Graeme Gooday
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Purchase, use and adaptation
Interpreting ‘patented’ aids to the deaf in Victorian Britain
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While aids to hearing were ubiquitous in nineteenth century middle class culture, they have only recently attracted attention among historians. Many such devices were inscribed with patent markings officially approved by the London Patent Office. Others instead simply bore claims to expired patents or the name of apparent ‘patentees’: such inscriptions served to persuade prospective purchasers that certain devices were ‘genuine’ inventions. The purchase of hearing aids was thus subject to complex relationships between designers, users, and user-designers centred on issues of trust, identity and efficacy.

Drawing on patent records, advertising, the writings of ‘deaf’ journalists and artefacts, this chapter explores the selling of hearing aids as both a commercial and cultural encounter. First it looks at how the Rein and Hawksley companies adopted different strategies with regard to patenting and engaging prospective customers. Second it examines how hard-of-hearing journalists critiqued the opportunist vendors that often cited patents in their ‘advertising’ as a guarantor of effectiveness. The chapter concludes by examining the lived experiences of hearing aids purchasers, showing how such research affords historians the opportunity to investigate the histories of the deaf and hard of hearing through the material culture they accessed, whether designed for them or sometimes even by them.

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