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Monday, July 14, 2014

London Artifacts, Part 3: The CPS Talking Boards

The CPS' central stairwell, stretching
upward toward new discoveries!
The trip to the College of Psychic Studies (the review of which started in Part One of this series) was a whirlwind, mostly due to the mad rush of being in London a day late and having to trek immediately there from Heathrow. But through the distant lens of hindsight, I can see just how incredible those few short hours were. It wasn't all about the devices, mind you. There's a certain atmosphere that comes from being in hallowed halls once wandered by Sir Conan Doyle, and that hosted seances by Eileen Garrett and a veritable who's-who of 19th-and-20th-century mediums. I could spend another several blog posts just examining the artwork of the CPS, from their nearly-life-sized portrait of D.D. Home, their bust of one of my favorite mediums, J. J. Vango, and numerous frames of spirit-influenced art and portraits of important mediums who have visited or held residence in the college over its many years. And then there's the Stainton Moses archives themselves, boxes stacked upon one another just waiting to be explored further, containing all manner of glass slides of seances and spirit phenomena, spirit photographs, automatic writing, clairvoyant tools...the list just goes on and on. And, of course, there's the library itself and the undocumented wonders its texts contain, which IAPSOP is in the process of assisting in order to digitize as much of these rare tomes as possible. Maybe next trip I'll have the chance to examine these other discoveries. more closely. For now, let's continue where we left off from Parts One and Two, and examine the talking boards in the collection of the College of Psychic Studies.

As with the Psychic Studies Institute planchette we investigated in Part 2, two of the talking boards in the CPS holdings were not only unknown to us, but largely unknowable due to utter lack of markings or identification of any sort--they didn't even have and sort of name or variant of "Ouija" that we usually use as a starting point for studying boards. Instead, we had wood of a decently-fine grade, some degree of commercial craftsmanship, and letters and numbers. And that was it.

I did make a few observations, the most important of which was the applique of the letters and numbers: they are not printed or screened, and they aren't stickers. They are decals, of that sort familiar to airplane modelists that must be moistened, then carefully applied, often with tweezers--they are known as "waterslide" decals. They have a distinctive film around their perimeter, and carefully scrutinized in the right light, it was obvious each letter had a distinct film halo that gave them away. And it turns out, 2 of the 3 boards present--both of the wooden boards--had this sort of application. Could they be related?
The second wood board had the type of decal application, though with some differences, particularly with the size of the "Yes" and "No" and the numbers, as well as the alphabet's font. The board was also more square, and finely framed. But, again, no markings or label. But with the same type of decals, similar plywood, and identical (and telling) placement of letters (three rows, A-I, J-T, U-Z), there was a high probability the boards were related.

As with the discovery of the PSI planchette's identity, the answer was only a few hours off. When a properly-labeled PSI planchette popped up on eBay that evening, complete with the "BCM/PSI-LON" address, it gave us a keyword to research. And that turned up an old auction listing with a talking board identical to the first wooden CPS specimen, complete in its original box. The box identified a proper non-BCM address of 18 Worton Way, and from there, and with a little education from our mate and international-man-of-mystery Glenn Rinker, we were able to properly assign the board as a creation of the Psychic Science Institute, and date it to the late 1940s-late 1950s through ads placed in Prediction magazine. And in the confirmation of one, it is highly likely that the second, framed version is also a product of PSI, given the near identical means of construction and unique nature of the decals and overall design.      

Why not? A 1949 Prediction magazine ad for Psychic Science Institute's
planchettes, Ouija, and other "psychic appliances."
The final board would not reveal its secrets so easily. Its manufacture is uncommon, as it is constructed from some laminate--what is most likely cut Formica, or possibly Cusheen. The construction is identical to classic office door plaques and hallway signs, with a thin sheet of Formica set on a chipboard type material.

Now, if my arm was twisted toward wagering a guess, it would be that this is also a Psychic Science Institute board, and what we're seeing is a decade-long evolution in the manufacture of that company's products. Which way that evolution goes I wouldn't hazard a confirmation, but it's likely they began with the wood-and-waterslide-decal boards, then moved toward engraved Formica as that technology became available after entering the European market after World War II. The 3-row arrangement is the same as the other boards (A-I, J-T, U-Z) as is the placement and general arrangement of the alphabet, numbers, and Yes/No. There's also one additional piece of evidence: the planchette of this board is identical in construction--but not shape--to the planchette included in the old PSI eBay board auction. That is to say, it's a thin, single-ply sheet of wood paneling with some felt pads glued underneath. So there's that. And this planchette is an exact match to yet another PSI specimen--this one wooden like the first two--from the silver screen (see below). With all of the evidence, as well as PSI's proximity to CPS,  my money's on this board also being a Psychic Science Institute specimen.

A notable appearance of the PSI talking board, again brought to our attention by our ever-affable colleague Glenn Rinker,  is 1972's Tales from the Crypt, in that fantastic talking board and planchette-writing scene with Peter Cushing (at the 36:00 mark). Besides getting to see a Selchow & Righter Scientific Planchette in use, we're given another likely PSI variant here, most closely resembling the first specimen we looked at above, though with red "Yes/No" letters, and with a planchette that matches our Formica variant exactly. With all the similarities, the evidence seems more and more compelling that these are all fruits from the same tree...

Peter Cushing seeks guidance on a PSI talking board before turning, naturally, to his reliable writing planchette for
the real goods--a warning of D-A-N-G-E-R!
Before concluding my overview of the CPS collections, I want to post a triptych of some of the other marvels of the visit, which includes hints of some of the less-explored wonders that I'll have to make sure I have more time for next trip, including the massive and beautiful oil painting of D.D. Home, the magnificent bust of the medium J.J. Vango, and William Stainton Moses' personal scrying crystal, with his own archives curving in the view behind it.

A fitting end to this tribute to my visit to the CPS, and I would like to again thank the college for their wonderful hospitality, the generosity of their principal Gill Matini, and, of course, my friend Leslie Price, for taking the time to escort me through it all. I hope my research has been able to shed a little light on the items in their holdings, and tell them a little bit they didn't know before. Next up on our tour is the PHCP conference in Utrecht, where I visited to not only lecture on behalf of IAPSOP and my own device research, but similarly catalog a host of incredible items from the Beelmaterial Spiritische Museum. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. There's an interesting back-story to the 'Poetic Justice' segment in 'Tales from the Crypt' which is that Peter Cushing's beloved wife Helen had died only the year before, and he apparently wanted to use her photo for that of Arthur Grimsdyke’s late wife Mary Helen, but it was decided that Helen did not look right for the part. However, he did use Helen's picture for a scene in 'The Ghoul' where he sheds genuine tears when he looks at her photograph. Full story on this page, which features a nice production still of the late great Mr Cushing with his ever reliable S&R!