Amongst the IET’s rare books stored in the archives is a book in German published in 1795 with the title ‘Sammlung electrisher Spielwerke fur junge Electriker’, or in English, ‘collection of electrical toys for young electricians’. The book was written by German lawyer and scientist, Georg Heinrich Seiferheld (1757-1818) and published in 8 instalments between 1787 and 1799. Plate 3 from instalment 6, showing an electric card game, appears below.
The workings of Seiferheld’s electric card game are described in Michael Brian Schiffer’s 2006 book, ‘draw the lightning down: Benjamin Franklin and electrical technology in the age of enlightenment’, where Seiferheld is discussed in the chapter on visionary inventors. The description of the card game is as follows;
“The operator handed the player a set of eight cards, all hearts, consisting of 7, 8, 9, 10, jack, queen, king, ace. After the player chose a card, it was placed, face up, upon the centre of a cardboard disk, about a foot in diameter. A second disk of cardboard, the same size, was lowered carefully on the first, thereby covering the selected card. Around the circumference of the upper disk was arrayed another set of the cards. When the operator pressed down on the upper disk, the hearts in one of the cards, the same card chosen by the player, lighted up, that is, their edges gave off sparks.”
According to Anke te Heesen’s book, ‘the world in a box: the story of an eighteenth century picture encyclopaedia’ (2nd edition, 2002), the general growth in the production of books and especially of children’s books was based on a number of factors including the demand for materials that were easy to grasp whilst being both educational and entertaining. At the end of the 18th century a category of children’s books appeared on the market under the title of ‘occupation books’ which amongst other things contained instructions for children’s games and question-and-answer games. Georg Heinrich Seiferheld‘s book was one of the first books to offer the materials for these useful games.
Most of the games look quite innocuous based around clocks and bells such as in the first two illustrations below. However, it is somewhat disturbing to see a cannon pictured in the third illustration!
Seiferheld’s book was directed at the interested layman or curious spectator, without electrical knowledge. The intention of the book was to encourage experiment, since, “from children come people, and amusing devices often give occasion for greater things”. In the late 18th century only a very small minority of children received a formal education, and compulsory education was not yet universal at the start of the 19th century. Despite this ‘occupation books’ such as Seiferheld’s work attracted public interest and by the end of the eighteenth century, toys were being mass-produced for the first time.
Sieferheld’s book (reference IET/RB/8vo/78/2) is available to view by appointment at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House, London.