Caveat Emptor - buyer beware !

The internet has opened up public auctions to a worldwide audience.

Some sellers are ignorant, others intend to deceive which means that care must be exercised when buying antique ear trumpets.

In addition there are a large number of items that were sold in Victorian times which did not work, this trade has never really died out.

When I see an item up for auction which is improperly described (see fakes), I respectfully suggest to the seller that they might want to correct their listing. Responses vary between 'thank you very much, I will update the listing' and 'mind your own business' !

If you put the small end of a 6inch diameter funnel in your ear and test it for an increase in noise level, you will certainly find that it works rather well - but we all know it was never intended to be an ear trumpet and is probably newer than claimed.

If you want to buy a antique ear trumpet, the following should be considered:


EARPIECE
The item earpiece is an important consideration - if it isn't clearly designed to fit in the ear - it is probably wrong.

earpiece on silver
ear trumpet

earpiece on pinard

mouthpiece from bugle

cylindrical reed
holder mouthpiece

horn based
drinking vessel
Ear trumpets typically have one end shaped to be stuck in the ear without discomfort.

Some have an added earpiece made out of a non-metallic substance.
e.g. bone, ivory, vulcanite, bakelite, cellulose acetate,
amber or ceramic.
Pinards have a flat earpiece to be pressed against the outside of the ear, as do monaural stethoscopes.

Some ear trumpets also have a wide, flat 'earpiece'.
Horns (bugles, trumpets or hunting) are designed to be blown and make a noise by pursing the lips in the mouthpiece.

Usually these are cup shaped and would be very uncomfortable stuck in the ear.
Whistles (beater's horns, train horns, harking horns) are also designed to be blown.

These have a rounded mouthpiece that is not uncomfortable in the ear, even if a bit large.

Please read the codicil.
Finally check that the 'earpiece' has actually got a hole through it !

This is the thin end of a drinking vessel.

You may see powder horns as well.

SHAPE
These generic shapes should be treated with suspicion: view more shapes
it is straight
it has a mouthpiece
- a fox hunting or beagling horn
it is 'straight'
with a reed cylinder
- a car horn
it is almost straight
with a reed cylinder,
ear trumpets rarely
have 2 ribbon rings
- a beaters horn
read the codicil
folded trumpets are
quite common but
never in a circle
- a hunting horn
usually an animal horn
for drinking, powder
or blowing,
often with 2 rings
black plastic
- vintage phone
operators microphone
mouthpiece

CONDITION
Be very wary of trumpets which appear over cleaned. Items which have been re-soldered are sometimes over polished to mask the restoration. Rare trumpets can be excused reasonable signs of age. I buy unusual items as long as the condition permits one to know what it looked like originally - hence some quite damaged conversation tubes.

MARRIAGES
People combine all sorts of funnel shaped objects with some kind of earpiece
This marriage of a broken
horn sold on EBay for
£10 and joined up with a
bit of hose and a plastic
enema nozzle was
offered at £400 !
the horn marking says
'Le Petit Parisiene' and
is part of a
vendor's horn
.
This is a phonograph horn
with a new bit of brass
tube fashioned to look like
an ear trumpet. Note the
shiny brass.
Funnel joined to a piece of
tube (no shape to earpiece)
and polished to hide the
marriage work.
Old car horn with new
mouthpiece attached.
Also polished to hide the
work.

PROVENANCE
Sometimes there is a sellers intent to deceive, others it is just plain ignorance.
Rarely does one see genuine provenance. I have one horn that had an owners note inside.
Assertions that an item was 'grandpa's ear trumpet' means nothing. The fact that it appears to work is irrelevant.
It seems experience and looking through old catalogues are the best source of an object's validity.
One should avoid terms like 'attic find', 'collectors item', really 'artistic' piece etc.etc.
ANTIQUE EAR TRUMPET
Oh no it isn't
This horn sells as a
repro for $35 - it was
offered on EBay at
$350.
ANTIQUE 19TH CENTURY
SILVER PLATE EAR TRUMPET

Oh no it isn't
This is a wine funnel, the
last thing a trumpet needs
is a baffle !
ANTIQUE CASED FOUR PART
SILVER PLATED EAR TRUMPET

Oh no it isn't
It is an Auriscope.
VINTAGE
TRUMPET

Buy $35
Sell £150
at least 8
times !

WALKING STICK
with whistle horn £150 ?
OR
with ear trumpet £2500 ?
The real thing currently on
Fleaglass at £2k5


MARKS
Marks can be misleading.
The banjo on the left is labelled OL331. The auctioneer cited OL351 (a London dome).

On the right the telescopic 2pc is marked OL360, the auctioneer reported OL380 (a con tube).
banjo
OL331
detail   telescopic
2pc OL360
detail

DATING
Conversation tube
from 1880 - £200 ?
OR
WW1 trench warfare
aid - £500 or more ?
OR
Hearing aid issued
by NHS in 1976
- £70 ?
The design remained
unchanged for 100
years !
Hawksley auricle
marked
351 Oxford Street

sold as Victorian but
Hawksley only opened
that shop in 1926 !
Aylesworth diaphragm
ear trumpet sold as
early Victorian.

He only patented it in
1905 !
Banjo ear trumpet
marked OL331 1249.
Early Victorian £250?
OR
WW1 market price
£50-125 ?
OR
post WW2 at £35 ?
Marking says it must
be an NHS trumpet.
Politzer patented the
banjo in 1883.
Sold with a note saying used by
George IV died 1830.
Silver gilt trumpet marked:
'Rein 30 Charing Cross Road'
They moved there in 1916 !

QUACKS
As soon as the bulk manufacture of ear trumpets started around 1850, fraudulent devices started to appear. The Victorians were susceptible to quack devices. Quack items are still being offered on EBay today.
Two magnetic ear clips
and a compass to prove
they were magnetic.
Totally useless.
Current market price
£400.
Noise maker ran on a
4.5v 'flat' torch battery.
Was supposed to improve
hearing by buzzing in the
ear.
Often sold with an ear
trumpet in a
presentation box
.
Gold plated ear tubes,
with many variations in
silver and plastic.
Could only open up a
blocked ear tube,
otherwise useless !
Painted silver ear tubes. Current day quack item.
3 horn trumpet home
made in USA.
Picture is blurred to hide
details.

PRICES
Prices offered on auction sites like EBay are prone to ridiculous inflation. If an ear trumpet is listed as an auction item typically starting at 99p then it will almost always sell at a market price.

Sadly sellers who are ignorant about real market values are offering trumpets at very high prices on a buy-it-now basis.

Some of the items listed on EBay have been there literally for years because they are over priced. In some cases I have tried to buy an item by offering a sensible figure only to get a rude refusal or sometimes not even a reply.

The situation in 2018-19 is especially bad because one dealer bought a small collection for too much money and is trying to sell at a profit. Others view the offers and assume that they reflect market values.

A recent example was a pair of 1950's NHS auricles priced at £180. They are really only worth half that. I was turned down at £100.

Almost always when an item is sensibly priced but an offer will be considered, I have managed to secure the object at a fair price.

If I am offered a trumpet in a private sale, I always try to be generous and bid a few pounds above what I believe to the market price.

REPRODUCTIONS
Recently I have seen a lot of reproductions, mostly made in China? Pakistan?, sold in Europe through two German companies.
To be fair when listing these, they describe the items as 'vintage style' or 'antique style'. view more shapes
copy of USA civil war trumpet
and brand new !
good trumpet
and brand new !
good trumpet
and brand new !
it is 'straight'
and brand new !
good trumpet
and brand new !
it is 'straight'
and brand new !

REPAIRS
The picture on the very left was published on EBay in 2018. It nagged me for months. The style is unknown and it just did not feel 'right'. I kept looking at the solder trail which forms a diagonal line across the tube. Finally I realised the item had been repaired and the tube incorrectly positioned. As a 'Large Dome', the bell shaped horn is usually constructed like a London Dome. The tube goes through the bell wall and up into the closed end of the dome.
The diagonal piece of surface solder completely confirmed my realisation. The lucky seller got £76.13 and the unlucky buyer may have a bodged item that never existed in real life !!

The picture the left shows my buyno 61 which has a distinct bulb at the 'earpiece' end. I could not find a purpose for this unless it was an earpiece.

I believe that the item was home made - probably on a farm in some remote part of the USA. When found it was broken in three pieces and the finder re-soldered the parts together incorrectly without realising that the earpiece should be rotated similar to the picture on the right but with the earpiece further rotated towards the camera.

JOKES
This item appears regularly,
it is a floppy piece of plastic
which has even limited joke
value
Totally useless, these
clip on ears do not even
have a hole to let the
sound in

CODICIL
For a long while I have wondered where all these horns with vibrating reeds in the mouthpiece would have been used.

Recently I found this image which shows a French SNCF railway
whistle and horn, clearly designed to be worn with chains and
buttons.
This one has a round horn aperture.

Also in researching pictures I found a reference to a 'beater's horn (known in the USA as a 'harking' horn. I have also seen them described as a newspaper vendor's horn.

This one has the often seen flattened horn aperture.
Very common at auction and boot sales. Brand new ones come from Pakistan.
read more ...
A couple of these images are 'borrowed' if the owner lets me know I will add a credit