top of page

"Portrait Of John Wilkes, Inventor"

William Hogwarts

The London etchist Hogwarts (only distantly related to the educator) is remembered today mainly because of his "Aquavitae Aquatints" celebrating his greatest pub crawls. Gin Lane, Beer Street, Ale Alley, Brandy Boulevard and Champagne Circle are renowned for the fact that, no matter how blurry the etchist got, his lines remained straight and true.


Hogwarts used to sober up in the Royal Patent Office, where he was occasionally called upon to draw sketches for proposed inventions, which brought him enough shillings to fuel his next pub crawl.

The etching shown here is a combination portrait and patent application drawing, as Mr. Wilkes insisted on including himself as an example of what his New Model Portative Electric-Fluid Wig Dryer & Curler could accomplish. The idea behind the invention was that gentlemen need no longer suffer the indignity of a wrinkled wig whilst far away from home and their favorite perruque maintenance shoppe.


Wilkes was inspired by Benjamin Franklin's American kite experiments, where Franklin flew a kite into a thunderstorm and used the resulting electrical power to make grilled cheese sandwiches and to blow-dry his water spaniel, Duncan Doggie. Wilkes adapted the principle to concentrate the electrical fluid, as it was then called, by means of a metal helmet, so that the drying and curling force could be applied directly to the wig while it was being worn. The attached pole was adjustable for height and could be quickly clamped to a boudoir chair.


After the patent application was successfully applied for, Wilkes set up a demonstration at his country home, Stuttering Pottage, near the village of Looseleaf. A summer storm had been predicted, and quite a few members of the gentry had stopped by to sup on pickled quail and see how the intriguing invention performed. Wilkes donned a sopping periwig fresh from the laundress, adjusted the helmet, and signaled his man Wodehouse to fly the kite into a convenient thunderhead.


Alas, the concept of a rheostat as a way of controlling electrical input and output was still in the future, and poor Wilkes received roughly a megawatt through the helmet, even after it had fried his manservant to charcoal. Needless to say his estate sold none of the wig dryers, although they later sold the patent to an American foundation interested in humane capital punishment.



BACK          NEXT


bottom of page