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Find of the Month – July: London Dome Ear Trumpet

Anyone who’s visited us here at The Whitaker has seen how jam-packed our Cabinet of Curiosities is. Two of our Collections Volunteers, Jackie and Beryl, have been hard at work to catalogue all the objects displayed there.

Thankfully many of the objects are labelled with an accession number (meaning they can be identified and fully catalogued using the Museum’s database).

But when an object doesn’t have a number, Jackie and Beryl delve into the Museum’s records to find out what it is. This is easier when they know what the object is, but some of the weird and wonderful objects in the Cabinet of Curiosities are real brain teasers – and Jackie and Beryl have great fun guessing what they might be.

Can you guess what this might be?

This curious object is a London Dome Ear Trumpet (circa 1850).

Ear trumpets have been used since the 17th century and could be made from metal, wood, shell or horn.

An ear trumpet does not amplify sound, as modern hearing aids do. Instead, it collects sound waves from a wide area, with its funnel shape, and leads them through a narrower tube, via an earpiece, towards the eardrum.

This particular ear trumpet was made from brass, with an ivory ear-piece. It was made to be hand-held and portable.

It was made by F C Rein, who had been manufacturing aids for hearing since 1800. He was based at 108, The Strand, London from 1835 to 1916.

F C Rein was probably the earliest company to manufacture hearing aids commercially. The hearing aids included ear trumpets like this one and also acoustic urns and speaking tubes for churches. Rein was also the last company to manufacture ear trumpets, closing in 1963.

As an inventor, Rein didn’t stop at hearing aids – he also invented ‘lactatory’ devices (breast pumps) and instruments to aid with giving enemas.

Though disputed by some it is said that in 1819, Rein was commissioned to help design a special acoustic throne for King John VI of Portugal. The arms of the chair looked like lions with open mouths. These were, in fact, funnels to receive the sound waves when someone addressed the King John. The sound was carried via a tube to the back of the throne near the King’s ear.

Sources

1. https://www.eartrumpets.co.uk/makers.php
2. https://www.eartrumpets.co.uk/useful.php#rein
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ear_trumpet
4. https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/library-rnid/2016/11/11/acoustic-instrument-makers-in-the-strand-acoustic-thrones-frederick-charles-rein-son/
5. https://www.embs.org/pulse/articles/hearing-aid-history-from-ear-trumpets-to-digital-technology/

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