Historical data on ear trumpets
Ear trumpets are notoriously difficult to date, FC Rein (UK) seems to be the earliest quantity manufacturer starting in 1800, but probably not making trumpets until 1850, although many have been home made both before and after. View our list of makers.

There is an excellent timeline at Becker

Trumpets made from horns, sea shells, or other natural material probably existed long before the ear trumpet was first manufactured.

Read about the Banjo Conundrum

Red borders link to more information and magnifying icons link to larger versions of the associated image

Much of this data and most of the images have been borrowed from established resources - I believe all copyright has expired but if further credit or linking is required please let me know

If you wish to use my pictures - please have the courtesy to ask

King Tutankhamun's tomb
1332 BC
King Tut ruled during the New Kingdom 1332-1323 BC.

This silver horn with a gilt lining found in his tomb is too like small Victorian ear trumpets to be something blown.

Greek Empire
800 BC to 146 AD
The Greeks notoriously put the deaf to the sword.

They also have documentation of the earliest sign language.

early history Horns from animals and sea shells were used for hunting in early times. Possibly these items were reversed for listening but I can find no documents to suggest this.

Emperor Hadrian b.76
reigned 117-138
Contemporary court descriptions tell of Hadrian cupping his hand behind his ear in order to hear better.

He also is recorded as wearing small parchment cups behind his ears and having his throne in a concave alcove to reflect sounds.

Galen described Consul Flavius Arrianus using cupped hands.

2nd century AD
Claudius Galenus 129 - ~210
The Greek physician, Galenus wrote about bone conduction in the book De Subtilitate

(image is 18th century)

13th century
based on Victorian shell
You would have used an "Eustachian" if you had been hard of hearing in the 13th century. These were made from hollowed-out animal horns, shells or glass


Rudolphus Agricola
1443-1485
wrote a book called De Inventione Dialectica
Folk born deaf can express themselves in writing
it was 100 years before the the book was published.

Pedro Ponce de Leon
1520-1584
A Catholic monk who founded the first school for the deaf at the Monastery of San Salvador, Madrid. He taught deaf kids to speak and write.

Giovanni Battista Porta
1535 ? - 1615

pub 1558
image relating to trumpet history Described in a book called Natural Magick, wooden ear shaped cups to fit over the ears.

Capivacci

pub 1603
Experiments with bone conduction devices for teaching deaf mutes.

Image shows 1890 instruction detail for the Dentaphone

G Bonifacio (1547-1635)
1616
Giovanni Bonifacio publishes Of the Art of Signs.


Leurechon, Jean (c.1591–1670)

pub 1624
Encyclopedia of Science
French Jesuit priest and mathematician who maybe wrote Recreations Mathématiques
This work describes the basic acoustics of buildings and their adaptations.

The book also gives an early description of the operation of an ear trumpet and early listening tubes.

Francis Bacon
1627
'Sylva Sylvarum: A Natural History', by Francis Bacon:
Let it be tried, for the help of hearing, (and I conceive it likely to succeed) to make an instrument like a tunnel; the narrow part whereof may be the bigness of the hole of the ear; and the broader end much larger, like a bell at the skirts; and the length half a foot or more. And let the narrow end of it be set close to the ear: and mark whether any sound, abroad in the open air, will not be heard distinctly from further distance than without that instrument...

...And I have heard there is in Spain an instrument in use to be set to the ear, that helpeth somewhat those that are thick of hearing.

Pietro Amiani
1640

parabolic trumpet dated 1803
'Hearing Instruments for Those with Weakened Hearing' - a section of his book Geometria.
Amiani describes a desirable ear trumpet that had a 'sophisticated parabolic design'.

John Bulwer
1614-1684
pub 1644
Published in 1644, one of the earlist records of the use of hand signs.

Philocophus
J Bulwer

pub 1648
Bulwer wrote about education of the deaf and using sign language

Author: Kircher, Athanasius

Title: Musurgia universalis sive ars magna consoni et dissoni in X. libros digesta

Place of Publication: Rome


image Becker
It is fairly clear that the Greeks and Egyptians made hearing trumpets out of animal horns, Kircher details this.
More information about Kircher’s Musurgia, as well as information about Max Goldstein’s book collection
Publisher: Ex typographia haeredum Francisci Corbelletti, anno Iubilaei

pub 1650
image relating to trumpet history
image Becker
This is a scientific work which suggests that an ear trumpet should be 'tuned'.
  In this picture we see the earliest found documentation of using large hearing aids in buildings. This technique is also recorded as being used to listen to prisoners' conversations

Francis Bacon
1561-1626

pub 1665
image relating to trumpet history His work was published in 1665 and describes ear 'spectacles' as an ear trumpet or speaking tubes.

'Let if be tried, for the help of hearing... to make an instrument like a tunnel; the narrow part whereof may be the bigness of the hole of the ear; and the broader end much larger, like a bell at the skirts... And let the narrow end of it be set against the ear; and mark whether any sound... will not be heard distinctly from further distance than without that instrument; being (as it were) an ear-spectacle.'

Multisegmented Hearing Trumpet
1670
Building up the device from separate pieces facilitated shaping it to direct sound from the user's front into his or her 'good' ear.

Sir Samuel Moreland claimed to have invented the first speaking trumpet.

pub 1671
Several were claimed to have been made, however one is located at Cambridge University. One was over 20 feet in length.

This is my #199 from 1873 and 248mm long

Author: Kircher, Athanasius.

Title: Phonurgia nova sive conjugium mechanico-physicum artis & naturae paranympha phonosophia concinnatum …

pub 1673
image relating to trumpet history This is the earliest publication that I have found where something beyond an animal horn is shown.

Place of Publication: Campidonae [Kempten, Bavaria, Germany]

Publisher: Per Rudolphum Dreherr

More information about Kircher’s Phonurgia

Dekker
1673
image relating to trumpet history
image Robert Weinkove
One of the earliest attempts at an actual trumpet
see Luer1912 below


William Bull
1650-1712
image relating to trumpet history William Bull has traversed the centuries with the reputation as a fine maker of brass musical instruments while at the same time remaining a somewhat enigmatic figure.


Antonias Nuck
1692
image relating to trumpet history Nuck is credited with this design


Early music print Shows the Nuck design, suggesting it may have been built.

Duguet
1706
image relating to trumpet history Duguet uses built-in tubes for receiving sound waves in the arms of a chair

View more information

Joshua Reynolds
(1723-1792)
1752
Joshua Reynolds spent over two years in Italy, where he studied the Old Masters and acquired a taste for the "Grand Style". Unfortunately, whilst in Rome, Reynolds suffered a severe cold which left him partially deaf and, as a result, he began to carry a small ear trumpet with which he is often pictured.

Dr Cat
1757
In 1757, Dr. Claude-Nicolas Le Cat invented the first hearing aid, the ear trumpet. He imagines a horn made of metal and brass. The first prosthesis amplifies hearing about 15dB. Very important invention, which will suffer only very few changes and will still be used in 1925.

Hogarth's Cockfight
1759
Detail from the classical work - interesting that it looks straight !

Thomas Braidwood
(1715-1806)
1760
Founded the first British School for Deaf in Edinburgh in 1760, which moved to London in 1783 - he recommended the 2 hand alphabet still in use.

The Hare, Hatchel & Hearing
1763
image relating to trumpet history Engraved by T. Jefferys
Fine original antique engraved print.
Printed in the mid 18th century on quality paper which retains its inherent structural flexibility and soundness.

Sheet measures c. 5 1/4" W x 8 3/8" H.
Engraved area measures c. 4 1/8" W x 7 3/8" H.


Joshua Reynolds self portrait
1773
Detail from the classical oil painting.

~1775 Personal hand made trumpets recorded. Originators like Townsend, Daubeney and for Joshua Reynolds.

James Hutton
(1726-1797)
1785
Hutton with his ear trumpet.

F C Rein
1800

Rein chair
The oldest commercial manufacturer of hearing aids (Rein) was established by 1800, and ceased trading in 1963.

His most famous device was probably the 'acoustic throne' of King Goa VI of Portugal. Manufactured in 1819, the sound collectors were the mouths of sculpted lions within the arms of the throne and was used 1810-1826.
A copy used to be in the Amplivox collection but it was sold to a private collector about 1956.

Trumpet
1802
image relating to trumpet history Antique Print of Trumpet Speaking Hearing Vulture Vampire Walrus Bear.
I have a copy of the print.


Johann Nepomuk Malzel
1812

image credit Beethoven Haus
Makes ear trumpets for Ludwig von Beethoven over several years, now kept in the Beethoven Museum in Bonn.

D J Larrey
(1766-1824)
1815
He developed a listening helmet for Napoleon's armies based on on a pair of auricles

René Théophile Hyacinthe Laënnec (1781-1826)
1816
French physician René Laënnec 'invents' the stethoscope to listen for heart sounds.

J H Curtis
1817
John H Curtis who designed a chair also proposed trumpets. Some were made by J&S Maw.


J A Duncker (1767-1843)
1819
The conversation tube was first patented in 1819 by Johann A. Duncker.

This one has 4 characteristic holes in the horn.

M G Itard (1773-1838),
1821

image Becker
Jean Marie Gaspard Itard published in Paris a book containing several illustrations of hearing devices, such as ear trumpets and Itard’s bone conduction hearing device.

Nathaniel Pointer
1828
Conversation tubes were 'invented' by Nathaniel Pointer in 1828.

There are several examples of tubes being used earlier.

Drapier
1829
Starts manufacture, probably ceased in 1940

In English this is a 'London Dome', in USA it was 'Dr Scotts Resonator' and in France 'Cloche Parabolique'

Patent application
A W Webster
1836
First known British patent for a hearing aid is issued to Alphonsus William Webster for a curved earpiece worn behind the ear.

This was called Webster's Otaphone.

Curtis acoustic chair
1837
This 8 pp pamphlet (I have the original) describes the chair in the Mechanics Magazine 14 Jan 1837.

I have an original.

The chair was built by J & S Maw of 11 Aldersgate Street.


The Soniferon
1838
William B. Pine, offering the Soniferon, a sort of table based ear trumpet that 'stands on a pillar like a lamp'.

credit

Nathaniel Pointer
1839
Seems to be the first person to use conversation tubes between 60cm and 1 metre long
(Although very long tubes were used in large old houses to call servants much earlier)
This date is the start of vulcanisation and Pointer definitely made something at this time - the image shows an early ivory example
The tube is a fabric covered metal helix.

Acoustic chairs
1841
image relating to trumpet history


Illustration
1850
image relating to trumpet history

Shell ear trumpet
1850
I have 2 examples of Victorian ear trumpets.   #49 #263

Bonnafont
1851
Jean Pierre Bonnafont (1805–1891) invented this design.

Bonnafont decided the extreme length of some ear trumpets then in current use both inconvenient and unnecessary.

He folded the tube of the trumpet into four right-angles to make a much more compact ear trumpet.

Galante
1851
Surgical equipment manufacturer starts up and ceases trading about 1935. I have a walking stick supplied by this company see #424.


Patent application
E G Hyde
1855
First patent in the USA for a hearing aid is issued to Edward G. Hyde of Camptown, New Jersey for a pair of auricles.

A typical Rein example


F C Rein
1855
Presents 18 different trumpets at the Exhibition Universal

Maw catalogue
1866
 

T Hawksley
1869
Opening in 1869 Hawksley invented, produced and sold a wide range of 'otacoustical instruments to aid the deaf' in Victorian Britain

Tiemann catalogue
1874
 

A G Bell
1876
Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone.

Arnold catalogue
1876
 

Japan
1877

image is of deaf children listeneing through tubes probably at CID
The first school for the deaf in Japan is established.

McKeown Chair
1879
image relating to trumpet history No examples exist


R S Rhodes
Patent application
1879
Richard Rhodes, of Chicago, Illinois, invents and patents a hearing fan, which he calls the Rhodes Audiphone.
The upper edge of the fan was held against the user's upper teeth.

Rhodes
1879
Rhodes constructed which transferred sound vibrations through bone conduction by the subject held against the teeth or between the teeth
He made an audiophone in Chicago from natural shells.

Image is from 1908 Truax catalogue.

Thomas Graydon
1879
Patents the Dentaphone. Another one pressed to the teeth.

Aubry catalogue
1880
 

Patent application
S North
1880
image relating to trumpet history Print of ear trumpet London Dome patent.

Catalogue image
1880
Two examples of North's trumpet.

Alfred Marshall Mayer
1880
Invents the Topophone - dual trumpet for detecting noisy enemies

Professor Mayer
1880
A different version, Prof Mayer uses the term topophone generically.

Franck Valery
1881
Introduces combination trumpet and spectacles at the International Exhibition and ceases manufacture 1940

Patent application
H Waldstein
1882
Combined ear trumpet and cane handle

A Politzer (1835-1920) (Vienna)
1883

Based on Helmholz theory he invented the 2 parabola trumpet known as the 'banjo'

See also the Banjo conundrum


Variety of trumpets illustrated by John Reynders
1884
image relating to trumpet history

Reynders catalogue
1884
 

Patent application
J A Maloney
1887
Ear trumpet with a diaphragm earpiece is patented by James A. Maloney in the United States.
Very similar to the item made by Globe and one or two others.


Laurence Turnbull
(1821-1900)
1887
image relating to trumpet history
Bernard Becker Medical Library, Washington University School of Medicine.
Illustration of a variety of French hearing devices, from: Laurence Turnbull’s A clinical manual of the diseases of the ear. 2nd edition, revised. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1887 (p. 54).

NB the telescopic is like my item #182


Reynders catalogue
1889
 

Tieman catalogue
1889
image relating to trumpet history

Patent application
J Boyd
1890
image relating to trumpet history Print of ear trumpet hat patent

4pp French catalog by Drapier with prices !
1890
image relating to trumpet history
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Patent application
A E Miltimore
1892
First United States patent for an electric hearing aid is issued to Alonzo E. Miltimore of Catskill, New York for a “magneto telephone for personal wear.” The device is never produced.


Patent application
W G A Bonwill
1892
Curious idea which never seems to have seen the light of day.


Down catalogue
1892
 
  These horns were worn by my granny.

Looming over her head they were quite frightening.

At 6 years old noone had told me that they came off to go to bed !

Truax catalogue
1893
 

Montgomery Ward catalogue
1895
image relating to trumpet history

Dentaphone
instruction sheet
1895
image relating to trumpet history view the device #100


Patent application
G J Wainwright
1896
Ear trumpet handle designed to fit opera glasses.

Sears Roebuck catalog
1897
image relating to trumpet history

Advert Wm V Willis
1898
Conversation tube shown in classified advertisement.

Armstrong catalogue
1901
 

Stille catalaogue
1901
 

Sears Roebuck catalog
1902
image relating to trumpet history Images at Hearing Aid Museum


Arnold catalogue
1904
 

A C B Jewelers'
1904
Chicago, Illinois.

Patent application
G G Lewis
1905
Ear trumpet, remniscent of the banjo

Reynolds catalogue
1905
Catalogue dated 1884 is the earliest one I have

Globe
1907
The Globe Ear-Phone Company opens in Boston.

Miss Dorothy Dale
from a postcard
1908

image relating to trumpet history I have the original postcard postmarked 1908.


Advert by Sears
1908
image relating to trumpet history I have not matched this picture to particular source, I am confident it is a resale item.

Truax catalog
1908
This is one of many different types of teeth conduction based 'ear trumpets'

Page from Hawksley catalog
1909

Hawksley auricle
1909

image Robert Weinkove
View and item that may have been worn this way

KWS catalogue
1909
This prolific maker had a wide range of items.

Haertel catalogue
1910
 

Kirchner
1910
Kirchner & Wilhelm in Asperg offered various stethoscope models in their catalogue.
This example from that period is a telescopic 2pc.

Hood
Tale of a trumpet
1911
Sales techniques and death of a witch described in Hood's poem

Franck-Valery
1911
Franck-Valery Freres of Paris begins making carbon hearing aids.

This is a Victorian eyefone - spex and trumpet combined.


Lentz catalog
1911
View catalogues

Detail from Luer catalog
1912
image relating to trumpet history

Catalogue page
1913
K N Y Sheerer & Co catalogue page.

Maw catalogue
1913
 

6pp from Rein catalog 1914 image relating to trumpet history
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  image relating to trumpet history
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Advert B. A. Co
1915
Conversation tube and London dome

Vintage French print published
1920's
image relating to trumpet history

Earl Hanson
1921

image credit
Hanson built an electronic Vactuphone later produced by Western Electric.

Western Electric
1921
The production version of the Vactuphone.

Early hearing aid
1923

image Worthpoint
The Marconi Company of England and Western-Electric of the United States introduce vacuum tube hearing aids.

This is a circa 1925 model.

Vintage print published
1923
image relating to trumpet history I have a copy pf this print

USA patent 1556774
1923
image relating to trumpet history Charles Fensky patents Audiphone


Bailey catalog
1925
 


SMC catalogue
1928
 

Catalogue detail
1929
Trumpet details by Larousse.


Vibraphone
1931
Charles Fensky 'improves' audiphone with vibrating reeds and calls it the vibraphone - manufactured by Vibraphone.

F C Rein Letterhead
1932
image relating to trumpet history

Pilling catalogue
1932

Army & Navy catalogue page
1939
image relating to trumpet history I have a copy of the catalogue page.

UK National Health Service
(Medresco)
1947
image relating to trumpet history R J Dowling London dome dated June 1950

Product life
1949

These two trumpets are physically very similar.
The one on the right is either a poor quality example or has been subjected to heat because it quite distorted. The earpiece material suggests it is old - maybe 1900 is a fair guess.

The one on the left is Mears dated 1949 !


F C Rein
1963
Ceased manufacture of ear trumpets

Product life
1971
This Eschmann tapered conversation tube was made in the UK right up to 1976. This one is physically dated 1971.

F C Rein made an almost identical item (shown in their 1914 catalogue) from about 1870 !!

Latest year found on a Medresco trumpet
1976
Mar 76.

The NHS took delivery of 20,000 units in 1976.

I was in my mid thirties in '76 and never saw a person in public with a trumpet but plenty of pink plastic thermionic valve based units.

Stevens & Goodwin
1984
Non-Electric Aids to Hearing: A Short History
Excellent work on the history of ear trumpets.

Available as a PDF file.

How I started

How it all started for me
2001
This was my first trumpet

A present for a major birthday

An expensive fun present for a deaf person
- it does not work very well !
  Some months later, my wife came across this and bought it in Australia
  Then my wife found this one at a local auction
  Quite by chance I discovered this conversation tube on Ebay and bought it because I was fascinated by the difference in design from the other ones I had
  Then I found my first banjo and was completely hooked.

As an engineer, one felt that the optimum design should evolve and be similar by all makers

This is not the case and couple the variety in real items with both quack ones and other objects used by deaf people that were never intended as ear trumpets and you have the basis of a collection!
  Subsequently I discovered the NHS was issuing a conversation tube in 1976 identical to one made 100 years earlier.

This example is dated 1971.
New trumpets !
2013
As recently as 2013 yet another variation using modern plastics is being sold on Amazon

2016 Packington Collection celebrates Guinness World Record for the largest collection of ear trumpets.

Evelyn Waugh's trumpet sells again
2017
The plated copper English-made telescopic ear trumpet was snapped up at a hammer price of £2200, more than double its low estimate, at Forum Auctions' Fine Books and Works on Paper auction on March 30 at The Westbury Hotel in central London.

2017 Packington Collection celebrates a total of 454 items.

Picture is my 6th walking stick.

2018 This unusual trumpet was a recent addition. I have never seen a handle quite like this on a London dome.

The Collection celebrates a total of 454items

Visit my favourites in the collection

If you know something is wrong please let me know.

Other internet resources on history

Rare books at Becker - the best resource that I have found

Problems Hearing