For sale, a late nineteenth century wet cell electrotherapy machine by Charles Chardin of Paris.
Contained with a mahogany box, this interesting machine consists of a dial measuring milliamperes, signed to Charles Chardin, Paris, an on/off lever and a further dial which controls the resistance of the current through the two electrodes when applied to the patient. A screw threaded rod is placed at the centre of the console which when turned, raises and lowers a set of thirty two individual glass cylinders (still intact and marked to Chardin) which are attached via the threaded shaft and are housed within a separate wooden base in the box below.
The lifting of the glass cylinder box brings a chemical solution which would have been present in the cylinders and raises them to form contact with a set of thirty two zinc anodes which are attached to the underside of the console itself. The action of bringing the two together would create a chemical reaction which would culminate with the creation of an electrical current, the strength of which could be adjusted by the resistor.
The box has four engraved plaques to the inner part of the lid which advertise Chardin’s wares and the rim of the case is also stamped, “Appereil (apparatus) No B17 du catalogue” which denotes the early model number. His first model was the A17 and this popular model went through a number of iterations. The B17 is a variant of his original design.
Charles Chardin was an inventor of a form of electrotherapy called ‘elector kinetic vascular’ therapy which was considered to act upon the circulation of blood by virtue of the application of pressure on the various parts of the body. This was presumably achieved by the response of the body by the application of electricity to muscular tissue.
The difference in Chardin’s approach to electrotherapy during the period was his preference for applying weak currents to the body rather than the shock treatment that had become prevalent since the 1850’s. He is quoted as saying:
“The electric current which commands our organism is so weak that it escapes our investigations, so it is folly to come to its aid with powerful currents.”
Convinced of his methods, Chardin warned against the use of surgery and used Galvini’s eighteenth century experiments on frog muscles to bolster his argument.
As far-fetched as it may seem, Chardin’s machines gained huge popularity and were still in use during The First World War. His direction for use was the application of one electrode to the head with the other applied to the part of the body which was considered to be the affected area for treatment. Once applied, these electrodes should remain in place on the patient for up to 6 to 10 hours per night and would provide cures for an endless list of ailments: paralysis, epilepsy, muscle exertion, flu, asthma, fevers period pains tumours, cancers, gangrene, anaemia and even flatulence! With previous experience of shock treatment, it is likely that the idea of painless electrotherapy was part of its allure to the experienced victim!
Chardin’s instruments were originally developed with wet cell batteries and later moved on to dry cell, making this an early example of his very successful quackery.