Local News

September 4, 2013

Nelson Pioneer Farm artifact

Do you know what this is?


This past week's artifact from the Nelson Pioneer Farm is a Vibratube hearing device.

Some people guessed at the artifact's identity.

Shirley Hobbs, a retired U.S. Navy yeoman, wrote in an email: “I’ve seen something like this at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. decades ago while stationed there at the Naval Intelligence Command.  It looks like an antique stethoscope, there were single ear and double ear pieces. I’m betting this is one of the single ear types.”

On Facebook, Ron Barrett wrote: “Stethoscope.”


Nelson Pioneer Farm Curator Kelly Halbert did some research on the artifact: “Often mis-labeled an ear trumpet, this style of hearing device was called a conversation tube. Ear trumpets were popular until the 1880s when these tubes were first introduced to the market. The speaker would place their mouth in the bell or mouth piece. Instructions state that the bell should touch the lips of the speaker for best results. The sound vibrations are carried down the tube to the ear piece which is held in the ear of the listener. It is surprising how well sound travels through this device.

This model of conversation tube was manufactured in 1920 by the American Ear Phone Company of New York and marketed under the name “Vibratube.” The Vibratube is consists of three pieces. The hard rubber mouth piece has a tortoise shell finish. It connects by a “press fit” to a long cloth-covered soft rubber tube that varied in length up to 36”, this one is 24”. The ear piece is also “press fit” attached at the other end of the tube. The simple fittings made the ear piece and bell adjustable so that the best direction for picking up the sound could be found. It also made the parts easy to replace should they be lost. These hearing aid devises originally sold for $5.00.

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