Inside the Collection

Meet the curator – Erika Dicker

Portrait of Erika Dicker, Photography by Sarah Rhodes, © all rights reserved.
Photography by Sarah Rhodes, © all rights reserved

Erika Dicker

What is your specialty area?
I like to think I’m a ‘jack of all trades’ but I know quite a lot about the history of the Australian merino, early plastics technology, scientific instruments, health and medical devices. I’m currently working on my knowledge of Australian product design for the Australian International Design Awards 2009 exhibition.

How long have you been working at the Museum?
Almost 3 years

What is your favourite object in the collection?

Ediswan Electromassage Machine. This machine has the name ‘Dr. J. Bodkin Adams‘ printed on the box. Dr John Bodkin Adams (21 January 1899 – 4 July 1983) was an alleged serial killer who was never convicted for the murder of more than 160 patients between 1946-1956. They died of suspicious circumstances and 132 of them left him money or items in their will.

Electromassage devices, also called violet ray machines, or violet wands, were used by doctors from the 1880s to treat ‘hysteria’ in women. They were used to massage female patients to orgasm as a treatment. General practitioners welcomed the invention as manual massage was fatiguing and slow. Before the invention of electricity, vibrators were run by water and steam. When portable vibrators powered by line electricity became available at the turn of the century they quickly became dominant medical massage technology. But the appearance of vibrators in erotic films in the 1920s eroded the instrument’s social camouflage.

These devices are touted to cure a huge array of medical issues such as constipation, hair loss, acne, and even brain fag!

What piece of research or exhibition are you most proud of in your career at the Museum?
While working on our collection of Australian merino wool, we scientifically tested it and proved some of the great breeding mistakes of the past. I was then able to present the findings at a conference at the National Museum of Australia in 2008.

12 responses to “Meet the curator – Erika Dicker

  • What an amazing (and kind of creepy) machine! I had never heard of them, or the sinister Dr Adams, it sounds like there could be a movie in that story if there hasn’t been already…anyway, love the blog, thanks.

  • Hi,
    I work in a museum in England and I got to my desk this morning to find a link to this blog. A great idea and a really interesting object to kick it all off with. Looking forward to the others!

    • Thanks Nick, as you would know, its sometimes impossible to put a whole museum collection on display, we hope to show some of the excellent objects we have, that for one reason or another never make it to the Museum floor.

  • Thanks Erika. Looks like this will be a great blog.

    Is the Radiostat instrument you are holding in the photograph also an electromassage or similar device?

    • Bob- Yes it is. You can read more about that specific one here . For a number of reasons i was unable to get a picture with the Ediswan electromassage machine, but the Radiostat is near identical. Thanks for the comment.

  • This is a great blog -you have certainly some strange favorites! Glad I wasn’t around when that machine was in favour -or before it For the other treatment. Thank god for science. Congratulations on the blog.

  • Super scary, kinky and perverse all at once… and that’s just your profile photo! Let alone the electromassage machine itself… the mind boggles.
    A great blog… I look forward to hearing more from the curatorial camp. – Ali

  • I noticed at the online collection description for the Radiostat that there is no “official” photograph or image. I think that as a temporary measure the photograph above should be used.

  • This is fabulous work – so informative, and brings the museum MUCH closer to ordinary, suburban people – look forward to further updates – cheers – annie

  • Hi Erika,

    Nice choice of item!

    I have an extensive collection of these machines, whether you call them violet wand/ray machines or high frequency devices.

    They had somewhat different uses than electromassage machines as mentioned in the article. Electromassage machines pretty much did what you described, including the hysteria thing (allegedly!!) – whereas violet wands were used for a plethora of complaints, some real, some imaginary, but many involving skin conditions. Remember, this was way before antibiotic and other modern medical treatments. Did they work?…possibly to some degree on things like skin conditions, as the spark produced by the machine created ozone, which has bactericidal properties.
    These types of machines are still used by the beauty industry today in some circles, although much lower powered safer designs.

    Happy to help if you would like any further information.

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