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Thursday, June 26, 2014

London Artifacts, Part 1: The CPS Spirit Trumpets

The last several summers have always been flurries of activity rushing to-and-fro to document as many spirit communication devices as possible, and these days I need little excuse to book travel to far-off destinations in search of desired answers in the history of spirit communication devices. I was honored this year to be invited to speak at the PHCP Conference in Utrecht, Netherlands, and never one to miss an opportunity, I promptly contacted other institutions in the region or along the way to make the most of it: namely London's College of Psychic Studies and Christian Chelman's Surnateum in Brussels. And while the traveling is always teeth-rattling difficult when you cram too-much-transit in too-little time, the payoff is always well worth it. This summer's start is no exception.

My awaiting destination: London's College of Psychic Studies.
The very first leg of our journey was ill-fated. Everything was perfectly in place, but my wife Adie and 11-month old daughter Elliot and I found ourselves on a flight to North Carolina that suffered engine failure halfway there, and after the plane landed back in Austin safely, we whiled away the rest of the day waiting for the plane to be fixed as the window to our connecting flight slowly closed. So, we made it to London a day late, and had the extra joy of having to drive 3 hours to Dallas to make the flight. This also meant I had no time to settle in before my morning appointment with my friend Leslie Price at the College of Psychic Studies. I literally landed, went through customs, and taxied directly to the CPS, where I was welcomed by Leslie, the college's wonderful principal, Gill Matini, and their friendly staff. They could have kept me waiting all day in the front library and I'd probably have been just as happy perusing their incredible shelves of esoterica all day! The history of the venerable college is incredibly rich, and a veritable who's-who of Spiritualism--including William Stainton Moses and Arthur Conan Doyle, among many others--and I encourage you to delve a bit into their history to get a scope of their collection's significance.

I was visiting to document some fantastic artifacts in the college's holdings which I've long-hoped to photograph. I'm beginning here with a study of the CPS's incredible array of spirit trumpets. Unfortunately, trumpets are notoriously difficult to identify. Absent of boxes or packaging, very few carry any sort of maker's mark, and labels are unheard of. I've spent the last two years researching and cataloging every trumpet, manufacturer, and trumpet medium I can uncover, and even the resulting 65-page, 45,000-word timeline document doesn't really help answer that primary question: who made what? Of course, identifying trumpets with special provenance is even more difficult, but CPS had a few surprises in store for me.

Mr. Leslie Price in the midst of the William Stainton Moses archives.
I arrived prepared to document a staggering 11 spirit trumpets. This was Leslie's tentative observation, and backed up by a picture found online that showed about the same number of trumpets on display in a glass case--or, at least, the picture hinted at how many the case contained--even if determining what was what through the photograph was impossible. I was sure that we were dealing with at least some trumpets in multiple disassembled piece, however. Another picture of the collection I found on pinterest (see below) shows almost everything that was waiting for me when I arrived, and confirmed that thought--looks like there's just a couple of pieces missing from Leslie's count in this shot:

Photo of most of the CPS's spirit trumpet collection pieces at, which also has
some lovely shots of the college!

After my arrival and introduction to the William Stainton Moses archives and the wonders therein, a boxed, yet incomplete Two Worlds specimen was the first discovery. While the label was missing, the box was intact and matched the odd brown leatherette material of the box in my collection. But the box only contained the mouthpiece end of what presumably should have been a two-piece trumpet. While Two Worlds did produce a one-piece trumpet, the bell end was not rolled as it should be if it were a one-piece item. And though the 14-inch long section could serve as a trumpet as-is, without the bell section it would remain incomplete.

Part & Pieces, or, Two-and-a-Half Worlds: Unpuzzling what-goes-where with the
CPS specimens and putting it all back together. Lower left is the boxed mouth-
piece section, and above are the two loose bell-ends, with the middle picture
being the obvious match. At right is a complete specimen already assembled,
leaving one loose, unmatched, and lonely bell-end.
So, imagine my surprise as Leslie led me to another section of the archive housed elsewhere in the college, and there before me was a hodge-podge arrangement of more trumpets--the remaining 10, in fact. Without hesitation, I gathered no less than three Two Worlds bell-ends: one of which (likely the more tattered of the trio, which also displayed the old residue of luminous tape) would undoubtedly match the downstairs boxed specimen, making that our first complete trumpet. There was another match--the cleanest of the three was an obvious pair to another nearby mouth-end section, which itself held a loop of waxed cord running through it. Assembled, we had a second complete Two Worlds specimen to go with the downstairs boxed one, which left us, unfortunately, with an unpaired bell-end that had no companion, but made a third trumpet positively ID-ed.

The CPS's "almost-Eckel's" trumpet. Some differences in the company's standard-issue trumpet, but also carrying
some of the classic markers of an Eckel-produced product. Note lovely hand-print artifact in luminous paint.
The fourth close-positive ID after gathering and assembling the pieces was CPS's 3-section Eckel's trumpet. Well, maybe an Eckel's. Oh, hell, I don't know. It's a close match at first glance, but then the details start casting doubt on the ID. The bell-end, for example, is rolled over a hoop, rather than folded and crimped. The bell-end ribs that are always our first marker of an Eckel's trumpet are in the right place, but the main body crimp is not stamped with the expected "E.A. Eckel" or "Anderson, Ind." imprints. The section ends are missing their usual ribbed bumps, and are instead folded. And the rivets are not the same style, and close to the same placement, but a bit further spread apart, and there's a mid-section rivet absent on most standard Eckels.

Lastly, there's the curious addition of some sort of retainer or tension bar riveted where the sections come together, ostensibly to keep the trumpet from coming apart mid-seance. Whether they are original--a feature I've never seen on another trumpet--or a later aftermarket addition, is unknown.

But perhaps my favorite feature of the trumpet is the remnant of luminous paint on the bell. The ribs had a thick coat spread around their circumference, and there was a distinctive handprint--a thumbspot and fingers--wrapping around the bell. Its origins or purpose are completely unknown, but if it was put there by accident, it was never corrected, so it seems intentional. Just a lovely piece, all the way around, but, like so many other trumpets (and the remainder of those in the CPS holdings), impossible to positively ID. Maybe it's an Eckel's--an early or late production (I own at least one variant that's even more different than this one is from a standard issue Eckel's, for example)--but for now we'll give it a tentative Eckel's assignment in a sea of spirit-trumpet ID uncertainty.

An unidentified spirit trumpet. Professionally and stoutly made, but of unknown manufacture.
The remaining three trumpets, fortunately, were all one-section trumpets, so no more problems with missing pieces. But, since none were boxed, stamped, or marked, they cannot be ID-ed, and the college records no special provenance for them. There was a stout, sturdy, and heavy specimen that very nearly more of a tube than a proper cone, with a rolled bell and mouthpiece and a stout tack-weld holding it together at the seams. This may very likely be a handmade or locally-made specimen, which, like most single-section trumpets, would be a simple matter to produce, and always leaves us second-guessing one-off makers versus commercial manufacturers.

Though possibly a Two Worlds trumpet, it is most likely this is a Psychic Science Institute specimen, 1940-50s. Note luminous tape remains.
The two remaining specimens are lovely examples, and also provide us with an ID conundrum, and either or both could be either Two Worlds single-piece specimens from the 1930s, or 1950s Psychic Science Institute (PSI) trumpets. We know from a previous post's ad study that Two Worlds produced both one and two-piece trumpets, and either of these could be a contender. The first trumpet is a quite long single-piece trumpet with the remains of luminous tape on the bell and intact tape on the mouthpiece, which is quite wide. Its bell end is rolled similar to the known Two Worlds specimens, and the mouthpiece is folded outward. The crimped seam is very, very similar to the Two Worlds style, and I am sad to say that in the frenzy of picture-taking while at CPS, I did not do a direct in-hand comparison. The other remaining trumpet is very similar, though shorter, with a rolled bell-end, a crimped and similarly-wide mouthpiece, and intact luminous tape on its bell. There's no indication that Two Worlds produced more than one size of these single-section trumpets, so it is likely only one or the other will be properly ID-ed as being manufactured by them, though Part 2 of this series further discusses the strong possibility that one or the other of these were offered by PSI. Only time, study, and new discoveries will tell, and there are worse fates than future trips taken to confirm theories!  

Another possible Two Worlds or PSI single-piece trumpet. This one has luminous paint glommed over its wire-rolled bell-end.
The final surprise the archives held for me in the trumpet department was a curious wooden box. It looked not unlike one of those vintage wooden Velveeta cheese boxes, and had a hand-carved name and address on it:

While the CPS stored the box with the trumpets, there had not been an attempt to match it with a trumpet in years. Moreover, no one had really questioned the owner of the box or its place in the collection until I started making inquires, at which point Leslie immediatelybhad a "lightbulb" go off, and realized it was the property of H. Dennis Bradley, a trumpet medium famous in his day for direct voice mediumship, and a student and champion of another famous trumpet medium, George Valiantine. The address even matches Bradley's business in life. Bradley's personal accounts of his own trumpet mediumship are recounted in 1925's The Wisdom of the Gods, and may give some indication of the origins of CPS's trumpet:
"It was towards the end of July, 1924, that I made my first effort to obtain direct and independent spirit voices. When I suggested the experiment to my wife, she was amused, and declared that it would be absolutely impossible. So I refused to make any attempt on that evening. Two evenings later, however, the experiment was made. There were only three sitters: my wife, her mother, and myself. We sat in my study at Dorincourt ; a trumpeta collapsible aluminium trumpet for amplifying sounds, which Valiantine had left with me on his return to America in March last—was placed on a table in the centre of the room. We got the raps on the table as before, and after twenty minutes or so the trumpet was lifted and each of us was lightly touched. Then a hissing sound was heard,  as if someone was endeavouring, under great difficulties,  to  articulate  something.
Is Bradley's trumpet in the CPS collections the same trumpet he inherited from Valiantine? There's no way to know for sure, but it's a fun thought to inspire the look for further evidence. Of course, there's also the matter of which trumpet goes where. There's one size and style of trumpet that fits the box like a glove: the two-section Two Worlds trumpets, and there's two-and-a-half of them in the archives. Bradley's trumpet would have been well-used, and I have suggested CPS pair the more battered matching sections with the box for display.

Lovely collection, and a fascinating history on these items. I am incredibly grateful to the CPS for welcoming me and allowing me to document the items, and to Leslie for the incredible tour through their hallowed halls. Stay tuned, true believers, for a breakdown of the host of other artifacts I researched during my short stay in parts 2 and 3!