The house at Overbeck's

Autumn in the garden at Overbeck's in South Devon

Once the home of eccentric inventor and collector, Otto Overbeck, Overbeck's house is now the home to the polyphon and Otto's electrical rejuvenator, which was all the rage from the 1920s through to the 1940s. While the house is closed, you can still find out all about it's history and some of the highlights of the collection here.


The present house, originally called ‘Sharpitor’, was built by Mr and Mrs George Medlicott Vereker. The Verekers enjoyment of their new home soon came to an end when Great Britain declared war on Germany on the 3 August 1914. Their second son, second lieutenant Robert Vereker, 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards, was killed at Mons, Belgium on the 25 August, just 22 days into the war, aged 21.


The convalescent story of Overbeck's

In memory of Robert, Mr and Mrs Vereker offered their new home to the Red Cross Society to be used, rent free, as a Voluntary Aid Hospital for the treatment of convalescent British and Allied Troops. Sharpitor V.A. Hospital, formally opened on 23 August 1915, was mostly run using volunteers and was supported by a constant flow of gifts, both financial and in kind, from the local community.

Spirits were kept high with home-produced entertainment including concerts, plays, boat trips and more than a few billiard tournaments were played in what later became Overbecks’s tea-room.

Overbeck's has a fascinating past as a Voluntary Aid Hospital
Pictures and artefacts from Overbeck's history as a hospital for the war wounded
Overbeck's has a fascinating past as a Voluntary Aid Hospital

By the time of its closure on the 29 January 1919, 1010 convalescents had passed through 'the old home' as it was affectionately referred to by the men, and thanks to the skill and dedication of the staff not a single death was recorded.


Becoming Overbeck's

Otto Overbeck was an accomplished inventor, linguist, and art collector. Otto’s most economically successful invention was the ‘electrical rejuvenator’ that he patented in the 1920s, and which he claimed could defy the ageing process if users applied the electrodes from his device to their skin. He produced various pamphlets and published two books on his ‘electrical theory of life’ and successfully marketed the rejuvenator worldwide. The success of the product allowed him to purchase the property in Salcombe and it is thanks to him that the National Trust has this special place for everyone to enjoy.


The talented Otto Overbeck

Although born in England, Otto Christoph Joseph Gerhardt Ludwig Overbeck was descended from a distinguished Dutch family. His parents were of mixed nationality; his father, Joseph, was Dutch and Italian, his mother Prussian and French. 

Otto studied at Bonn University in Germany, where he excelled in chemistry and science. Whilst working at a brewery in Grimsby, he discovered that a waste product of brewing was infact a nutritious food - he called it carnos (Greek for meat). A company was formed, which unfortunately didn't last long. The patent he took out on this product was allowed to expire and almost immediately a very similar product appeared on the market under the name ‘Marmite’. He is also credited with inventing the process to de-alcoholise beer, but unfortunately a large tax levy was placed on the product and it never reached the market.


Collection highlights


The rejuvenator

The collection at Overbeck's is home to a number of different models of Otto's electrical rejuvinatory. The 'supreme' model of the 'Overbeck Rejuvenator' would have cost £12 in 1930, equivalent to about £350 today.







The polyphon

This wonderful Victorian music box made in 1898 is an example of a byegone music machine. It was made in Germany and imported to the UK, where it was bought by a pub not far from Overbeck's. Otto Overbeck's used to hear the polython being played at the pub, and loved it so much that he offered to but it from the landlord.

It plays large steel discs, with slots punched in the front face; each of the slots represents a musical note. When punched through, the slots create little metal tags on the reverse of the disk, and these tags interact with the polython to produce music. Inside the polython is a combe with metal teeth, which catch on the tags to play a note.