next twelve years Cox seems to have gained huge success with his X-Ray outfits being supplied to The King for use onboard The Royal Yacht - Victorian & Albert, The Admiralty, The War Office, The India Office, The Colonial Office and hospital far and wide across England and overseas. He is also known to have supplied apparatus for use in the field during The Boer War.

The success was sadly short-lived owing to the lack of understanding around this new technology and the huge amount of experimentation that Cox undertook within this new field of science.

He died from exposure in 1910 and his obituary in The Engineer publication of the same year reads as follows:

We have to record with regret the death on Saturday last of Mr. Harry W. Cox, who has been fitly termed a martyr to science. Mr. Cox was an electrician who devoted his life to the study of the X-rays from the time of their discovery by Rontgen in 1895, and succeeded in greatly improving the necessary apparatus, especially that type of it which is peculiarly adapted for surgical purposes. The effects of the rays on the human body were not thoroughly understood when he commenced to investigate and manufacture the apparatus, or possibly his life need not have been sacrificed. While their beneficent effects in some cases was fully established, the fact that under certain circumstances or when applied too frequently these rays could do serious damage was unsuspected, or at any rate ignored.

About eight years ago, Mr. Cox, when engaged in some investigations, noticed a mark on one of his hands. It was the commencement of the trouble, and eventually what is now known as X-ray dermatitis, made its appearance. For this disease, which it is said has much resemblance to cancer, there is at present no known cure. Gradually at first, and latterly more quickly, the disease took hold of its victim. First the left hand, then the right hand and arm were effected. Amputation was resorted to, but was of no avail, and finally the neck and head were attacked.

In spite, however of intense suffering and the knowledge that no mortal aid could help him, Mr. Cox continued his business, striving to make and making more perfect the apparatus which was to be such a help and blessing to others, till, a few months back, even his indomitable will could no longer urge on his crippled body, and he had to give up work. For months, nay, for years, he suffered agony which was sometimes intense, but it is said of him that he was never known to complain, and - in a word - cheerfully laid down his life for the good of others.

The address present on the machine would suggest that this coil was created towards the end of Cox’s life as he is recorded there in circa 1909.

Please note: Tempting as it is, I have not attempted to electrocute myself or my family with this so any onward tinkering is entirely at the new owner’s risk and I do not guarantee it to be working. There is a small piece of damage to the outer Bakelite casing on the right hand side of the coil which can be turned so that it is not visible for display purposes. The wax casing underneath however remains intact.

An important piece of early English made X-Ray equipment from the pioneering years following its discovery.

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