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, 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
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.

Rudolphus Agricola
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
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.


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

Image shows 1890 instruction detail for Dentaphone

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.

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

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

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click image to enlarge
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
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This is a scientific work which suggests that an ear trumpet should be 'tuned'.
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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

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.'

Sir Samuel Morland 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 …

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

Publisher: Per Rudolphum Dreherr

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

More information about Kircher’s Phonurgia

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image Robert Weinkove
One of the earliest attempts at an actual trumpet
see Luer1912 below

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

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

Joshua Reynolds

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
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
Detail from the classical work - interesting that it looks straight !

Thomas Braidwood
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
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
Detail from the classical oil painting.

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

James Hutton
1785 with his ear trumpet.

F C Rein

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

image relating to trumpet history Antique Print of Trumpet Speaking Hearing Vulture Vampire Walrus Bear

Johann Nepomuk Malzel

image credit Beethoven Haus
Makes ear trumpets for Ludwig von Beethoven over several years

D J Larrey
He developed a listening helmet for Napoleon's armies based on on a pair of auricles

René Théophile Hyacinthe Laënnec
  French physician René Laënnec 'invents' the stethoscope to listen for heart sounds.

J A Duncker
The conversation tube was first patented in 1819 by Johann A. Duncker.

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

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'

Nathaniel Pointer
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

Curtis acoustic chair
This 8 pp pamphlet (I have the original) describes the chair in the Mechanics Magazine 14 Jan 1837.
The chair was built by J & S Maw of 11 Aldersgate Street

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

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.

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

F C Rein
Presents 18 different trumpets at the Exhibition Universal

Maw catalogue

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

Tiemann catalogue

Arnold catalogue

McKeown Chair
image relating to trumpet history No examples exist

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
Patents the Dentaphone. Another one pressed to the teeth.

Aubry catalogue

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

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

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

A Politzer (1835-1920) (Vienna)

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
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Reynders catalogue

Laurence Turnbull
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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

Tieman catalogue
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Print of ear trumpet hat patent
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Print of ear trumpet dome patent
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4pp French catalog by Drapier with prices !
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Down catalogue
  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

Montgomery Ward catalogue
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instruction sheet
image relating to trumpet history view the device #100

Sears Roebuck catalog
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Armstrong catalogue

Stille catalaogue

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

Arnold catalogue

Reynolds catalogue

Miss Dorothy Dale
from a postcard

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

Advert by Sears
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Truax catalog
This is one of many different types of teeth conduction based 'ear trumpets'

Page from Hawksley catalog

Hawksley auricle

image Robert Weinkove

KWS catalogue

Haertel catalogue

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

Lentz catalog

Detail from Luer catalog
image relating to trumpet history

Maw catalogue

6pp from Rein catalog 1914 image relating to trumpet history
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Vintage print published
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USA patent 1556774
image relating to trumpet history Charles Fenskey improved Audiphone

Bailey catalog

SMC catalogue

Vintage French print published
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F C Rein Letterhead
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Pilling catalogue

Army & Navy catalogue page
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UK National Health Service
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product life

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
  Ceased manufacture of ear trumpets

Product life

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 !!

Stevens & Goodwin
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
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 !
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.

2017 Packington Collection celebrates a total of 437 items.

Picture is my 6th walking stick.

Other internet resources on history

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

Robert Weinkove, 1998 - interesting grad paper

Problems Hearing