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Acoustic Cane Artifact Highlight #42

This acoustic cane was donated to our collection in 1951. It is a combination ear trumpet and walking stick. The ear trumpet is concealed in the handle. The opening of the trumpet is covered with a decorative screen made of brass. A brass ear adapter with an end piece is connected to the lower end of the handle. The handle is painted black and is covered in thin faded and ripped leather, with a large piece of it missing on top of the handle.

The stick is made of wood and is capped with a brass ferrule. The cane was made around 1880-1920.

The acoustic cane served as a hearing aid that was hidden in plain sight. The user would rest the handle on the shoulder with the trumpet facing out and the l-shaped earpiece placed in the ear canal. The earpiece is reversible and could be used on either ear. The sound entering the trumpet was funneled into the ear for an improved hearing experience.

The Ottawa Citizen October 22, 1903

Before modern electronic hearing aid technology, acoustic hearing aids were the only option available for people with hearing loss. The earliest ear trumpets were made of animal horns and seashells.

Sacramento Daily Record Union June 29, 1882

Ear trumpets were popular during the 19th century and the stigma associated with hearing loss led manufacturers to come up with creative ways of hiding hearing aids in opera glasses, fans, hats, wigs, headbands, beards, umbrellas, and furniture. Most were made of metal, wood or bone and came in many shapes and sizes that often included tubes, conduction devices and ear inserts.

These devices were only helpful to individuals with limited hearing loss. The person speaking had to do so close-up, directly into the opening, and preferably without any background noise.

The cane was donated by Oveta Walsh, who worked as the Chief Deputy in the office of County Assessor, S. Guy Lukens in the 1950s.

Auburn Journal November 30, 1950

She was the President of the Auburn Parlor of the Native Daughters of the Golden West and a member of the Downtown Civic Betterment Association. She died in Auburn in 1962.

Background Image: Retta Houchin, Geo Smith, Oveta Walsh & Gatie Gum