People have always lost their hearing with age, but before there were hearing aids and cochlear implants, there were ear trumpets. And ear trumpet is pretty much exactly what it sounds like (a cone whose small end fits in the ear canal) and serves to better collect and amplify sound into the ear. A person hard of hearing would hold it to their ear as someone else would speak (or yell) into the large end of the trumpet. The earliest description of an ear trumpet was in the early 1600s.
Most ear trumpets were custom-made, and they varied greatly in opulence and function. Some were hand carved out of fine woods or inlaid, while others were simple tin.
The fancier ones were treated like fine jewelry, but that didn’t mean they worked any better. At any rate, the business of making them was flourishing by the 1800s. Neatorama recently posted a couple interesting examples of ear trumpets, gleaned from Phisick Medical Antiques.
The one to the left is the Grand Opera Dome Ear Trumpet by Rein, an ornately detailed 19th century silver plated ear trumpet. The Queen Conch shell was said to be the musical instruments of mermaids, though it’s not clear whether the piece was functional or just meant to be a conversation piece!
While functional ear trumpets were usually dark colored, so as to be inconspicious against the dark clothing of the wearer, famous people were not ashamed to use them. Beethoven, who was increasingly going deaf, was known to use ear trumpets by the age of 44. Some of these (the top 3 trumpets in the picture below) were made for Beethoven by the inventor of the metronome, Johann Nepomuk Malzel.
Hat tip Steve for the Neatorama link!