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7 Jun 2018

Good vibrations

Written by Marianne Fossaluzza, Project Reveal Inventory Officer
The Veedette for Vibratory Massage
Team North East didn’t expect to find the cure to all illnesses in the Angus Folk Museum Collection, and yet there it was, one turn of the crank away!

The wonders of past medicine never cease to amaze the curious inventory officer. In the late 19th and early 20th century, medical science was developing rapidly, with the discovery of several vaccines, anaesthesia and the importance of sterilisation laying the foundations of modern-day medicine. However, these advances were mostly unknown to the general public, and many alternative therapies thrived. Some of them now seem quite violent, such as galvanism which used electric shocks; others are considered rather unreliable, like hypnotism or herbal remedies. And then there’s the ‘Veedette for Vibratory Massage’, an experimental form of treatment that relied on the healing power of massage and vibrations.

a Stream of Delightful Thrill
‘a Stream of Delightful Thrill’

Stored in a green cardboard box lined with felt, the Veedette’s appearance is puzzling for one trying to understand how it works. It consists of a long metal rod with a wooden handle. About halfway along the rod is a metal case enclosing a cranking mechanism, which makes the upper part rotate. At the end of the rod is a slightly de-centred metal disc, which creates a vibration when the crank is turned. It comes with two detachable heads: a rubber ball and a wooden disc.

This revolutionary device claimed to be beneficial for many kinds of illnesses including, but not limited to, colds, rheumatism, headaches, ‘female hysteria’, lung diseases, tumours, deafness and even paralysis. But how will vibrations cure such illnesses, sceptics may have asked. J E Garratt – patentee and owner of the Veedee company, which manufactured the Veedette – answered that ‘the natural cure of any bodily ill is in the opposite to its cause’. The above ailments were thought to be caused by either congestion or nerve inactivity, and it was sluggish (or absence of) movement that the Veedette could remedy. The Veedette for Vibratory Massage was placed on specific parts of the body and worked a bit like acupuncture but with vibration instead of needles!

Advertisement for Sanofix electric hand vibrator
Advertisement for Sanofix electric hand vibrator; credit: Wellcome Collection

If such treatment seems laughable today, this wasn’t the case in the early 20th century when it was quite a success. As well as advertisements, public demonstrations were held, during which experts treated patients, who then saw their condition suddenly and drastically improve in front of the audience. Some might say that the Veedette was popular due to its genuine effectiveness; others would put it down to aggressive marketing; and others would nod towards the public’s gullibility.

The Vee Dee and how to use it
Title page of ‘The Vee Dee and How to Use It’, 1908; credit: Royal College of Physicians, London

Whatever the reason for the Veedette’s success, in the instruction booklet for a similar device J E Garratt boasts a long list of customers, including members from the British, Spanish and Portuguese royal families along with ‘members of most other foreign royal houses’. This does not mean that the object had a prohibitively high price, as Mr Garratt also counted lawyers, artists and army officers in his customer base. The device was a worldwide success, and the company had branches in four continents. However, the Veedette’s success could not match the advance of modern-day science and medicine, and it has now become yet another relic of days gone by.

Project Reveal is a Trust-wide collections digitisation project. It will result in an updated database with high-quality images and unique object numbers for every item in the National Trust for Scotland material culture collections. Six regionally based project teams, supported by experienced project managers, will work across all our properties with collections to complete the inventory in 18 months from July 2017 until December 2018.