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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Three Men in Black

03 May 2013

Three mustaches, three cornets, and three frock coats. These elegantly dressed gentlemen may have lost their names but not their style. They pose for the camera with the confident panache of a professional musician. These can be no ordinary town bandsmen, but cornet soloists, perhaps even band leaders. And each one I'm sure had the title of Professor, that 19th century honorific given to musicians of accomplishment and skill.

The first unknown cornet player comes from Pennsylvania, where he stood in a photographer's studio called the Sunbeam Gallery, cor. 7th and State Sts. Erie, PA.  In 1885 a photographer named W. A. Morand was at this same address, but in 1886 the Sunbeam Ferrotype Gallery took over the premises while Mr. Morand moved to 23/24 North Park.  Tintypes were perhaps not as successful and the Erie city directory listing became Sunbeam Photograph Gallery in 1887. By the 1890 directory, the Sunbeam was gone and new photographers, Stoddart & Sterrett, were listed at the corner of 7th and State Sts.

The cornet was not only the most popular brass instrument of the 19th century, it was arguably the leading solo instrument of any kind. There were hundreds of well known cornet soloists in America who were famed for the dexterity of their fingers and the dash of their tonguing. Newspaper reviews regularly praised the dynamic tunes and daring tempos of these master cornet players. The public knew the best ones just by their last names - Gilmore, Levy, Liberati, Clarke.

As subjects of photographs from 1875 to 1925, musicians holding a cornet easily outnumber every other instrumentalist. But the price of such popularity meant that many photographs are never properly identified. Just another musician in a good coat.

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The second unknown cornetist comes from Ogdensburg, New York and there might be a better chance of identifing him as there are many Ogdensburg newspaper reports on the town band. He might be Prof. D. H. Bowen who was the band leader in 1875; or Prof. David from 1884; Prof. Theodore Filiatrault from 1892; or Prof. A. Edward Dumouchel from 1896. Or maybe he was one of the cornet soloists - Fredrich Gamble, G. Ernest Sims or Paul Prager.

Regrettably more clues are needed before this musician's mystery identity can be solved.

The photographer was Crane of No.5 Water Street, Ogdensburg, NY.  The Ogdensburg city directories of 1882 and 1898  carried a listing for Frederick M. Crane, photographer at that address, but by 1900 he was gone. 

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The third unknown cornet player from this same era is from Lewiston,  Maine. He looks to be the youngest of the three and sports a similar frock coat. His full figure pose allows us to see his striped trousers, and the standard fur rug that hides the photographer's steady rest stand. In the background is a painted flat that gives an faint illusion of an palatial interior.

With all three gentlemen, the one fashion accessory that is missing is their hat. No flat cap or derby for these gents. I suspect that just off camera from each man, near their cornet case, is a glossy top hat to complete their outfit.

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Unlike the other cabinet cards which have plain backs,  this photo has an attractive back stamp for the Fassett & Bassett Photographic Art Studio of Lewiston, Maine.

The studio was located in the Sands Building, Lisbon Street and the two photographers were Alvarez G. Fassett  (born 1849) and Harry C. Bassett.  The 1891 Lewiston city directory listed Harry's occupation as crayon artist, while Alvarez was a photographer.  Fassett was still taking photos as late as 1910, but Bassett seems to have left after 1894.

The Lewiston directories also listed a Maine Conservatory of Music at 149 Lisbon St. that was active from 1891 to 1896. The style of this photo fits with that time period, so it's possible that his gentleman was associated with this conservatory.  Maybe he was a real professor. too.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where things are just lighting up this weekend.


Wendy said...

How cute that Fassett and Bassett found each other.

So I assume those moustaches didn't interfere with playing the cornet. However, I noticed Mr. Sunbeam has his trimmed back framing those puffy lips. Looks like he was genetically destined for a horn.

Brett Payne said...

I'm reminded of an itinerant Derbyshire photographer who styled himself "Professor" Frank Simpson. He also claimed to be photographer to HRH the Prince of Wales but this, too, was almost certainly a fabrication. In this context, and of course with plenty of hindsight, it almost seems guaranteed to evoke the image of a purveyor of snake oil.

If you hadn't found the full names or Messrs Fassett and Bassett, I would have been tempted to assume that at least one of them was imaginary. Nice to know that Bassett had equal billing with the photographer - rather unusual, as many of the colourists (or artists) were junior employees who never got a mention.

Bob Scotney said...

I wonder whether cornet players ever smoke. Would the effects interfere with their breathing?

tony said...

My Mind Is Playing Tricks This Week!The Top Gent Looks Much Like Freddie Mercury to me! + I Love His Body Language! All That Pent Up Energy! He Doesnt Want To Be Sitting Still At All!
And that 3rd gentleman...He looks not a little like David Tennent!

Karen S. said...

They certainly did all carry a special style about them. I can only imagine what beautiful tunes they played as well. Great photos again!

Alex Daw said...

Tony I was just about to post the same thing. It's Freddy Mercury for sure! Or his grandad. Lovely photos.

Postcardy said...

I hope you are able to identify those men sometime. Not being musical myself, I was most interested in the Fassett and Bassett design (and I was amused by the names too).

Kathy Morales said...

I played the cornet all through school. I was usually the only cornet player. The rest of the section played trumpet.

Tattered and Lost said...

I'm quite fascinated by the second fellow who has an almost cross eyed stare. I can easily imagine him watching his own fingers as he played. And if he didn't have the coronet I'd have pegged him for a doctor.


That first guy,
got the same lips as singer Freddy Mercury. A distant relative?!?

Oops!! Just saw Tony's comment.
Great minds think alike...

Gordon said...

Many photographers of this period provided clothes for people to wear for their sitting, so making judgements about people's wealth or social status from clothing in old photographs is difficult.


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