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Thursday, March 20, 2014

New & Improved: The Lost Tuttle Psychograph

A trio of Tuttles--the Hodge, Orlando, and MacNeil specimens.
As far as my records show, there are six known surviving Tuttle Psychographs. First invented by Hudson Tuttle around 1880, his Tuttle Publishing Company produced his "dial planchette" in an extraordinarily long run, as it was still advertised as late as 1915--five years after Tuttle's passing. And we know that the Psychic Observer offered Tuttle Psychographs for sale as late as 1949, though whether these were leftover/NOS at the time or newly-made replicas still remains to be seen.

The most unusual thing about the six specimens is the tremendous amount of variation between them. I've spent months staring at the pictured Psychographs and the other three known survivors, and rely on a set of distinguishing markers in an attempt to trace the device's evolution. There's the font, which differs wildly from the smaller, more precise font of the Hodge specimen to the wide, bold font of the Orlando specimen with its unique sweeping tail on the "A." There are variations of the circle on which the letters sit: either one line or two lines, but at least two specimens with breaks in the printing that might serve to assign them similar dates. Some specimens have other weird print variations--the Psychic Observer ad, for example, shows unusual spacing between "W  XYZ," and the "Don't Know" is italicized and misaligned--properties which show up on at least one recently-discovered surviving specimen. There's an inverse-printed model with dark paper and light letters, and variations in the wood and shape used for the wheel. And the comparative starting point of the "A" relatively to the board's bottom is always different between models--9-o'-clock on one, 10-o'-clock on another. Such variations are easily picked out in the pictures above, and there are many.

And don't even get me started on the instructions printed on the boards' backs. They differ way more wildly than the front print, and present a whole new set of clues and comparisons to analyze.

Buchanan's Journal of Man, May 1889
There's more forensic analysis to take place there, for sure, particularly cross-referencing the advertised prices, which fluctuated almost as much as the design: from $1.00 post paid, to $1.00 plus .12 cents postage, to $1.25, to $2.50, with the prices printed on the back of each Psychograph. And the price doesn't necessarily increase over time, and can be demonstrated to actually be the opposite. So we should be able to correlate ads with specimens given enough data. A recent ad discovery, for example, containing the same base price and shipping printed on the board, along with the same endorsements printed in both the ad and the board's back, may place the Psychograph in the Mysterious Planchette collection, pictured far left in the trio pic above, at 1887, when it looks the more modern of the three and was even once suspected to be a 1949 model due to the general clean condition, modern-ish font, and lack of wear. And, of course, any of these could be the 1949 model, and depending on how closely the replica hewed to the original, or whether or not it was new-old-stock, we'd never really know without further evidence.

The Psychograph in use.
We'll keep on the trail and report back in. Lots of variations, and too many holes in the data to be sure right now. At least I have one good-looking spreadsheet.

But forensics on the surviving Tuttles aren't exactly what inspired today's post. It's the forensics of the non-surviving Psychograph that has my attention this morning.   

Thanks to the IAPSOP, we've known about the "new attachment" to the Psychograph for some years now, and without a surviving model to compare, the descriptions have been difficult to decipher. Take, for instance, the December 3, 1887 Religio-Philosophical Journal's letter from Tuttle himself explaining the new addition to the Psychograph:

So, we've got "an extra alphabet be placed on one half of the revolving table [the top disk]," and a "stationary index placed so as to mark the letters passing under it." So, two indexes now--one on the wheel pointing to letters on the board, and one on the board pointing to letters on the wheel. Geez.  The Psychograph already being a very expedient means of alphabetic communication--dare I say faster than the Ouija--it seems strange to add an additional alphabet on top of the disk, with a second index to point to that alphabet. Or how that alphabet offers any more expediency that the primary one on the board's base.

Pondering other configurations, it seems the only way to imagine this description really is to have another arc of letters pasted on top of the disk, and a stationary index attached to the base of the board that hovers over the revolving disk in order to point out the second set of letters. While I don't know if each index pointed to the same letter at the same time--this seems likely to avoid confusion--I suppose I just don't understand the purpose. As it is, there's only a 180° arc of movement to arrive at any given letter of the alphabet in either case, which is hardly inexpedient. But it is a curiosity, and might be worth an unobtrusive mockup on a surviving board to see how it might have been a favorable variation. 

Despite the stated shortcomings of the secondary index possibly becoming bent in the mail, we know the improved Psychograph was still in circulation at least two years later, as Marc recently discovered in the April 13, 1889 Religio-Philosophical Journal, which details the improved version being given as a gift to William Emmette Coleman. It is likely this variation, like every other configuration of the Tuttle Pschograph, eventually gave way to a new design, and that the improved version was either sold concurrently with the original version or eventually proved too troublesome and was abandoned. Given the unlikelyhood of every known surviving specimen pre-dating an 1887 addition that persisted until 1915, one or the other scenario seems likely.

I look forward to seeing a surviving specimen with the attached improvement, so check your attics, folks, and report in!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Vermont, 1869: The Blanchard Contrivance

Working with enthusiastic and knowledgeable collaborators is incredibly rewarding. From the threads Marc and I chase down in tandem, to Pat Deveny's heads-up on illustrations of the Emanulector, from my burgeoning friendship with Joe Citro over spirit trumpets and spirit-rapping machines in Vermont, to Bob Murch and I's constant unraveling of talking board history, there's always a certain assurance knowing that while you're always looking out for them, they're looking out for you, too.

Bob recently forwarded an interesting snippet of planchette history as he plumbed the depths of new newspaper archives that arrived online. As is so often the case, it was preceded with "I know you've probably already seen this buuuut," which these days always makes my ears perk up, because I know that when I hear this, someone's found something obscure enough that they think is noteworthy, and they know my research well enough to know when something's really noteworthy. And that's comforting, in and of itself.

That's the case here, a little snippet Murch ran across in the January 9, 1869 edition of the Weekly Journal Miner of Prescott, Arizona. The skeptical article is titled "Planchette--What Is It?" and has some interesting acknowledgements and footnotes of planchettes' history: the automatic writing experiments of Dr. Patton, mentions of Kirby's penultimate planchette models in the India rubber and glass models, and even an account of a wire planchette made by "bending wire into the shape of a triangle, with spiral twists of the same for the two legs." But it's the account of the "test planchette" of Dr. Virgil W. Blanchard of Bradford, Vermont, that caught Bob's attention, and subsequently mine:

Luckily, Bob's right up the street from the Boston Public Library, which houses a microfilm collection of the Watchman, so he's graciously going to chase this thread down for me and see if we can't get a better description. What we have is intriguing, though. It is a little hard to quite imagine what they are describing, but breaking it down, we have:
  • A balanced fingerboard that tilts between to upright supports
  • An attached cord mechanism that drives a wheel, and its pointer, around a dial
  • An alphabet dial with a "hundred divisions"
  • Tipping the fingerboard causes the wheel to revolve around the dial
  • The operator cannot see the dial, the account later mentions.
It is clear that we have, at least partially, a wheel-and-dial alphabet board in the same manner as, say, a Tuttle Psychograph. But then there's the whole balanced fingerboard and wheel-and-cord bit that makes the driving mechanism's description somewhat obscure and hard to reconstruct, even imaginatively. We await the original description in hopes of a better depiction or, dare we hope, and illustration?

The point of the device was to debunk the planchette as a method of spirit communication, and, according to the account, it was successful in that regard since the operator could not see the dial, in a test reminiscent, obviously, of Dr. Robert Hare. Dr. Blanchard himself was an interesting fellow, and worth following up, given the number of patent applications his name is attached to. It is also interesting to note that Blanchard wasn't the first to experiment with these so-called lever boards--we've seen them before, as well--again with Dr. Hare.
Dr. Hare's "Spiritoscope" 'lever-boards.'
Stay tuned! For now, we'll add Dr. Blanchard's contrivance to our list of lost test mechanisms, and graft yet another evolutionary branch on the tree of talking board history. Thanks, Murch! And head's up, Joe--we've got another mysterious device to track down in the wilds of Vermont!