Widget Of The Week
The Knopp Electronizer, 1989?
We always try to stay on the right side of the law at dustygizmos
but in our never-ending quest for truth sometimes it’s worth the risk of a
brush with the judiciary. The truth we’re seeking is simple; what the hell is
this Knopp Electronizer all about? Here are the things we know for sure. It is
mains-powered. It is housed in a well made, sealed wooden box, and when powered
up, what we’ll call a ‘probe’ in the absence of a better name, delivers a tad
over 1000 volts -- possibly more -- of electricity to… Well, that is the big
question? That and just about every other aspect of its existence and purpose
remains an intriguing mystery.
A printed notice on the back panel makes it sound even more mysterious.
This threatens legal action against anyone attempting to remove the seals and
tamper with it. Needless to say, that ship has sailed.
Opening it up reveals just two ‘active’
components; a mains transformer and a potted black box with two wires going in,
from the transformer, and one1.5 metre long high voltage cable coming out. The
transformer is used to ‘step’ up the mains voltage from 220 to around 600 volts
and since what comes out of the HV cable is, like as not, is over 1000 volts,
the box probably contains a simple circuit known as a Cockcroft-Walton
multiplier. This is basically a string of diodes and capacitors that doubles or
trebles an AC voltage, with the possibility of some extra components to limit
the current. This may be responsible for the slightly vague estimate of the
output voltage. Conventional voltmeters have problems measuring very high
voltages but even our specialist HV meter, which works happily up to 3kV was a
bit vague, even though it has an internal resistance of 1 gigaohm, and usually
perfectly capable of measuring high voltage, low current sources.
The design of the probe doesn’t really help. As you can see it is
made up of two metal wires, around 13 cm long, mounted either side of the HV
cable. These are kept apart by heat shrink tubing at both ends. It was tempting
to speculate that it might be some sort of medical device. However, the voltage
is way too high and the current too low to do anything other than give the
recipient a bit of a tingle, even if inserted into the one of the two or three
two bodily orifices it would fit into. But let’s not go there and besides,
medical equipment tends not to have such jazzy cases and the probe is
definitely not sterile... It doesn’t look like a piece of scientific equipment
either. If so it would have much more in the way of controls and displays.
My best guess, prompted by the name and design, is that it is all,
or more likely the major part of a negative ion generator or ‘ionizer’. These
were all the rage a few years ago, and thanks to the Covid pandemic have
enjoyed a resurgence of interest. The premise is that very high voltages, 1000
volts or more, generate negative ions that can act as microscopic air
purifiers. They do this by attaching themselves to airborne contaminants, such
as dust, smoke, even virus particles (it is claimed) and make them stick to the
nearest surface. There are plenty of other health claims for negative ions but
the jury is still out on many of them. The air-cleansing claim is certainly
plausible, though. Back in the early 80s, whilst editing a long-forgotten tech
magazine called Next… I helped road test a few models and one in particular was
demonstrably successful. It produced a thin film of dust around its base
whenever it was switched on. However, the surface area of The Electronizer’s
probe seems far too small too be very effective at generating and dispersing
negative ions, so if that is what it is then there may have been more to it;
some sort of stand or holder at the very least.
I came across The Electronizer in a box of electronic bric-a-brac
at a large car boot sale in Dorset a few months ago. The stallholder also had
no idea what it was or even where he got it from, but in spite of it’s apparent
rarity value he didn’t quibble for one second when I countered his £5.00 asking
price with an offer of £2.00. After it passed some basic safety checks for its
potential to explode, catch fire or billow smoke it seemed okay to power it up.
The front panel light came on and a quick dab of the voltmeter on the wires
confirmed my suspicions that lots of volts were present and I was wise to
resist the urge to grab hold of the probe… Holding the meter probes a few
millimetres from the wire produces a tiny spark, but it was fairly puny,
suggesting the current flow is very low and probably non-lethal.
What Happened To It?
Attempts to find out what it is have resulted in dead ends since
the company that made it, Knopp Electronic Services, latterly of Braintree in
Essex, was apparently taken over in the early noughties. The only verifiable
mentions of Knopp I could find on the web were in relation to it starting out
as a manufacturer of printed circuit boards. The company that bought was no
help either as it too has vanished without trace.
So there you have it, an instrument of torture or an air cleaner.
Whilst I’m inclined to the latter I welcome input from anyone who know what it
actually is. I’m really hoping it’s something weird or exotic. If it is the
business end of a domestic or office ionizer then I also hope someone can tell
me what, if anything, is missing so I can have a crack at constructing a new
one, to see if it actually works. And on that basis, as previously mentioned,
home ionizers are still widely available, there are even ones designed for
in-car use. Whether they are effective or not for any of the various claims
made for them remains a topic for debate, as does the value of this one. As it
stands, without any essential accessories or at the very least, an instruction
manual, it’s worth the price of the parts and the nice wooden box, or around
what I paid for it, unless, of course someone can enlighten me.
First Seen: 1989?
Original Price: £?
Value Today: £2.00 (0622)
Features: High voltage generator, ‘probe’,
neon power on indicator, 2 x fuses, on/off switch and that’s it…
220 volts AC
223 x 140x 95mm
Made (assembled) in: England
Hen's Teeth (10 rarest) 9