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

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
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
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 kids to speak and write.

Giovanni Battista Porta
1535 ? - 1615
1558
image relating to trumpet history Described in a book called Natural Magick, wooden ear shaped cups to fit over the ears .

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

Francis Bacon
1561-1626

published
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.'

Capivacci
published 1603
Experiments with bone conduction devices for teaching deaf mutes.

Image shows 1890 instruction detail for Dentaphone

Leurechon, Jean (c.1591–1670)
French Jesuit priest and mathematician who maybe wrote Recreations mathématiques
1624
Encyclopedia of Science 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.

Philocophus
J Bulwer
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 relating to trumpet history It is fairly clear that the Greeks and Egyptians made hearing trumpets out of animal horns.

More information about Kircher’s Musurgia, as well as information about Max Goldstein’s book collection
Publisher: Ex typographia haeredum Francisci Corbelletti, anno Iubilaei

1650
image relating to trumpet history

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

 

  image relating to trumpet history

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


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

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

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


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


Antonias Nuck
1692
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
1706
image relating to trumpet history 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 haqnd 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.

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

Trumpet
1802
image relating to trumpet history Antique Print of Trumpet Speaking Hearing Vulture Vampire Walrus Bear


Johann Nepomuk Malzel
1812

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

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
1816
  French physician René Laënnec 'invents' the stethoscope to listen for heart sounds.

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

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

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'

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

Curtis Acoustic chair
1841
image relating to trumpet history

Illustration
1850
image relating to trumpet history

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

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
 

Arnold catalogue
1876
 

McKeown Chair
1879
image relating to trumpet history No examples exist


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

Aubry catalogue
1880
 

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

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

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
 

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

Print of ear trumpet hat patent
1890
image relating to trumpet history

Print of ear trumpet dome patent
1890
image relating to trumpet history

4pp French catalog by Drapier with prices !
1890
image relating to trumpet history
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Down catalogue
1892
 

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


Sears Roebuck catalog
1897
image relating to trumpet history

Armstrong catalogue
1901
 

Stille catalaogue
1901
 

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


Arnold catalogue
1904
 

Reynolds catalogue
1905
 

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

Page from Hawksley catalog
1909

Hawksley auricle
1909

image Robert Weinkove
 

KWS catalogue
1909
 

Haertel catalogue
1910
 

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

Lentz catalog
1911
 

Detail from Luer catalog
1912
image relating to trumpet history

Maw catalogue
1913
 

6pp from Rein catalog 1914 image relating to trumpet history
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Vintage print published
1923
image relating to trumpet history  

USA patent 1556774
1923
image relating to trumpet history Charles Fenskey improved Audiphone


Bailey catalog
1925
 

SMC catalogue
1928
 

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

F C Rein Letterhead
1932
image relating to trumpet history

Pilling catalogue
1932

Army & Navy catalogue page
1939
image relating to trumpet history

UK National Health Service
(Medresco)
1947
image relating to trumpet history  

F C Rein
1963
  Ceased manufacture of ear trumpets

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 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 1971 and is remarkably similar to very old ones that I have seen
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.


Other internet resources on history

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

Robert Weinkove, 1998 - interesting grad paper

Problems Hearing