So these days it comes as little surprise when little gifts drop into my inbox from Marc, John, or Pat when they're out in the field or Marc's processing articles in queue. Sometimes we just turn the page and there's a gem that didn't even take the trouble of searching--just educated eyes looking at it for the first time in years. And we like surprising one another, so... Such is this discovery, and it's a double-whammy.
As the calendar turned to the 1870s, the writing planchette's bright star has fallen after a phenomenal rise just 3 years previously, and we're in a couple decades-long lull before the arrival of the talking board, in a period where all sorts of evolutionary dead-ends and false-starts in spirit communication devices will arrive and depart, all on the way to the ultimate refinement in Kennard's Ouija in 1890. It is a prolific period, however, bringing us Tuttle's Psychograph, Lippitt's Psychic Stand and Detector in the mid-1870s (which the patent office rejects), the "L.K." table in Savannah in 1876, Frederick Becker's strange alphabet board patent in 1880, and others known and unknown.
And now, thanks to The Medium & Daybreak we have not one, but TWO new devices to add to the archives. In the January 20, 1871 edition, Richard Bewley made a suggestion of an "indicator" or "telegraph" to facilitate spirit communication. It's a great little contrivance, modifying a planchette to run on a baseboard and "plate-glass strips on which the alphabet is inscribed."
A NEW INDICATOR.
To the Editor of the Medium and Daybreak.
Sir,—With pleasure I send you a description of a telegraph I have found efficient; it will spell out words as fast as an ordinary writer can take them down. I have tried all the alphabetic methods, from calling over the alphabet, discs, and pointers, &c., and planchette and other experiments for facilitating communications, and have found the one I am about to describe a great improvement, and both simple and inexpensive. Take your planchette, and instead of the pencil substitute a third wheel or castor; procure a piece of board about 24 inches long, three-quarters of an inch thick, and as wide as the planchette is long; cut three grooves in it lengthways—one on the outer edge sufficiently wide and deep to receive the edge of a strip of window plate-glass of the same length as the board, and about two inches and a half to three inches wide; the other two grooves are to form a tramway for the castors, and their place will be determined by the distance between the back and front castors; put a stop at each end of the front groove to prevent the planchette running beyond or off the base-hoard. On the glass plate paint or paste the letters of the alphabet. The plate now standing at right angles to the base-hoard, the glass may be either cemented in the groove or removable at pleasure. To operate, place your altered planchette on the tramroad, and the point of the heart will be on a level with the letters, and in moving along point to them in succession, stopping at the one to be noted till the word is formed. I find it saves time to pull the carriage back to the A end and let the invisible operator push it forward to the next letter. I hope I have made the description sufficiently plain; if not, I shall have pleasure in giving you any further information.—Yours, &c.,
Just one edition later, an interested reader suggested a refinement to Bewley's instrument, who communicated some suggested simplifications in the January 25 editionRichard Bewley.Uttoxeter, January 16,1871.
The "Psychologist" author of the letter not only suggest refinements, but constructed one of his own envisioned devices, which he was kind enough to illustrate for the world.
As it turns out, the refined device fits snugly with an evolutionary branch of talking boards of which Downe's Snitch Baby is a member. In casual conversation, collectors lump such instruments in the "dial plate" category, even as we know it is inaccurate, since there's no true dial as we find on Tuttle's device, Hornung's Emanulector, or Pease's Spiritual Telegraph Dial. But "slide plates" or "slide dials" aren't all that accurate either, and just don't roll of the tongue.
The device is pretty basic, and all the components of a talking board in place: a wooden board, the printed alphabet, and a planchette that relies on autonomous movements of its users. Why such designs didn't suffer the same flare-up in popularity as planchettes before them, or Ouija afterward, is one of history's mysteries. How Tuttle's Psychograph, with its can't-loose-it dial and concise design--wasn't the king of them all still amazes me, but, then again, maybe that's just the power of marketing.
So, dear readers, we ceremoniously place the "New Indicator" in the pantheon of similar devices, and wait for another to appear.
Want to hear me talk a lot more about this stuff, only in person? I'll be hosting and lecturing at OuijaCon April 22-25, in Baltimore. If you are anywhere along the Eastern Seaboard at that time, I encourage you to attend!