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Monday, January 27, 2014

The First Three, Part 2: Pease's "Spiritual Telegraph Dial"

I've had a long-lingering ambition: to digitize the entire 1852-1860 run of the Spiritual Telegraph--the US one--as a contribution to the IAPSOP archives. Sure, there are annually-collected volumes compiled by the publisher (some of which are already digitized), but they unfortunately excised the stuff a historical apparatus hunter really needs: the advertisements. The hunt has been a long one, with spotty microfilm collections that may or may not exist at the NYPL, an un-digitized and incomplete collection at the Huntington Library I've yet to get to, and others in various frustrating states of disrepair and completeness, none of which make for a sure-thing in the trade-a-plane-ticket-for-knowledge gambit. 

The reason for the hunt is that I hope to mine a gleaming gem that has eluded my digging to date: an illustrated advertisement for Isaac Pease's Spiritual Telegraph Dial.

The Mysterious Planchette website already contains much on Isaac Pease, and we know quite of bit of the Connecticut clockmaker's biography. His family bible was even listed for sale on eBay some years back. And, we even know that he acted as a "traveling agent" for the Spiritual Telegraph newspaper, thus sparking my hunt for the earliest issues in hopes to find either article or advertisement. But further information on the device he created has proven elusive. 

We know most of what we know of the dial from contemporary accounts, the earliest of which dates from the same January 12, 1854 New York Daily Tribune article that first heralded news of Wagner's Psychograph in America--an article entitled "Help for the Ghosts." the column notes that Pease had sent a letter announcing his invention to the newspaper on December 5, 1853, and until such time as any new information comes to light (as it did for Wagner), that's the earliest date we have for the Pease Spiritual Telegraph Dial--
he'll remain the runner-up in the race toward first commercially-available alphabetic spirit communication device, until further notice. And the Tribune pretty much made the same call, putting it as a runner up to Wagner in both propriety and function:
"As is the case with the steamboat and the electric telegraph, the glory of first applying labor-saving machinery to spiritual rappings, cannot be claimed as exclusively American, or at least, the claim will be disputed by foreign nations. Mr. Pease's letter is dated on Dec. 5, last, but we learn from Berlin, that as early as Nov. 15, the Baron Lieut Col. von Forstner had exhibited at a public lecture in that city, a machine called the Psychograph, the invention of a Mr. Wagner, which we must say, seems rather ahead of the Spiritual Telegraph Dial."
Just days later, on the 18th, the Boston Investigator featured the dial--complete with some tongue-in-cheek smarminess--in their article, "A Machine for the Spirits":
"I.T. Pease of Thompsonville (Conn.) has succeeded in inventing a machine which he denominates the Spiritual Telegraph Dial. This apparatus is contrived with a dial face on which are marked the letters of the alphabet, the Arabic numerals, the words Yes and No, and some other convenient signs. A moveable hand, or pointer, is fixed in the center, and when a ghost wants to communicate with its pupils and friends in the body, all that is requisite is for it to give a gentle twitch to the pointer, and the revelation is accomplished. Some Yankee ought next to invent a visible ghost and take out a patent."
And shortly thereafter, on February 4, the Scientific American reprinted the Boston Investigator article, replacing the smarmy endnote with a clarifying quote by Pease that "with a good tipping medium to facilitate the movements of the pointer by agitating the table, letters will be indicated to the dial as fast as an amanuensis can write it down."

Lastly, Pease himself addressed his device in the June 3, 1854 edition of the magazine for which he was an agent, and which shared the name of his invention: the Spiritual Telegraph. And there we have a more accurate picture of his invention, including its relatively small size:

"The dimensions of the instrument are only eight inches square, average thickness two inches, which makes only a small package, and can be sent by express to any part of the United States for a small sum. The face of the instrument is similar to a clock dial; a pointer is attached to the center wheel pivot, on this dial is printed, with a beautiful copper-plate engraving, the twenty-six letters of the alphabet, all the notes and characters in music, the Arabic numerals, and a number of short communications, such as “yes,” “no,” “don’t know,” “I think so,” “a mistake,” “I’ll spell it over,” “a message,” “done,” “I’ll come again,” “I must leave,” “good-bye,” etc. which may thus be given without repeating the whole alphabet to get one letter."
The Spiritual Telegraph Dial's most famous proponent, Dr. Robert Hare,was gracious enough to not only leave us with the next evolutionary form of devices based on Pease's work, but also responsible for the sole known contemporary depcition of a Pease dial in his famous 1855 treatise, Spiritualism Scientifically Demonstrated:

Hare's "Spiritoscopes," the specimens incorporating the Pease Spiritual Telegraph Dial pictured right.
Hare's illustration of the device is taken from a background illustration of several such modified devices, due to the fact that Hare utilized several in his early work, constructing various encasements around them meant to prevent their dishonest manipulation by test mediums. In addition, Hare provides further details on the Telegraph Dial that match his illustrator's depiction:
"The apparatus thus designated consists of a box F, which is a miniature representation of a low, square, four-sided house, with a single sloping roof, but without any floor closing it at the bottom."

"On the outside of the part serving as the roof, the alphabetic dial is depicted. On the inner surface of the roof board, the spring, pulley, and strings are attached, by which the index is made to revolve, so as to point out any letter."
"The words are as follows: Yes—Doubtful*—No—Don't know—I think so—A mistake—I'll spell it over—A message—Done—I'll come again—Good-bye—I must leave. These words are printed on equidistant radial lines, nearly dividing the area between them. The digits are printed on radial lines intermediate between those on which the words appear."

"Not only are the letters of the alphabet printed equidistant, in due order, on the margin of the disk or dial-face; there are likewise words, the digits, and notes of music." [MP: emphasis mine, which leads us to:]

"Five concentric circular lines, dividing the margin into as many smaller portions, as in music paper, serve for the inditing of musical notes; respecting which the directions are given by Pease upon a printed slip of paper pasted inside."
*It is worth noting that between the two descriptions, only one phrase is omitted from Pease's description: "Doubtful." Given Hare's meticulous nature, and Pease's list ending with "etc," is it more than likely that word was among the shorthand phrases present on the dial.
The inclusion of the concentric lines for music tablature, and even more symbols necessary for composure, has always confounded me. The dial is already stuffed with items, but, if Isaac's claim that it includes "all the notes and characters in music" is at least partially true, the dial's density becomes busy indeed, even if he stuck to the most rudimentary music typography (clefs, whole-notes through sixteenth-notes and the same counts in rests, clefs, sharp and flat intonations, among others) and re-used the alphabetic letters to represent to key and notes. Come to think of it, maybe this is how John Cage wrote his music.  

Pease dial detail from Hare illustration, left, and an interpretive mockup based on Hare's descriptions,
with most of the elements added back in--except for those pesky musical composition symbols.
Where in the world did Pease put them?
The actual mechanics of the Spiritual Telegraph Dial were somewhat confused by the earliest accounts, many of which reprinted the initial erroneous assumption that its operation was dependent on the direct manipulation of the spirits themselves: "when a ghost wants to communicate with its pupils and friends in the body, all that is requisite is for it to give a gentle twitch to the pointer." The fact is, the dial, unlike the Wagner Psychograph, was designed to modify a tipping table, with the box situated topside, and counter-weighted pulleys driving the pointer. As Isaac put it: "with a good tipping medium to facilitate the movements of the pointer by agitating the table, letters will be indicated to the dial." With the device, users could still participate in cooperative table-tipping seances, but now, rather than rely on tedious alphabet-calling and the resulting raps to indicate the spirits' chosen letters, the users could experience the thrill of the table's mysterious autonomous movements, while watching the messages being spelled out for themselves on the dial mounted topside, as Hare explained best:
"The apparatus of Pease...operates by means of a string extending from the brass ring, in which the pulley string terminates externally, to a weight situated upon the floor, so as to be taut when at rest. When this arrangement is made, tilting of the table, by raising the end at which the box is situated, causes the weight to pull the string, and of course to induce the revolution of the pulley, its pivot, and corresponding index. The restoration of the table to its usual position reverses the motion. Hence by these means the index may be moved either way, as requisite for the selection of the letters required for communicating."
This was likely the most common use of the device. Mark Twain likely described it as such in 1866. But Pease also pointed out in the pages of the Spiritual Telegraph that a more direct means of use was utilized by rapping mediums, who used it more as a speedy indicator in much the same way alphabet cards had been used:
"This instrument was designed for tipping mediums, but is now used by rapping mediums, who hold it in their hands; the pointer being passed over the letters they wish to use, the Spirits rap instead of holding it over the letter, as is the case when the instrument is used by tipping mediums. Printed instructions always accompany the instrument, which are so full and explicit that no one need have any difficulty in using it."
The Hare "Spiritoscopes"
The only evolutionary byproduct of Pease's dial plate known to have survived to the modern era is Hare's own "modification" of the Spiritual Telegraph Dial, which inspired his own "Spiritoscopes" in 1855. Illustrations from Hare's Spiritualism Scientifically Demonstrated indeed show at least two instances where he directly modified existing dials, rebuilding them to have varying motivational apparatus for the test of mediumship (as discussed above).

But illustrated modifications of Pease's device was not the only legacy Hare left behind. As his book describes, he constructed two further Spiritoscopes, these cast in iron (for "convenience and economy;" my, how times have changed) and set up in different operational test modes. The surviving specimen, now in the Mysterious Planchette collection, is the one Hare deemed "preferred by the spirits," and is a copy of the Pease dial, though the copious phrases and musical notations on its face were, as Hare some eloquently understated, "somewhat abbreviated." In fact, Hare wiped out the musical notation altogether, and contracted several of Pease's phrases (such as "I'll spell it over" to "Spell Over" and "I must leave" to "Must Go"), added one ("Think So"), and deleted others entirely ("A message," "Done," and "I'll come again"), though he perhaps accidentally left the extraneous "D" for "Doubtful," which can be seen in both the illustration and the surviving specimen.

It is an enduring legacy. And, if given the task to measure our two contenders so far--Wagner's Psychograph versus Pease's Spiritual Telegraph Dial, I think I would be as hard-pressed to choose between the two, just as the writer of the New York Daily Tribune piece found it difficult to decide: 
"Of course it is impossible for us to pronounce upon the merits of these competing machines. Possibly each has its own point of superiority, and we suggest that both of them should be patented, so that the invention cannot be pirated, and that they should then be handed over to the same Committee which Congress has been petitioned to appoint to investigate the mystery of "Spiritual Manifestations" in general. When that Committee reports, the public will know whether the Spiritual Telegraph Dial, or the Psychograph offers the greater advantages, and can govern their purchases accordingly. And meanwhile all parties who can find nothing more profitable to do can follow up the rappings."
In Part 3, we again depart America and return to Germany, where Pease's chief rival in the American press is facing a surprising rival of his own, and we unveil the final device of the "First Three." Stay tuned, true believers!

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