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Monday, November 18, 2013

Rogues Always Have Money: Florizel's "Itongu"

Last week's blog post reviewed Florizel von Reuter's use of the newly-rediscovered "Additor" and "Hesperus" talking board set the violinist detailed over the course of 3 books and multiple articles. As we've seen, Von Reuter was always quick to dismiss Ouija and planchettes in the pages of his works, but his distaste for another item he witnessed actually reveals yet another device not previously in the talking board record. It was found as I studied the pages of Florizel's 1928 book The Psychic Experiences of a Musician (in Search of Truth) at the Harry Ransom Center here in Austin 

The new device is called the "Itongu," first introduced to Florizel and his mother in late March or early April, 1926, while they were in New York:

"A few days later a gentleman brought us an American writing-apparatus called "Itongu," which consisted of a flat heart-shaped piece of wood, which one placed on a board similar to the Additor but much larger. In order to simplify the task of writing, the inventor of this apparatus had obligingly prepared a series of printed words and answers to the questions. One table contained all the words pertaining to family relations such as mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, wife, husband, friend, even ''sweetheart'' was not forgotten. Another list of questions could be inserted at will, such phrases as: "You did right," "You did wrong," You will make a journey,'' '' You will receive a letter,'' ''I advise you to keep on as you are doing,'' etc."

Answer Overload! By the 1920s, many planchette manufacturers piggybacked on the
Ouija craze with printed sheets that allowed the planchette to act as an indicator, rather than
an automatic writer, resulting in an overload of printed replies.
It is a confusing description. The "flat heart-shaped piece of wood" and "writing apparatus" description immediately invokes the image of a classic American planchette, with the accompanying "printed words and answers" calling to mind the exhaustively wordy paper inserts to convert writing planchettes to pointing ouija-like indicators that were popular accessories included with planchettes of this period, including the Chad Valley "Futuroscope & Mystereone" sheets, the Glevum Games "Physio-Psychophone," and the Weyers Bros "Ouija-Planchette Combination" sheet. Except that we know it was a board, not a sheet, and "similar to the Additor" (which was 12-inches by 5-inches), "but much larger."

A Refresher: Detail of the Additor.
But there's an important distinction in Florizel's record, as well. The Additor, through descriptions and pictures, is positively a slide-plate device akin to W.T. Braham's "Wonderful/Telepathic Spirit Communicator" apparatus, patented in 1910 and still for sale by Two Worlds Publishing around the period Florizel's communications flourished. But despite the sliding operation of the indicator of this apparatus that is decidedly *not* actually writing, it is important for our review of the Itongu here to note that Florizel frequently and erroneously refers to the Additor itself as a "writing apparatus":

" immediately began to write..."  

 "Upon this second occasion the writing was much more fluent. Apparently he had mastered the technique of the apparatus."

"...the sentences it had written were aphorisms..." 

"...I deduced that the writer was not a German..."

"...inverted writing is being transmitted..."

Given his misleading term for the Additor's operation (forgivable, given that Florizel, as the transcriber, was doing an awful lot of actual writing to record the Additor's messages), it is safe to assume that the Itongu is not a writing planchette, and more akin to a slide-plate device, particularly with the following passage:

"Thus the entire contrivance did not rise above the level of a child's plaything. If one's finger-tips got the little wooden slab (that moved on a narrow wooden axis, being kindly provided with a groove to assist its motion) to move at all, one was sure to receive a message from one's mother (even if living), one's wife (even if one never had one), or one's sweetheart even, or anyone else under whose name the slab happened to stop."

An evolutionary selection of slide-plate devices
So, more clues. We now have a heart-shaped "slab" for an indicator that "moved on a narrow wooden axis, being kindly provided with a groove to assist its motion." Which immediately calls to mind the grooved rail of the aforementioned Braham's and Two Worlds' models. And, this all takes place on a board "similar to the Additor, but much larger." Which would nearly have to be a prerequisite, given the numerous printed answers on the boards face, including an exhaustive list of possible relatives and "another list that could be inserted at will," which makes it likely the device had multiple insert answer cards ("a series of printed words and answers") that one would change out depending on the topic of conversation.

Despite Florizel's distaste for the Itongu, which was rivaled only by his scorn for the Ouija, he had his mother take the device for a spin at his friend's insistence:

"My friend was anxious to have us test the Itongu in comparison to the Additor, so my mother placed the fingers of her left hand on the Additor, and those of her right hand on the Itongu, closed her eyes, and awaited results. The slab on the Itongu did not move, but almost immediately Euphrosyne [Grace von Reuter's primary spirit guide on the Additor] wrote on the Additor in inverted German, ordering us quite dictatorially to remove the' 'swindle-board'' from the table, as she absolutely refused to have anything to do with it."
Indeed, the Additor's controlling spirit was outright hostile toward the new arrival competing for her attention:

"Upon being asked to state her reasons for preferring the Additor, she replied: ''Herr Schwenke'' (the inventor's name) ''is an honest man''; and later: ''Bad luck goes with the swindle-board'' (which statement we afterwards discovered was true). My Italian friend also promptly made known his disapproval with the word: ''Rascals." Afterwards he wrote : ''I birbanti hanno sempre denaro'' (Rogues always have money)."

No word on exactly what "bad luck" was afterward discovered relating to the "swindle board." Florizel's final assessment reminds us, once again, why that important--no, vital--hollow box: the "Hesperus" indicator for the Additor, was so important to his acceptance of Schwenke's device even as he totally dismissed all others:

"Such contrivances, where a scientific principle such as the Hesperus Od-Collector is entirely lacking, debase the spiritualistic idea into a farce."

Who knew that a little hollow box was so integral to the operation of an entire class of historical devices? And here I've been collecting these totally bunk spirit communicators for all these years, with nary a one carrying a hollow Od amplifier. I'm so embarrassed. At least Bang Williams got one right.

So, another contrivance to the list then, dear readers!


  1. Ah, but surely 'PSYCHE' in it's complete form acts as an 'Od-Collector'? However, in order to help you deal with the shameful embarrassment you are feeling, I am willing to help dispose of your collection for you. I think we'll start with the 'Telepathic Spirit Communicator' which is doubtless causing you a great deal of public humiliation.

    1. Excellent point on Bach's device! With that one exception, the whole collection is boxed up and ready to be shipped out, Leonard--just forward me your address. Hahahaha ;-)

  2. I get the distinct impression that you are not being entirely serious in your statement. I trust you will not be so frivolous if, or when, I announce my discovery of some rather fetching wristbands that can also be strapped to the forehead!