Electrifying Christmas? Electric shock machine among 200 scientific treasures from one’s man collection up for auction

Posted on 07/12/2018 in Press Coverage

Main Image: Auctioneer Rik Alexander with the electric shock machine (picture altered for effect). Dr J Patrick Wilson on his 80th birthday; John Wilson as a little boy when he was fixated with oil lamps; in 1975 at the University of Keele.

An electric shock machine to combat nervous diseases is among a myriad of fascinating scientific instruments coming up for auction from one man’s private collection.

A Davis and Kidders patent Magneto Electro Machine for nervous diseases - in working order - is among around 200 objects collected over three decades by a man who was fascinated by how things worked.

Over the course of 30 years John Wilson, known as Dr J Patrick Wilson, a physicist with a PhD in physics who worked as a lecturer at the University of Keele in Staffordshire, gathered numerous objects which he would spend hours examining, taking apart and putting back together again.

The Magneto Electro Machine, an object patented in 1854, estimate £30-£50, was one of them. The makers claimed it could relieve pain, as well as cure numerous diseases including cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, gangrene, heart disease, lockjaw and spinal deformities.

Charles Hanson, owner of Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers, where the items will be auctioned in December, said: “The machine is one of hundreds of pieces of equipment saved for posterity by Dr Wilson.When invented, this item could be purchased by general consumers as well as physicians and hospitals

“Patients using the Magneto-Electric Machine had handles placed on their hands or elsewhere on their body. A crank would then be turned to deliver a mild current to the patient. The force of the current depended upon the speed with which the crank was turned.

“This is a museum piece, which provides an understanding of medical knowledge in the mid-1800s. There is one on display at the Museum of Medical History and Innovation in Boston.”

Dr Wilson died two years ago at the age of 81 and now his wife, Gillian, has decided to part company with this unusual medical machine as well as numerous other scientific objects ‘gathering dust’.

Everything from morse code machines, microphones and voltmeters to a circa 1900 generator, opthamoscope ENT diagnostic set and cat's whisker detector, an iconic component used in early radio sets, are for sale at Hansons Auctioneers’ December 12-17 Antiques and Collectors Auction.

And it’s all because Mr Wilson, who lived in Newcastle Under Lyme, Staffordshire, was intrigued by how things functioned. Mrs Wilson, a retired teacher, said: “He loved taking things apart and putting them back together again.

“He liked to know how things worked. It was something he was fascinated with from childhood. There are pictures of him playing with oil lamps when he was a little boy.

“As for the electric shock machine, I’m not sure where it came from but we all had to have a go! It just gives you a small electric shock.”

The couple married in 1959 and had three children. However, when family pressures eased, Mr Wilson became more and more engrossed in his hobby.

“He used to go to scientific fairs and also found items at market stalls and antique fairs,” said Mrs Wilson. “Most went into his study but some were displayed in our living room. Friends were fascinated by them and often asked what they were.

“He was also very, very good at fixing things. He worked for the charity Remap which creates custom-made items for disabled people. He could think outside the box.

“As well as fixing things, he could adapt items. We have two grandchildren and they’d sometimes pick something up and say, ‘grandpa’s adapted this hasn’t he?’ We’d lose him for hours in his study.”

Mr Wilson, who lectured in communications, neuroscience and electronics, also co-authored a book with Peter Rowlands called Oliver Lodge and The Invention of Radio.

Other items due to go under the hammer among more than 60 lots include Faraday lamps, £40-£50; radios including a Marconi Art Deco valve radio, £30-£40; 1920s hearing aids, £40-£80; antique torches, £100-£150; antique headphones, £80-£100; five morse code machines, £50-£80; J Swift & Son London microscope, £180-£250; Second World War artillery director, £80-£120; an Eversheds and Vignoles moving oil ammeter and voltmeter, £80-£100, and many cameras including Canon film cameras, estimate £40-£60.

Mrs Wilson said: “These things have just been gathering dust at home for years. I just hope the people who buy them will enjoy them as much as my husband did.”

The Dr J Patrick Wilson collection of scientific and medical instruments will be sold in an Antiques and Collectors Auction, December 12-17, at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire. To find out more, visit or call 01283 733988.