Antique "Galvanick Lucifer" Lamp - Real Device?

In Cryptonomicon, the novel by Neal Stephenson,, there is a scene involving an antique flashlight/lantern 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 if a mod thinks I’m more likely to get a better answer in Cafe Society or elsewhere, by all means, whisk away.)

I don’t know whetger “galvanick lucifer” was a actual name for a device, however, it could have been based on the electrolytic decomposition of water into hydrogen and oxygen. When the gases are recombined and ignited near a bit of metal, you can generate a lot of light.
Here’s a description of the process by Helmholtz (1862):

Wow, an excellent guess. Fits in with the description in the book (which I have with me this time) pretty well:

I was thinking of the carbon electrode as part of an arc lamp, but it works just as well as a source of spark for igniting hydrogen. and the “palpable warmth” fits in with the idea of a flame.

Still, I’d love to know if such a system was once in everyday, practical use, or if Stephenson dreamed it up from a bunch of 19th century chemistry books.

I know the early Prest-O-Lite “gas” headlamps on cars and such were monstrous affairs. Basicly an arc welding acetelyne tank hooked up to a big lantern. Not complex but large?

Actually, as far as I know, pressurized acetylene was rarely, if ever, used in automobile headlights. Acetylene-burning headllights were in use, but they ran on calcium carbide, which releases acetylene when water is added (you control the rate of gas generation by controling the drip rate of the water into a cannister of CaC3.

Acetylene, as you probably know, was once commonly used in cutting torches, and has the potential for a very hot flame. You can still buy acetylene head lamps and calcium carbide fuel in some camping and military shops. Spelunkers (cave explorers) still use them, and forest firefighters used to use them (and may still) because they were a handy source of counterfire, and wouldn’t explode in a fireball, as a compressed fuel tank might near a raging forest fire.

Cavers usually use a dimmer free-burning carbide lamp, but adding a metered gas jet and a mantle (i.e. something to glow from the jet-flame’s heat) dramatically increases the light. In fact “limelights” (used to light theater stages) and kreig lights (giant spotlights that scanned the skies for enemy aircraft) were both gas flames directed onto a glowing mantle (made of lime in the case of limelights).

Dredging up this old thread of mine because I’ve received a definitive answer to this question from another message board, and I figured this particular Dope should go on the record as Straightened.

In short, no, the Galvanick Lucifer wasn’t based on a real device. Too bad.

Great name though!

The final word on this seems to be that it was not based upon a real device… yet I think this is incorrect. The device described in the original post is in fact based in real technology… maybe not in a specific device, but most certainly it exists in the combination of certain common old devices and working concepts.

See the jar in the bottom right corner of the picture:

The idea of an object which produced flame based light when an acidic water solution was broken down into its base elements and then those gasses were introduced to Platinum is in fact a solid technology of the 1800’s, as was the idea of electrolysis as a process of accomplishing the same molecular separation of water.

It is a fact that the flame of hydrogen is nearly invisible as described in the book, according to the post, and the temp of the flame is dependent upon what it is burning:

In the article the filament was in danger of melting because of the increasing intensity of the flame’s heat when it was introduced to the filament… again, a valid fact and significant of the combustion of Hydrogen, as is the idea of a super intense light when a proper metallic element is used for the filament. Notice the brightness in the video when the metal was tungsten.

Finally, the use of a LARGE highly polished reflector, combined with a Fresnel lens, again is ancient technology and is extremely effective in amplifying and then focusing the intensity of a light source. This combined with the dark environment, with such a naturally intense light source, and you have an object that nearly anyone could reasonably produce and use, and which matches the described item rather well.

This said, the below is in fact what I think the author was describing.

The galvanic solution and its container were a homemade battery.

The carbon rod was the switch or the “buss bar” which connected the circuit and allowed the battery electricity to flow. That electricity flowed to another acidic water solution in which the platinum plates were used since it would not corrode in the solution indefinitely. The electricity flowing through the plates causes the electrolysis process of the water into the basic elemental Hydrogen and Oxygen, which were then ejected and ignited in the above described reflector/Fresnel chamber thus directing and focusing and thus amplifying the light. By bringing a piece of metal, possibly tungsten, into close proximity to the flame it begins to glow and you have a quasi filament.

All valid technology, all realistic and in common usage to the highest degree… with the exception of using the platinum for the plates and wires in a hydrogen environment… so, I would say that it is highly possible, or even probable that the author was describing something that he had actually seen, as I can see myself building and developing one if I were back in that day when those concepts were the norm.
OK, that’s my two cents worth.