This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Blake's Cornet Band

27 August 2011

This week's photograph is Blake's Cornet Band, posed outside of a hotel or shop in some American town of the 1890's. This large format albumen photograph has no additional writing, only the name of the band on the bass drum. (The B in Blake's is partly hidden) The uniforms and instrument types date this to sometime between 1888 and 1900.

The band might be named for their leader, who is likely the E-flat cornet player standing center front.  

Or it might be named for a place. I found this one 1884 newspaper reference for a Blake's Mills Cornet Band from New Philadelphia, Ohio. (Don't miss the sad story of Miss Laura Johnston)

Or the band name might refer to Blake's Opera House. There was one in Grand Ledge, Michigan and another in Olean, New York.

Or the band might even be part of Professor Blake's famous Dog & Pony Show, which from 1889 to 1912 was a traveling tent show of over 100 trained dogs, ponies, and monkeys. None of the gentlemen in this photo is saying though.

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Musical & Dramatic Courier
June 1881

This ad from the June 1881 Musical & Dramatic Courier out of New York is an example of the early marketing for band instruments. During the 19th century the term cornet band generally meant a brass band with no woodwinds and only a few drummers.  With 18 musicians, this has remained the typical size for a brass band. With the exception of one slide trombone to the left of the leader, all the other instruments are piston valve type. Sometime a band might pay extra for silver or nickle plated instruments and then call themselves a Silver Cornet Band. That might be the case with this band too, judging from the sparkle on their horns.

They do have a special double bell euphonium (3rd from L) which was a novelty brass instrument introduced in 1888 by the famous Patrick Glimore Band. It uses a 4th valve to change the voice range of the horn from alto to baritone. Just imagine multiple musical personalities. There was one in the Lowville Band but with the little bell on the opposite side.

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Trumpet Notes 1888

Though the band's uniforms are certainly impressive with the elaborate embroidery on white wool(?) , their trousers (and shoes too) seem ordinary civilian dress, more in keeping with a town band than a professional touring show band  with fancy stripes down the legs.

The 19th century's mania for uniforms created an amazing industry that produced all manner of ornamental fashions for thousands of different military, fraternal, and theatrical groups. Everyone loved a parade but in this era everyone also expected to march in one too. This advert for Wanamaker & Brown Band Uniforms was taken from Trumpet Notes of 1888. I have this suspicion that the choice of hat styles was a fancy related to the politics and national identities of the bandsmen. Or maybe it was just about the cost.
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My best guess is that Blake's Cornet Band is a town band made of amateur musicians. Perhaps they are from Blake's Mills, an old industrial village in central Ohio. The band may have assembled to provide music for a political rally or a summer holiday event. But where ever they are, these fellows are keeping the whole truth to themselves.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Click the link for more enthusiasts of vintage photographs.


Liz Stratton said...

I agree that this looks like a town band of amateur musicians. I have a fragment of a similar photograph of about the same time period taken in Preble or Montgomery County, Ohio.

Loved the news clippings! Thanks.

Postcardy said...

The story of Miss Laura Johnston reminded me of the expression about throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Tattered and Lost said...

You've given me a whole new perspective on The Music Man. Now I understand what an important part these bands were to communities. I often think about town squares with gazebos and imagine a band playing. I guess I never really realized how true this was.

Bob Scotney said...

Your information about bands always amazes me but not half as much as the paper clipping. How about the Royal Mail in the UK doing the same think in the UK!

Alan Burnett said...

All the fascinating detail and all the detailed research we have come to expect and enjoy - and in addition we have a heart-rending tale of Laura and her finger.

Little Nell said...

So many choices Mike. Although it’s not very likely I’m rather talen with the idea of the dog and pony show!

Nice collection of instruments; my grandfather played the cornet as a boy and in the army too I think. I see a later Sepia Saturdy post in that one!

Christine H. said...

I can't decide which it is either. I love the advertisements. AS for Miss Laura, I think the story must be apocryphal. Sending the finger through the mail...hmmm.

Brett Payne said...

I agree with Christine - an apocryphal story. Regarding the band, I was going to ask, "Did you see this (scroll down to entry for Blakes ...)?" and then I realised it's the same photo. However that site gives a date of 1908.

Mike Brubaker said...

The website is a great resource that I use quite a lot. Unfortunately the thousands of images have no citations for source and I know that many (including several that I now own like this one) are just copied from eBay auction pics. The actual photo of Blake's Band that I have seems more typical of 1898 than 1908.


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