Deafness in Disguise Washington University School of Medicine Becker Medical Library

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Rare Books on Deafness, Hearing, and Hearing Devices

Rare books from the CID-Max A. Goldstein collection

The CID-Max A. Goldstein Collection in Speech and Hearing emphasizes works in otology, otorhinolaryngology, speech pathology, and deaf education. Originally assembled by Dr. Max Aaron Goldstein, founder of the Central Institute for the Deaf, the collection was donated to the Washington University School of Medicine Library in 1977. This collection of about 920 volumes of rare and classic books dating from the 15th century on otorhinolaryngology has been called one of the most comprehensive collections in the country for the period 1700 to 1900. Early works on physiognomy, phrenology, and chiromancy are also included in the collection.

Selected rare and classic works from the collection pertaining to means for conveying of sound and amplification of sound are presented in chronological order.

John Bulwer (fl. 1644-1662).  Philocophus: or, The Deafe and Dumbe Mans Friend. Exhibiting the philosophicall verity of that subtile art, which may inable one with an observant eie, to heare what any man speaks by the moving of his lips . . . London: Printed for Humphrey Moseley, 1648.

“. . . we have discovered sufficient ground to raise a new Art upon, directing how to convey intelligible and articulate sounds another way to the brain than by the eare or eye; shewing that a man heare as well as speake with his mouth.”

Physician John Bulwer (fl. 1644-1662) is known for being the first Englishman to develop a method for communicating with the deaf and dumb. “His curious and suggestive work Philocophus . . . records many remarkable cases, several being within his own experience, of what had been accomplished for the education of the deaf . . . Bulwer was the first to recommend the institution of ‘an academy of the mute,’ and to notice the capacity of . . . enjoying music through the medium of the teeth.” (Dictionary of National Biography, 1937-1938, Oxford University Press, Vol. 3, p. 262) Cover of Bulwer's text 'Philocophus: or, The Deafe and Dumbe Mans Friend'
Fontispiece of John Bulwer's 'Philocophus: or, The Deafe and Dumbe Mans Friend' Note the kneeling man who is “hearing” music through his teeth via bone conduction. Also of interest are the four head images at the bottom of the frontispiece. The fourth head image represents the lip-reader who is “hearing” with his eye.

Courtesy of Washington University
Libraries, Department of Special Collections


Francis Bacon (1561-1626).  Sylva sylvarum. Frankfurt am Main: Schonwetteri, 1665.

Bacon’s work describes one of the earliest known references to ear trumpets and elaborated on the principle of speaking tubes with comparisons to “ear spectacles.” Title page of Sylva sylvarum
Title page of Sylva sylvarum

Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680).  Phonurgia nova sive conjugium mechanico-physicum artis & naturae paranymta phonosophia concinnatum. Kempten: Rudolph Dreherr, 1673.

Kircher was a Jesuit priest from Germany and later became a Professor of Mathematics at the College of Rome. A true polymath, Kircher was a mathematician, physicist, Orientalist, musician, and physician. While studying at Rome, Kircher built a brass tube leading from his room down to the watchman at the gate to allow for communication of messages. Kircher’s research on sound led him to believe that sound was the earthly counterpoint to heavenly light. To demonstrate this concept, Kircher developed a ‘hearing lens’ or ‘speaking trumpet’ which made distant sounds seem close, just as a telescope does with distant sights.

Phonurgia nova was the first known published book to deal with the nature of sound, acoustics and music. The profusely illustrated folio contains the earliest known complete illustrations of devices to convey and amplify sound among the architectural and engineering products related to sound.

One of the earliest illustrations of an hearing device

Illustrations of speaking tubes and trumpets in Phonurgia nova. The “Ellipsis Otica” (above) is one of the oldest illustrations of a hearing aid.

Ear trumpets
Ear trumpet
Illustration showing sound amplification and transmission This illustration shows how sound amplification principle was used in dome shaped construction to amplify sound in council halls where it was used to transmit sound to distant points.
This illustration shows a sound amplifying device in the Dome of Dionysus, a dungeon in Sicily built by Dionysus about 400 BC. It was used to transfer sound from the dungeon up to the keeper’s room through a shaft in the mountain. According to Goldstein’s Problems of the Deaf, this sound amplifier allowed the keeper to be informed of escape plans by the prisoners. Sound amplifying device in the Dome of Dionysus
House with speaking trumpets
House with speakers to transmit sound outside

The illustration above left shows how a person in a room inside a building could eavesdrop on people talking in the street outside by means of a sound receiver. Likewise, the illustration above right shows how music being played inside a building could be transmitted and enjoyed by those outside the building.

This illustration shows how sound could be reflected off an object (in this case, a building), and heard by someone who was unable to see the source of the sound. Illustration showing how sound is reflected

Christoph Stephanus Kazaver.  De tuba stentorea: Germ. Das Sprach Rohr . . . praeside Dn. M. Ioh. Henrico Mullero . . . / publico eruditorum examini subjiciet Christoph. Stephanus Kazaver. Altdorf: Typis Iod. Guil. Kohlesii, 1713.

Illustration from Kazaver's 'De tube stentorea' De tuba stentorea focuses on the amplification and transmission of sound. The device on the left is similar to a musical instrument; the illustration on the right is of a sound amplification device. Illustration of a sound amplification device

John Harrison Curtis (1778-ca.1860).  Treatise on the physiology and diseases of the ear; containing a comparative view of its structure and functions, and of its various diseases, arranged according to the anatomy of the organ, or as they affect the external, the intermediate, and the internal ear. London: Sherwood, Neely and Jones, 1817.

Curtis served as the aurist to the English royalty, authored a number of publications on the physiology and diseases of the ear and invented the Curtis Acoustic Chair. In A treatise on the physiology and diseases of the ear, Curtis stated that patients preferred the French silver ear hearing devices as they were less conspicuous and weighed less than the German silver ears.

This leaf shows several “Acoustical Instruments” of the early 19th century. In the foreground is a collapsible ear trumpet; its case is shown on the upper right. The case on the left holds the “French Artificial Ear” – on the left is the internal side, on the right is the external side. At the middle top are “German Silver Ears.” The “Spanish Ears” are shown in the center. And to the center, right are “The Tubes.” Illustration of Acoustical Instruments

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