Disc electrical machine

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Postcard of Disc electrical machine.
© National Museums Scotland

Disc electrical machine

This small disc electrical machine was used in electrical experiments by the gentleman scientist William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77), the inventor of positive-negative photography. It dates from around 1850, and was probably used in association with the papier-mache head. It is unsigned.

The single glass plate is supported in a mahogany frame, with flat uprights and a cross-piece. The prime conductor consisted of a central brass tube with hemispherical ends. It was attached to a solid glass stem, slid into a brass dovetail socket on one of the uprights. Two curved brass arms were screwed to the sides of the prime conductor, ending in collecting combs. The plate was rotated by the handle.

Although unsigned, this small electrical machine is an English-type plate machine of the third and final pattern devised by John Cuthbertson, probably first designed by him in London in about 1798. It may have been supplied to Talbot by the London instrument makers Watkins & Hill, who provided him with other electro-magnetic apparatus.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-190-004-733-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1936.94
Date: Around 1850
c. 1850
Dimensions: 12.00" H x 6.75" D
What: Electrostatic machine, disc
Subject: 8. ELECTRICAL & ELECTRONIC ENGINEERING, Static (Departmental Classification)
22. PHYSICS, Magnetism and Electricity (Departmental Classification)
Who: Fox Talbot (Owner)
Where: England
Description: Disc electrostatic machine used by Fox Talbot, unsigned, English, c. 1850
  • For William Henry Fox Talbot, see Arnold, H.J.P., William Henry Fox Talbot: Pioneer of Photography and man of Science. London, 1977. 
  • Hackmann, W. D., Electricity from Glass: the History of the Frictional Electrical Machine 1600-1850. Alphen aan den Rijn, 1978, pp. 162-4 
  • Hackmann, W.D., John and Jonathan Cuthbertson: the Invention and Development of the Eighteenth Century Plate Electrical Machine, Leyden, 1973, esp. pp 36-8 
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