A Victorian Electric Shock Therapy Machine

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Origin: English
Period: Victorian
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1870
Height: 4.5 inches
Width: 9 inches
Depth: 4.5 inches


An extraordinary piece of medical apparatus is this nineteenth-century electric shock machine, entitled “Improved Patent Magneto-Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases”. The contraption comprises a brass handle, ornate brass wheel, a large magnet,  two coils of wire,  and two brass tubes attached to cables through which the current flows, all housed in a polished wooden case. On the underside of the lid is the charming original label for the machine, which carries instructions for use, and also rather amusing illustrations of the machine in use.

The first practical machine of this type was made by M. Hippolyte of Paris in 1832.  They were enormously popular in the second half of the nineteenth century, coinciding with the excitement generated by new discoveries in electricity, medicine, and science. In the late nineteenth century it was claimed that electricity could treat almost every conceivable ailment, and one could buy an electric helmet, an electric corset for ladies who wished to shed a few pounds, gents could purchase “Dr Moffats Electropathic Belt for Extra Vigour”, electropathic socks, or even “Dr Scott's Electric hairbrush”.

A bizarre and slightly intimidating machine by today's standards, but in our opinion a superb example of Victorian experimental insanity, without which we wouldn't have half of the machines we have today!

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