18th Century Hearing Aids

Friends by the ears, 1786. A broker feigning deafness to avoid paying the doctor who cured him. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Friends by the ears, 1786. A broker feigning deafness to avoid paying the doctor who cured him. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Hearing aids have made some quite dramatic progress since the Georgian era . Towards the end of the 18th century the use of an ear trumpet was commonplace, with collapsible ones being made on a one off basis for customers. Well known models of the period included the Townsend Trumpet (made by the John Townshend) and the Reynolds Trumpet (specially made for painter Joshua Reynolds) which funneled sound into the inner ear.

One of the quirkiest objects we have come across to assist with hearing is this image. It is a flower vase receptacle made by F. C Rein about 1810. The object would sit in the middle of a dining  table once filled with flowers. Each of the six openings, or “receptors,” would act as sound collectors.*

This one below, manufactured in ivory was made for and used by Admiral John Borlase Warren (1753-1822).

Phisick – Medical Antiques

Here we have an example of a small hearing aid consisting of a pair of metal ear tubes acquired by the surgeon Luke James (1799 – 1881)

single hearing aid
Courtesy of the Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons

In Blackwood’s Edinburgh  Magazine, Volume 14, we across this ‘letter to the editor‘ from a gentleman suffering from hearing difficulties along with a drawing of a device to help improve his hearing.

Mr Editor,

Having taken in your very superior Miscellany, from its earliest day to the present, I know you as the friend of man. Upon this ground, I am confident that you will grant the request I make, of inserting the short notice I now send in your very first Number, that those labouring under deafness may reap, from the improvement which I have made upon the Ear Trumpet, the advantages which I so unexpectedly enjoy.

Many years ago, in’consequence of a cough of most uncommon severity, an injury was done to some part of the internal structure of my left ear,which completely robbed me of hearing through that organ. Immediately after this accident, I was seized with a tinnitus aurium, which held out the dismal prospect of entire deafness. For this malady, I had recourse to snuff, and its effects upon the tinnitus were soon perceptible. Still, however, the hearing upon the right ear remained obtuse, and extremely contracted my social enjoyments. I applied in every quarter, including his Majesty’s Aurist, for the most improved ear trumpet. From none of these instruments was the most trivial benefit derived.

My thoughts being much employed upon the subject, it occurred to me that every ear-trumpet which had been sent to me conveyed the collected sound through a very small tube, the orifice of which was inserted in the ear ; and now a prospect opened which afforded hope. I immediately ordered an instrument to be constructed, of the fittest block-tin, one end of which included the whole external ear, and the other, (circular also) of larger diameter, collected the sound, which was conveyed by a straight tube, of some capacity, into the ear.

The result was most gratifying, indeed, beyond my most sanguine expectation, enabling me to carry on a conversation with a friend, with the utmost ease to myself, and without exertion to the person addressing me.

It is the establishment of the principle of this improvement upon the  Ear-Trumpet to which I am solicitous to give publicity, leaving to younger men to make experiments upon the length and diameter of the tube, and of other parts of the instrument.

The only attempt towards improvement which 1 made, was the making a transverse section of the smaller circle, so as to approach nearly to the shape of the ear; and, by a little management, it answers my expectation.

With this I transmit a sketch of the instrument I use.

I remain, Mr Editor, with much esteem, your very obedient servant,

Thos. Morison, M.D. Disblair Cottage, Aberdeen, 16th July, 1823.

 

ear trumpet

 

 

* http://beckerexhibits.wustl.edu/did/19thcent/spv.htm

 

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