This is a violet wand. They are a tiny version of the Tesla coil, a high voltage generator invented in in 1880s. From about 1900 to the 1930s millions of them were made and sold as a medical device. In the early days many medical claims were made for them, few or none of which have stood up to
scientific tests. They turn up quite often today. There are many manufacturers, and this is a typical standard 20s/30s set except that the leatherette covering it would probably have had has been stripped off. This one looks more typical.
You have an on/off switch, usually like this with 110 and 240 volts. You should only use the 240v setting in the UK, in this set I've put a sleeve round the 110v contact so you can't use it by accident. And you have an intensity control. It should have end stops so you have a low and a high position. Start with it on low when you switch on. It's a bit of a crude sort of control and doesn't give an enormous range of power.
Safety - the machine
Now, even if it was in perfect condition, these things could pass no modern safety tests. And now they are liable to be much less safe, mainly because the leads are rubber insulated and they perish.
There are still some safety things to bear in mind.
Keep away from electronics. They can fry a watch or a mobile.
The leads to the handle carry much higher voltages than mains, at lethal currents. Any damage to any leads - don't use.
The spindle of the intensity adjustment knob is often live, and the grub screw that holds the knob on.
Unless the VW has specific modifications, don't use metal electrodes.
Use glass electrodes as these prevent any risk of mains voltages getting out. The circuit of a VR is pretty scary, there is a direct metal connection from the mains to the socket you plug the electrodes into. In fact a high current can't flow but the circuit diagram isn't reassuring.
The modifications are:
add a spark gap to break the direct connection from the mains. A HV capacitor wd be better, that's what the glass envelope is acting as.
add an earth connection so the connection is to earth.
use an isolating transformer.
Another practical thing. The handle holds a high voltage coil which is potted in wax. If you use it for too long it will heat up and the wax can melt. This can remove insulation. It's not dangerous, except to the VW, which can short out, and it may well mean the coil is stuck inside the handle by melted wax. You should stop when you feel the handle getting warm, some people say 10 minutes, some half an hour. I've used the other VR for well over an hour before I knew that and it still works, but it might have caused a problem.
Safety in play
There are few places that you can't use one. Avoid eyes. Nose mouth tongue probably also.
They do give out ultra-violet and people have been mildly suntanned, might not be too great for the eyes, especially in the dark like this . Generally, you'll get redness in use, but it's just a reaction to the sparks that is similar to what you can get to more conventional play. Definitely avoid quartz electrodes (dangerous UV) but they're rare, as are radium electrodes.
They also produce some ozone. In the old days that and the ultraviolet were claimed as healthy, but they're not a good idea in quantity and the ozone could conceivably trigger asthma. Good for getting rid of stale tobacco smoke though.
Some people say avoid shins & areas where bone is near the surface, this may be valid. But a lot of the advice like this is true for other electric toys but not of the VW. For instance, some toys shouldn't be used above the waist. Absolutely not a problem with a VW. The current is tiny, it is concentrated only at one point and fans out inside the body to much tinier amounts. There are many paths in the body and it will take all of them in proportion to their resistance. So it will so here to here, but also a smaller amount will go from here to here, and a tiny proportion will go from here, round here, to here. Just below the surface there are nerves, and it's concentrated enough there to be felt, but another few mm down and the current density is tiny. You don't have nerves there to feel it, but if you did they wouldn't. Also it's at a high frequency which doesn't cause nerves and muscles to react. The only way to cause damage to a nerve with a VW would be to cut open the flesh and touch a nerve directly, or to pierce with an insulated needle with only the tip live. The only damage caused by a VW is to the top fraction of a millimetre of skin, which is made of dead dry cells that will fall off and be replaced in a couple of weeks anyway. Some people say the current flows only through the skin, I don't personally believe that. Certainly what happens can be explained perfectly well in terms of normal electrical behaviour.
The machine itself limits the current. When you have a very high voltage and a small current, just about anything is a conductor. With the other electrical toys you often have to be fairly careful that the contact is large enough and good enough for the current. With VWs this isn't a problem. The current is tiny and any area of contact larger than a pinpoint will make the current density too low to be felt. The pins mean you can feel something with a light contact. When you leave a gap to get a spark, the spark concentrates the current into a tiny path, so you can feel the shock. You feel the burn too so it's difficult to work out which is shock and which is burn. It is a burn, it's a white hot gas or plasma, it's going to burn, but on a microscopic scale.
They can put out enormous amounts of electromagnetic interference and strong electric fields. TVs will pick up interference, digital cameras even from a safe distance are often unusable. Once I was playing and there was a little motorised Jedi toy about six feet away and every time I switched on the box the Jedi would wake up and wave its light sabre or whatever they do. It wasn't a serious scene, just as well really.
Pacemakers. Some people have pacemakers or other implantable electronics. Same as any other electronics. If it's fully implanted, the risk is probably very low. In this case, very low isn't good enough. Keep away if you have implanted electronics.
Question of piercings. Area of contact. I've asked others, I think it's OK but won't stick my neck out. Avoid all metal on the body? - rubbish, there's absolutely no justification for it (demo with medallion). And as I've read - on the internet, so it must be true - the chain immediately melts and welds itself together causing second-degree burns and I'm now taken to hospital in an ambulance.
Don't use a VW on a floor that is too good an earth. Because there's always a possibility that a fault could let mains currents out, you don't want to be standing on a cement floor in bare feet. Dry carpet and wood should be fine, but avoid old floorboards where you can touch nails. You need a bit of a path to earth, ordinary shoes will provide one, gothy platform boots won't and will probably reduce the effect.
For the user, avoid getting your hand near the base of the electrode, can give an unexpectedly strong spark, not dangerous but not what you expect or want.
What can you do with them?
Well, first, you can scare the shit out of your victim, if they are inexperienced (Lights out). You bring out this pseudo-scientfic equipment. You turn it on and it makes this horrendous clatter. You 'accidentally' bring it close to something metal and you get this splatter of sparks. If they don't have a clue about them, they could be really freaking out. Expect a safeword just... about... now. Well in fact most people have at least seen these being used and know that people usually come away smiling, but it might fit in with your mutual medical or mad science kinks even if it's not new to you.
Anyway, this is the standard electrode that every complete VW set will have, the mushroom electrode.
In fact, there are dozens of different types. In the past, claims were made for the VW as the cure for every disease, and so there was an electrode for pretty much every body part. Places we wouldn't put anything without sterile conditions and professional training. Places we definitely wouldn't put a bit of glass, let alone a seventy-year-old piece of fragile, maybe damaged glass. Here's the urethral electrode. You know I said avoid the eyes, yes well here's the eyeball electrode. Some people like to use the spinal, comb or rake electrodes. The saturator electrode is a good one for a specific use I'll get to later. But personally I feel you can get by with just one or two glass electrodes.
Because us perverts have found some electrodes that are much more fun than the standard ones!
This is one sort of tinsel whip. You get different sorts of floggery-shaped things which are electrically conductive enough for playing with. Often they are metal-coated plastic, mylar is the US trade name. In the dark, you can see the odd spark just in open air. They can be a bit intense, don't start with the box on full whack. Also it's easy to flick up into the face, be careful. When you get to metal, less is definitely more. You can 'flog' with it, but gentle strokes can have much more effect. Most of the effect is from the sparks, and when a tiny area is in contact. Do this (hold the metal) and you feel absolutely nothing. (DON'T do that with most sets, I can because this set is adapted to avoid any risk of mains currents getting through). But do this (stroke forearm very gently) and it can be quite intense.
Another toy which works well is one you might have seen in non-electric toyboxes. The Wartenburg Wheel is a pinwheel used for testing nerves and sensitivity to touch. Here's one, well it's a dressmaking pattern pricker in fact but they work just as well, and this one is adapted to fit into an electrode socket. If you ever want to make VW toys, go to B&Q, for these. They are stop ends for microbore central heating pipes, and they are exactly 11mm outside diameter, which is the size of most European VW electrodes. You just round off the edges with a file and they fit perfectly. Not for pushing sideways with as they could bend the socket. But as I said you need a light touch with all VW toys.
The pinwheel you need to use with the lightest possible touch. I want to experiment making one on a pivot so that it touches with no force, and also one with an insulated disc keeping the pins a fraction of a millimetre away from the skin. I'm very resistant to pure sensation play, most does little for me. But this works for me! Some people find it's like very light tattooing. I do prefer sting to thud, and the VW is pure sting - or pure sting plus as much mindfuck as you want.
Here's a fulguration electrode, a sort of mild electrocautery. They recommended them for blasting away at moles, because they make a very concentrated spark that will slowly burn them away. You can do a 'temporary brand' with them but for me it's quite unpleasant and takes a long time. Leaves a brown mark that should last days or weeks, and shouldn't be permanent, but don't take that as an assurance that it won't be.
You can do a few tricks with VWs. (hold fluorescent tube & light it). Don't hold it by its metal end, you get a bit of a jolt from it, the only time you can get one with a VW holding a piece of metal. I don't know why, I have a guess but nobody has explained it for me.
Another way to use the VW is the indirect method. This is a more two-way thing. This way the victim is charged up, they stand on an insulated platform and they hold the electrode. One type of electrode is designed for this, the saturator electrode. Very safe because of the glass, but can lose some power, and with this method you can lose a lot of the power anyway. We'll use a metal electrode because we know this set is safe.
The worst thing with these is that you hold it the wrong way up the handle falls off and smashes on the floor. If they hold it, hold it with the handle on top. One US firm sells a cable to connect the victim up so the handle stays on the table. You can use rubber bands or a velcro restraint. Or just wear a sock and tuck it into it, looks silly but works.
Now this will hurt me more than it will hurt her. It probably will, because fingertips are more sensitive than most of the body. I once played this way with a girl who was wearing a sewn PVC top, and every so often I'd catch the cotton sewn seam of the PVC with my fingertip and it really stung. You could use metal talons to get the two-way effect without the top getting the sting.
But as I said you lose a lot of the power this way, so it's quite a gentle way to use a VW. Gentle enough to do this (spark from tongue to body) which would probably be a bit too much with the direct method.
Lastly you can do one more thing that can look quite effective. If you could do this with a modern, more or less silent VW it could be very mysterious. (brush on alcohol and light it).
Where to get one
If you look round the kind of antiques fairs and car boot sales that have household and scientific things you'll see them from time to time. So yes, you can get hold of them, but you shouldn't use them untested.
You can also buy them secondhand from a number of businesses who overhaul them. These will be several times what you'll probably pay in a car boot sale but the assumption is that it is tested and safe to use. Which may well be the case!
E-bay usually have quite a few. Again they range from sellers who don't have much idea what they've got, to very reputable people who you can trust to sell you a good set. You could pay much more than you would in a junk market, for a box which is untested so don't buy from an unknown seller unless cheap & you're prepared to get it tested.
You can buy a brand-new modern one. These are usually electronic and very different from the old ones. Several hundred pounds, and some are much weaker than old ones.
Q. Why can't you get battery-operated ones?
A violet wand uses 50 to 75 watts. You could use hefty rechargeable batteries to provide it but not at all cheaply. To step up the voltage from 9 or 12 volts to the output 50,000 voltage is possible but I think it might be hard to do in one go. Therefore you would probably want to convert the battery voltage to around mains voltage, and the rest of the circuit would be just like a normal mains violet wand. If you wanted to do it to use it away from mains power, you could use one of the cheap inverters you can buy which include a car battery and a charger. If it was for reasons of safety, it would be much easier to make a safe mains set. Some later violet wands have the lead wires 'floating' with no mains connection.
There are devices that transform fairly low voltages to high ones. The 'coil' in a car is one, TV line output transformers (usually adapted) are another. But these produce lower voltages than VWs and at higher, potentially lethal currents, so DON'T TRY IT unless you know a lot about it.