signed on the top plate C Wheatstone Inv.t the metal casing with three slotted sides, each with extruding metal pins capped with white beads that move in wave when wooden rods are inserted into the machine, with four sets of rods in fitted wooden carrying case.
29¼ x 9 x10in. (74 x 22.5 x 24.5cm)

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Lot Essay

Wave machines such as this were built by the instrument maker John Newman, but designed by the English scientist Sir Charles Wheatstone (1802–1875) -- an example dating to 1842 is held at the Science Museum in London. Also known for the development of telegraphy, invention of the stereoscope (an early 3-D viewer) and the Playfair cipher (a cryptographic system that was used through to the first World War), Wheatstone was a pioneer of early wave theory and worked on both sound and optical waves.

The wave machine demonstrates the harmonic addition of two waves. The accompanying wooden rods are cut to form a regular wave; one set is added vertically and moves the pins on one side along its shape, the other horizontally moves the pins on the other side of the casing. The two waves are combined to form helical pattern that moves along the pins on the top of the instrument. Such a piece of demonstrational apparatus would have been invaluable to the early students of the wave theory of light for understanding phenomena such as polarisation.

Today these instruments are incredibly rare. It has been estimated that as few as thirty may have been produced, and they are now mostly all in institutional collections. The fragile mechanism of this example is still in working order and produces a spectacular wave effect when used.

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