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Friday, January 25, 2013

The Get-Up and Go That Got Up and Went

Having just had the pleasure of meeting and collaborating with the esteemed Marc Demarest of the Chasing Down Emma blog, I promised to reciprocate the promises of future favors with a response to his September 12, 2012 post: 1893: What Makes It Go?

When I revealed to Marc the answer to some of the questions posed in his post, which included the revelation of the only known surviving specimen of a W.H. Bach Psyche board in my personal collection, he in turn told me if I posted pics to my own blog, he'd just link to that, rather than us sparking a lengthy-yet-informative comment thread lost in last-year's blog posts. Given that I didn't have one at the time, or really a means of trumpeting news and updates for, it suddenly became high-time to create one. So here we are. Thank you for the encouragement, Marc. As if I didn't have enough going on.

Psyche ad from the January 20, 1894 Progressive Thinker
By his own account, W.H. Bach was a devout student of psychic phenomenon, mesmerism, and Spiritualism, who pursued their study in the name of scientific investigation. He claimed to have stumbled into his talents for mediumship "unmasked and not wanted" in 1880, at the age of seventeen. From there he claims to have run the typical gauntlet of psychic phenomenon of the era: table tipping, spirit rapping, and hypnotism, though he is unusually disdainful of "planchette parties," dismissing them as fads even as late as 1893, after a 40-year run, which isn't bad for a fad, all things considered. From there he fell under the tutelage of J.W. Cadwell (a spurious name for a mesmerist if there ever was one), and is said then to have made the connection between mesmerism and Spiritualism, and from that point on "commenced to the use of the powers in conjunction" to pursue mediumship professionally full-time. He apparently put these powers to the development of others' mediumistic abilities—no doubt for a price—and claimed at one point to have nurtured the gifts of some some 30 mediums in a year's time. 

Bach's 1893 pamphlet, entitled "Mediumship and Its Development, and How to Mesmerize to Assist Development," melded these two philosophies and made them available to all who purchased the book, as it contained instructions on both the gamut of spirit-communication phenomenon and mesmerism, including the aforementioned table-tipping and spirit rapping, as well as automatic writing and full-form manifestation. Oddly dismissed are, again, the use of the by-this-time-well-established planchette, and the Kennard Novelty Company's recently-introduced Ouija board, which at this time has swept the nation in a fervor of excitement. But that's no surprise, considering that Bach, following the form of the most classic occult business models, had his own infallible product to sell that promised that you, and you, and YOU, could develop your very own mediumistic abilities in the comfort of your own home. This item was, of course, the Psyche.

Psyche Ad, August 21, 1897 Banner of Light
After Bach's pamphlet exhausts the other forms of mediumship-without-tools, he includes a chapter on his recently-introduced Psyche: The Medium's Cabinet, whose manufacture undoubtedly had nothing to do with the Ouija fad sweeping the nation just one year previously. It is admittedly unique, and for that reason seems to have sidestepped the rash of litigation and cease-and-desist orders that followed from the Ouija's manufacturers in the wake of their product's success, as it was still being advertised some 4 years after its introduction, long after most of Ouija's early competitors had been sued or threatened to oblivion.

Bach claimed the design was dictated to him in November 1892 by a spirit guide, and describes its construction as "made of basswood and put together with wooden pegs and glue, not a particle of metal being used in its construction." This is certainly reminiscent of Thomas Welton's adamant claims that the materials make the medium's tool, and Bach was no less enthusiastic about the cabinet's results, claiming that even those uninterested in Spiritualism were able to develop their spirit-communication talents in as little as 2 weeks (or your money back, right?)

Bach was lucky that the uniqueness of the design set his board apart from others, and far enough away from the Ouija to avoid litigation. But the brilliance of the design is how it seeks to combine—just as Bach himself had—the worlds of mesmerism and mediumship, and the box-like design called to mind the cabinets in use by the Davenports and the curtained, off-limits areas of professional manifesting mediums. Of course, its instructions classically reference the wooden device's magnetically-charged properties, free with every order. What purpose the hand held beneath the main table is still a mystery, but no doubt served as some sort of guidance or spirit influence. Or the more simple matter of stabilizing the light, basswood cabinet not much bigger or heavier than a cigar box.'s Psyche: The Medium's Cabinet board.

The sole known surviving specimen rests in the collections, and is a favorite. It is in unfortunately bad shape, with the lower box portions completely missing, though with the tell-tale holes and pegs and glue marks still visible where they were once attached, which provided us an early clue that there was more to this little board than met the eye, and which was confirmed with the discovery of the 1897 advertisement posted above, discovered by the esteemed Bob Murch of The terribly faded letters were gone over in felt pen at some point with great care and attention, but the would-be savior didn't account for the bleeding ink which has left the stencils bold yet absent of their former crispness. Free of varnish, undoubtedly due to supposed interference with the board's "magnetism," it is a wonder any stencil survives at all between the wear and fingertip-oil, but it is at least indicative of the board's use.

Amazingly, the planchette is still intact with the board, and both carry the distinctive and lovely Psyche stamp, which includes the same intricate whorls as the ad picture in what has to be the most amazingly-detailed stencil of any talking board then or now. And, lastly, an interesting testament was left for perpetuity on the back of the board, from one whose experiences did not fulfill the spirit-communication potential promised by Bach in his books and ads, and is left for us scrawled, in a small, educated script:
                                                       "Aug 10—'02: Don't talk for me." 

1 comment:

  1. How much would a pysche cabinet be worth intact? Please email me at before noon on 02/08/17. I may be able to acquire it at a local auction if I know the amount to bid! Debbi