I have always been interested in the quirky finds sometimes unearthed by detectorists and last discussed these in 2011 with a blogpost entitled Snake Oil Surprises. Now Lost. Today’s post involves a ‘Galvanic battery’. I’d never heard of one before … it makes interesting reading.
The Remarkable Battery
I think people were very gullible in earlier times. When electricity was still a novelty and medical quackery was rife there was a guy from New York who marketed a ‘battery’ that had remarkable qualities. Scott Clark, a detectorist from Kentucky found part of one of these devices recently, and shared his find with me. Here it is:
J C Boyd claimed that his miniature device (above) should be worn around the neck., preferably over the heart. The battery (supposedly) worked by ‘Galvanic action’ due to the ‘union of metals.’ We all know that in a common battery the effect is usually facilitated by an acid, but Boyd’s device needed only ‘the natural humidity of the skin’ to cause a beneficial flow of electricity in the blood … so he claimed!
The combination of different metals (usually copper, brass and nickel) in contact with the natural humidity of the skin was said to produce a beneficial electric current that would purify the blood and safely cure any number of conditions, including headaches, rheumatism and toothache. If only!
‘Professor’ Boyd had many imitators. Some of these were former employees that struck out on their own while others were simply opportunists. Boyd patented his battery on January 17, 1878 in the United States followed by a British patent the following year. The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford has a similar amulet in their collection.
The Blood is the Life
Although the battery is fairly common, the paperwork is next to impossible to find. Jeff Behary, curator of the online virtual museum at electrotherapy museum has kindly allowed me to use one of his pictures of the device. There is also a comprehensive advert with testimonials for the device and other examples of quackery – and after reading all that I want one of everything.
I don’t know what it was about earlier times but from my researches it seems that in the second half of the 19th century onwards, there was a lot of advertising for quack medicines and devices mentioning Galvani or Galvanic. Were people more gullible then than they are now?
Luigi Galvani is a name I remember from the time I was an electrical apprentice. I recall that in one of his experiments he was able, by way of an electrical charge, to make a frog’s leg twitch even when it was separated from the body. Learn more about him HERE.
But, I’m waiting for the day when a detectorist unearths a rather obscure ‘galvanic’ quack device called the ‘electrical spectacle’. I hope that they see me first, because the device fascinates me. I also suppose the chance of uncovering a magneto shock box is out of the question!
This point has been adapted and expanded from one that originally appeared in 2011