The Man with the Copper Fingers (FING)

Page numbers are from my Avon edition of Lord Peter Views the Body.

page 7
The Egotists' Club

Rachel Levy has pointed out that this fictitious club is a Sherlock Holmes allusion: Mycroft's favorite club is the Diogenes Club, at which on must not speak with the others members except in the Strangers' Room.

the temperament of a Jane Austen

Jane Austen did her writing in the parlor (as Jeffrey Bennet Smith pointed out to me, correcting a piece of foolishness in the first edition of these notes), where the interruptions to her work would have been continual. The mind boggles, or at least mine does, at the thought of achieving anything at all under such conditions.

a powerful Trichinopoly cigar

One of three appearances of the tale of the cigar and the port.

coster millionaire

A coster is a costermonger, and a costermonger is an apple seller, a fruiterer, especially one who works on the street.

the cubist poet

Cubism was primarily, but not entirely, a school of painting. Guillaume Apollinaire and Gertrude Stein are counted among the cubists.

page 8
"seven years it must have been -- just before America came into the War."

So the story dates from early 1924; the events recounted were in 1920.

page 9

Statues overlaid with gold and ivory.


Miss Murchison informed us that this is a name for Juno, the goddess of home life and childbirth, "and also associated with the sexual life of women, and with childbirth." One is left to imagine the "very slick and very ugly realistic group."

I went up east

Query: has any American ever said "up east"? I know there's a Down East, which of course refers to the northernmost state in the east (Maine), but AFAIK the east coast has always been called "back east" in the western USA, to the amusement or irritation of those of us to whom the west coast is back home, and any other part of the country is a good place to get back from.

page 14
a strong English accent

Here at least DLS has truly captured American sensibilities. To those who can distinguish an Oxford from a Cambridge accent it may be incredible, but most Americans would do no better than this at describing Wimsey's aristocratic-Oxonian speech.

page 16

The OED defines Sheffield plate as "plate made of copper coated with silver by a special process brought to perfection in Sheffield (but now disused)." Contrary to Wimsey's implication, the process did not involve electroplating (see below); rather, the silver was fused to the underlying copper by heating. Sheffield plating was invented about 1742, and was supplanted by electroplating about 1840.

page 17
Not a smoke do you smoke and not a sup do you sip...

"It's a song of a merryman moping mum,
Whose soul was sad and whose glance was glum,
Who sipped no sup and who craved no crumb,
As he sighed for the love of a lady."
--Jack Point's song "I Have a Song to Sing O!" from Gilbert and Sullivan's Yeomen of the Guard

However, see the next item.

...until Burd Ellen is set free.

Elizabeth Sumpter explained that this is from the tale of Child Roland, who must rescue his kidnaped sister. It would seem that Gilbert had the old ballad in mind.

Lady Susan provided text:

There's a text paraphrase of the ballad at: which includes this paragraph:

"Well, my son," said the Warlock Merlin, "there are but two things, simple they may seem, but hard they are to do. One thing to do, and one thing not to do. And the thing to do is this: after you have entered the land of Fairy, whoever speaks to you, till you meet the Burd Ellen, you must out with your father's brand and off with his head. And what you've not to do is this: bite no bit and drink no drop, however hungry or thirsty you be; drink a drop or bite a bit, while in Elfland you be, and never will you see the Middle Earth again."

page 20
copper anodes

See the Appendix for an explanation of electroplating.

page 22
Electro-plating ... wasn't a job that could be finished in a night

See the Appendix.

page 23
copper wire ... running to the output of the transformer.

As Mr. Ingleby pointed out, this is impossible, as transformers produce alternating current, which can't perform electroplating. My guess, which Mr. Ingleby confirmed, is that the only practical 1920 technology for converting all that power to low DC voltage and high current would be a motor generator. This would not be an impractically large device, though we must remember that a 2-horsepower motor (his estimate) was not the 2-hp motor of today by any means; it was much bigger and clumsier and noisier.

However, A Lurking Suspicion has come up with evidence of mercury arc rectifier setups in the 1920s which would be good for 40 to 50 amperes, and would have an elaborate control panel including what looked like a transformer. So the description is, from the viewpoint of someone not carefully investigating the apparatus, quite reasonable.

a shriek

I wonder if a person who has just got an enormous dose of cyanide can shriek. Its first effect is to cause a violent gasp for breath, because it stops oxygen metabolism and thereby convinces the regulatory center for breathing that there is suddenly no oxygen whatever. (I am speaking from direct observation, but the tale is irrelevant to Lord Peter. No animals or people were harmed in that experiment.)

a shock that pretty well staggered me.

What voltage would be used here? It ought to be about 6-12 volts, which can't be felt even through wet skin.

APPENDIX: On Electroplating and Loder's Electric Bill

To electroplate an object with copper, you put it in a bath of copper sulfate solution. (Cyanide is also used in the electroplating bath, as Wimsey notes; I don't know its function.) The object must conduct electricity; non-metallic objects can be coated with graphite to get the necessary conductivity. In the same bath you place one or more rods of pure copper. You then pass an electric current through the bath, applying a positive voltage to the copper (the anode) and negative to the object being plated (the cathode).

Floating around in the copper sulfate solution are copper atoms that have lost two electrons each: cupric ions, to be exact. In contact with the negatively charged cathode, they pick up two electrons, becoming plain uncharged copper atoms, which are not soluble in water, so they deposit themselves on the cathode. It gets plated. Meanwhile, the positive charge applied to the copper anodes removes electrons from the copper atoms, turning them into cupric ions, which go into solution in the water.

So copper is transferred indirectly from the anodes to the cathode, driven by the electric current. Following the copper plating, Loder would change the solution and the anodes, and apply a thin silver coating in the same way.

You can see that if the electricity were going first in one direction and then in the other, the copper would be deposited, then dissolved, then deposited, then dissolved, and the plating wouldn't take place. This is why you need direct current, and not the alternating current that you'd take from a transformer.

Adding and removing the electrons takes just a few volts; Mr. Ingleby estimated that for this particular setup it would be 6 - 12 volts It takes a whole lot of amperes of current, as we'll see in a moment.

Quantitatively the plating process gets a bit interesting. (You may skip the jargon and just look at the numbers here without losing much.) To deposit one mole of copper, or 63 grams, requires 2 moles of electrons, alias 2 faradays, or 193,000 coulombs, or nearly 54 amp-hours. Mr. Ingleby has estimated that the plating would have to be about 0.5 centimeter thick in order for the statue to support its own weight plus that of someone sitting on it; this is also consistent with the text. As the area of a human body is about 2 square meters, we have 10,000 cubic centimeters, or 80 kilograms (176 pounds) of copper. (This is substantially more than the wild guess that I had in an earlier revision.) As he says, "Think about that as you envision Loder tucking it under his arm to bring it up from his lab into his sitting room."

To plate this much copper you would use 80 * 1000 * 54 / 63 or over 68,500 amp-hours. At 12 volts (see above) or 1/10 of the voltage in American power lines, you get very roughly 100 amp-hours for one kilowatt-hour used on the electric meter; decidedly less, in fact, since conversion isn't 100% efficient. Let us say, well over 700 kilowatt-hours for the plating process, or a full load on a 15-amp circuit for two days and nights at least.
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