The devil’s in the details.

 

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(Hearing trumpet made in London, images from London Science Museum Archives, Wellcome Trust)

 

While reading Grame Gooday’s book “Managing the Experience of Hearing Loss in Britain, 1830–1930” I discovered, what I think, may be the manufacturer of a hearing device or ‘aurical’ that I viewed in the National Museum of Scotlands Archives.

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(Authors own photograph, similar style said to be found in the Hawksley Catalogue at http://phisick.com/item/cornet-headband-antique-hearing-aid/ where)

In the book Gooday refers to FC Rein & Son and Hawksley & Son. FC Rein make hearing aids that are fantastically elaborate, often engraved with notable ornamental detail.  Whereas Hawksley marketed themselves as more practical medical devices. You can see below the difference in their style of marketing. FC Rein & Son described themselves as “the paradise for the deaf”, featuring a lavish hearing chair and several ‘prize medals’ on their literature. Whereas Hawksley have a modest two prize medals and an illustration of a hearing tube in use. (I wonder what were the ‘prize medals’ awarded for? Craftsmanship? How well the devices functioned?)

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Interestingly both manufacturers offered a range of hearing devices, from ones that are hidden, to ones that are overtly visible. When I first saw the shell-like auricles in the National Museum’s archives I remember thinking, “Wow, these must have been worn by someone who wasn’t hiding their hearing loss.” However, some of the literature that depicts auricles suggests that the wearer can ‘hide them’ under hair. The form may have been more functional and less ornamental than I originally believed.

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Interestingly FC Rein also created a device that was skin toned. However as you’ll notice, the back of the device (e.g. the section against skin and not seen by a viewer) is engraved with a makers mark and address. Interestingly, Phisick’s archive description states these markings as “his signature and address.” I’m unsure as to whether this is a mistake or just slightly ambiguous wording. But initially this led me to think that the markings were the wearers signature and not a makers mark. Which makes me question, to what level were these devices personalized or bespoke? If they merit a makers mark it would suggest that these devices could have been perceived as ‘precious’ or at the very least, costly.

ear-trumpet-invisible-earphones-rein-1504-620x480ear-trumpet-invisible-earphones-rein-1508-620x480 (1)

 

These hearing devices represent a historical view into covering and uncovering. Many of them scream ‘jewellery’ to me. And not just in their materiality, also in their ornamental nature and design metaphors. Even the ‘invisible’ devices have beautiful detailing that only the maker and wearer knows is there. There’s a rule of sorts in jewellery design, that the back of the brooch should be just as well designed (if not more) than the front of the brooch. In fact many jewellers are known for their brooch backs more so than the fronts. This may be a fun concept to play with in my practical work. What design details can I take from hearing trumpets into hearing aids?

Sources:

https://collection.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects/co77833/ear-trumpet-hearing-aid-ear-trumpet

http://phisick.com/item/cornet-headband-antique-hearing-aid/ where

http://phisick.com/item/invisible-ear-phones-rein-son-1914/

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