Jason Clarke Antiques

Very Large Late Victorian Wimshurst Machine by King Mendham & Co Bristol


For sale a very large late Victorian wimshurst machine by King Mendham & Co of Bristol

The machine has a mahogany base with turned ebonised feet, and two large contra-rotating 15” shellac covered glass discs to the centre with 22 foil sectors attached to the front of each. The discs are rotated by means of two wheels with leather bands attached to a central spindle on which the discs are attached.

By turning the brass and vulcanite handle, electrostatic charge is sent to two glass leyden jars which sit either side of the base. Once enough charge has been stored within the jars a spark is released between the two brass nodes which are positioned above the machine and are pivoted on two vulcanite insulated arms to allow for lengthening or shortening of the spark whilst in demonstration.

The Wimshurst influence machine or electrostatic generator was developed by the British inventor James Wimshurst between 1880 & 1883.

James Wimshurst was the Chief Shipwright Surveyor for Lloyds of London but dedicated his spare time to scientific experimentation. Widely known for his experiments with electricity, he became a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1889 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1898.

According to their adverts, the electrical engineering company of King Mendham & Co was established in 1876 in Bristol. The identity of King remains unknown at this stage but his partner was a William Phillips Mendham evidenced by a Wimshurst Machine publication written by him and which is retained with a similar example in the collection of the History of Science Museum in Oxford.

The company were evidently very successful by the 1890’s. They manufactured and sold various electrical goods from their premises and by this time had a sole London agent (WB Allison) in Fenchurch Street, London. Their products ranged from electrical experiment apparatus, electric fans, batteries, wheatstone bridges and electrical time check machines for factories, such were the myriad of uses in which electricity was starting to be employed at this late period in Queen Victoria’s reign. The latter product seemingly the cause of a patent infringement trial in which It was embroiled in 1896, the company are also known to have lodged at least one other patent for electrical ceiling roses for electric lighting.

Unusually for such a seemingly prolific maker, the timeline of the company’s activities is rather lacking, and their advertising seems to centre largely on the final decade of the Nineteenth Century which may well have been their final years of trading. The First World War may also have been a cause, as it was for many companies during that time, however, King Mendham were clearly a first rate regional company at the heart of the development of electrical sciences at the time. They are also known to have provided an electrical telegraph system in 1892 to the Clifton Rocks railway that ran water balanced trams inside the cliff face of the Avon Gorge from Hotwells to Clifton.

A superbly proportioned, early and very large example of a Wimshurst machine from a fascinating company. This is the best I have seen for some time and remains in full working order.

Circa 1890

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