Acoustic Chair An Ingenious Solution To King’s Hearing Loss
This ornate 19th century chair might just look like many others produced at the time for wealthy people.
But look more closely and you will see some rather odd features. There’s the tube hanging down across the back and the carved heads are not just for decoration.
For this chair also doubles as a hearing aid and is believed to have been one of the first of its kind.
It is an exact replica of one made for King John VI of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarve.
He became hard of hearing with age and commissioned craftsman Frederick Rein to make him an acoustic chair in 1819 so he could better communicate with people.
Rein was based in London and in 1800 set up what is thought to be the first firm producing ear trumpets and so he was thought to be the best person to help.
As the chair was to be used by royalty Rein had to reflect the status of the user.
Carved hollow arms representing the open mouths of lions acted as sound receivers. The sound travelled to the back of the chair where a tube, placed in the king’s ear, carried the sound to him.
Visitors had to kneel before the chair and speak directly into the animal heads.
House of Commons
The king used his acoustic chair while living in Brazil. After the recognition of Brazilian independence in 1825 he continued as King of Portugal and the Algarve. He died in 1826 in Lisbon.
A modern day version of the same idea is used in the benches in the House of Commons. They have loudspeakers inserted in the head rests so MPs can follow discussions more easily.
The replica of the original chair is housed at the Amplivox/Ultratone corporate office in London.