Monday, June 27, 2016

Have You Heard? It's Time to Reveal this Mystery Artifact

As I predicted, we got a correct guess on this one!

Thanks to Nike on Facebook for your guess!

Well, if you didn’t know, it’s an ear trumpet. To be more specific, it is a type of ear trumpet referred to as a “conversation tube.”

Ear trumpets were invented in the 17th century to help people who were partially deaf to hear more clearly. They don’t amplify sound the way that modern hearing aids do. Instead, they collect sound into and lead the sound waves into the user’s ear. There are many different types of ear trumpets, coming in many shapes and sizes, and made of various materials.

The simplest kinds of ear trumpets were basically a tapered tube. The earliest ear trumpets were made of animal horns, and may date back to before the “official” invention in the 1600s. Some may have been hunting horns that someone thought to stick in their ear! Eventually, ear horns were made of other materials, usually metal. The first ear trumpets were fairly big, usually longer than a foot, and sometimes even over 2 feet long. Soon, because of the size, smaller versions were developed, including collapsible ones like this one:

There were also small, portable ear trumpets called “London Domes.”
These were used from the mid-1800s to around 1930. They were popular mostly because of the small size. The shape of these are certainly a little strange. But the wide mouth and parabolic shape of the dome focus the sound into the ear tube.

If you’re wondering about the name, these were named after the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Apparently, the shape is similar enough that people determined the name appropriate.

Ah, but I am going off on a tangent! As I said before, our Mystery Artifact is actually a “conversation tube,” also known as a speaking tube. The point of conversation tubes is that the bell end (the end that receives the sound) can be moved around easily to direct the listener’s attention to specific things. Most often they would be used directly, having one person speak straight into the receiving end.  These didn’t pick up far off sounds as well as the other examples did, instead they were made to be able to hear sounds very close up. So, as the name indicates, they were effective when having conversations. Or, as this listing from the 1895 Montgomery Ward catalogue states, it "suits the most obstinate cases of deafness."

Bonus: There's also a London Dome listed!

Eventually, in-ear hearing aids were invented, and these strange contraptions were mostly a thing of the past. Though some people still swear by them, I have learned while researching this. Which would you prefer? A hearing aid or a conversation tube? If you want a look at more ear trumpets (I know I do), here's a great collection of vintage hearing apparatuses (I barely scratched the surface on all the different kinds)!

Thanks for reading this mystery artifact reveal!
We'd love it if you came to visit to check out all our previous artifacts in person, or just to have a look around the museum. All summer long, we are open 10 am - 5 pm Monday through Saturday, and 1 pm-5pm on Sundays. 

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