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Thread: Antique "Galvanick Lucifer" light - Real Device?

  1. #1
    Enlightened
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    Default Antique \"Galvanick Lucifer\" light - Real Device?

    In Cryptonomicon, the novel by Neal Stephenson,, there is a scene involving an antique flashlight or lantern type device which puts the protagonist's then-modern WWII-era flashlight to shame.

    The antique device is called the "Galvanick Lucifer." It is made of glass tubes and vessels, precious-metal electrical contacts, carbon electrodes, and some quantity of horrifically corrosive liquid chemicals. It sounds like a (barely) portable carbon arc lamp powered by a wet-cell battery. It is described as being astonishingly, improbably bright.

    Does anyone know if there is or was any such device? I want to know how it worked, how bright it really was, etc. etc.

    (I realize that Cryptonomicon is fiction, but it would be out of character for Stephenson to make up a device like this - the book is filled with interesting gizmos of one kind and another, and the majority of them - like the Vickers machine gun and the "bombe" code-breaking machines - are clearly historical.)

    (And, mods, if this belongs in a different forum, by all means, move it.)

  2. #2
    Flashaholic* avusblue's Avatar
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    Default Re: Antique \"Galvanick Lucifer\" light - Real?

    Cryptonomicon is one of my "top 5" favorite books. Terrific story. I've loaned my copy to numerous friends who all came back thanking me for sharing it.

    If you haven't already read them, I also heartily recommend Stephenson's "Diamond Age" and to a lesser degree, "Snow Crash". Both are more science-fiction-ey but still enjoyable.

    Regarding the Galvanick Lucifer, I wondered about that too, but don't really know if it's for real. A google search turned up nothing useful.

    Anyone?

    Dave

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Antique \"Galvanick Lucifer\" light - Real?

    [ QUOTE ]
    avusblue said:
    If you haven't already read them, I also heartily recommend Stephenson's "Diamond Age" and to a lesser degree, "Snow Crash". Both are more science-fiction-ey but still enjoyable.

    [/ QUOTE ]

    Well heck, I like science fiction! Snow Crash was the first Stephenson book I read. I've since read (and enjoyed) The Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, and Zodiac. Zodiac was an early one, and the writing is even more flawed than his later books, but the plot and pacing are up to his usual high standards, and it's (mostly) not a science fiction story. Zodiac could probably be adapted into a decent movie, unlike any of his other books.

    I just got Quicksilver for Christmas, but I haven't started it yet.

    But none of those other books have a flashlight that sticks in your mind the way the Galvanick Lucifer does. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img]

  4. #4

    Default Re: Antique \"Galvanick Lucifer\" light - Real?

    Lagged2Death,

    To answer this question, I did what anybody in my position would have done-- I asked Neal. (I work with him.) [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/cool.gif[/img]

    The short answer is no, there is no such device as the Galvanick Lucifer described in the book.

    He intended the thing to be representative of the extravagant Victorian-era technological items that belonged to the more self-sufficient, less commoditized households of that period's gentry. Cost and ease-of-use were not really issues for many such items, because there were often no cheaper or easier options available.

    So there you go.

    Chalo Colina

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    Flashaholic* avusblue's Avatar
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    Default Re: Antique \"Galvanick Lucifer\" light - Real?

    Leave it to CPF to answer the deep questions. "When inquiring minds want to know . . . ."

    Good show, Chalo.

    Dave

  6. #6
    Flashaholic* Spudman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Antique \"Galvanick Lucifer\" light - Real?

    How cool is that? When CPF asks a question, a member goes right to the source. Thanks Chalo.
    I'd never heard of the book until I read this thread. I went down to the library and picked it up over the weekend. I noticed they had four copies of Quicksilver on the shelf, which is very unusual for our small town. Someone else here must be a fan.

    I've been reading the book nonstop in my free time. Thanks for the recommendation guys! [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img]

    Gary

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Antique \"Galvanick Lucifer\" light - Real?

    [ QUOTE ]
    chalo said:
    To answer this question, I did what anybody in my position would have done-- I asked Neal. (I work with him.)

    [/ QUOTE ]

    [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/ooo.gif[/img]

    Wow, I had despaired of ever learning the answer, so I haven't even checked back with this thread until now. I certainly had no expectation of getting an answer straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak!

    Thanks very much!

  8. #8

    Default Re: Antique \"Galvanick Lucifer\" light - Real?

    No sweat.

    Neal says that about twice a year, someone, usually an Australian, contacts him in desperation to find out where they can get a Galvanick Lucifer.

    Keep a sharp eye on eBay, mates. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/grin.gif[/img]

    Chalo Colina

  9. #9
    *Flashaholic* Icebreak's Avatar
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    Default Re: Antique \"Galvanick Lucifer\" light - Real?

    It's possible that a Galvanized Lucifer is a top secret flashlight used by covert operators as early as 1922. The need for a light that didn't depend on batteries is a premium in the spy industry. It's possible Neal Stephenson and Chalo know this but cannot reveal the information.




    Or...it's a cool little collectable and following Chalo's advice; I spied it here:

    Ebay Auction

    That's wild that Chalo works with Mr. Stephenson.

    - Jeff

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