1922 - 1929

Georges Rétif & Co.

Sancoins, France


No, this isn't a torture device. It's an Ochydactyl, a finger exerciser that, according to advertisements, could improve the agility, flexibility, strength and independence of any pianist's, violinist's or cellist's fingers. The ads also stated that using this device for just seven minutes a day was the equivalent of 1-1/2 hours worth of traditional finger exercises.

L'assouplisseur Ochydactyl (The Finger Softener) was invented by Frenchman Georges Rétif in 1922. A U.S. patent (patent no.1,720,571) was issued in 1929 after Georges had already deceased. The Ochydactyl was produced in Sancoins, France during the mid-to-late 1920s.

To use, the operator would insert their four fingers into the adjustable, rubber-padded clamps and tighten. The wrist would rest 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 entire apparatus was adjustable to accommodate any size hand. The flywheel (or handle) could be quickly swapped from one side to the other in order to exercise both the left and right hands.

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The Ochydactyl's design changed significantly over the course of its fairly short production. For example, earlier models had a larger footprint. Also, the earlier models were driven by a flywheel while the latter by a simple handle. Furthermore, earlier models were completely exposed while the latter were almost completely enclosed, probably to shield the user's precious fingers from injury. Despite these and other changes all the Ochydactyls worked similarly. 

Although the advertisements 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, which starts at 4 minutes and 11 seconds.