1922 - 1929
Georges Rétif & Co.
No, it's not a torture device, it's a finger exerciser named the Ochydactyl. According to advertisements, the Ochydactyl could improve the agility, flexibility, strength and independence of any pianist's, violinist's or cellist's fingers. The ads also stated that using the device for just seven minutes a day was the equivalent of 1-1/2 hours of traditional finger exercises.
L'assouplisseur Ochydactyl (The Finger Softener) was invented in 1922 by Frenchman Georges Rétif. US patent no.1,720,571 was issued to him in 1929 which was, unfortunately, already after Georges had deceased. The Ochydactyl was produced in Sancoins, France during the mid-to-late 1920's.
The design of the Ochydactyl changed significantly throughout its short production. Earlier models, like the example at the top and bottom of this page, had a larger footprint and were driven by a flywheel which was replaced with a lever on latter, smaller models. Furthermore, earlier models were completely exposed while the latter were almost completely enclosed, probably to shield users' fingers from injury. Despite these and other minor changes all the Ochydactyls operated similarly.
To use, the operator would insert four fingers into the adjustable, rubber-padded clamps and tighten while the wrist rested on the seat. With the other hand the user would crank the device in either direction in order to make the fingers travel up and down thus making them more nimble. The apparatus was adjustable to any size hand. The flywheel or lever could be quickly swapped from one side to the other in order to exercise both the left and right hands.
Although the ads for this machine name dozens of prominent musicians as proud sponsors, the Ochydactyl had very little marketable success. Most were sold within France and neighboring countries. A video of it in use can be viewed here at the 4:14 mark.
Need an instruction manual for your Ochydactyl? Get it here...
Read a brief story from a French science magazine for kids that featured my Ochydactyl here...