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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Send in the Clowns!

17 October 2014

Did she catch your eye? That girl looking into the camera? She distracts our attention from this saxophone quartet until we notice that the other three players are made up with clown faces. Of the four musicians dressed in military band uniforms, she's the only pretty one and no doubt the smart one too, in The Bonnes Cie., a music hall act from Belgium.

The name of the group, The Bonnes Cie., may involve an ironic mixture of the French word bon for good, (bonnes = fem. version) with the term bonnes for a domestic or housemaid. The use of an English article, The, with a French abbreviation Cie. for compagnie or company adds to the confusion, which of course is probably the idea since clowns specialize in nonsense. Here the quartet have replaced saxophones for muskets and bayonets and put on tall military hats. We get a larger view of the painted stage backdrop which shows an army encampment outside the walls of a formidable fortress.

The quartet now pose around a small cannon and we are left to wonder at what buffoonery is about to happen. Can you see the confetti about to explode in someone's face?

The postcards were never mailed but on the back is the mark of a photography studio in Anvers or Antwerp, Belgium where the languages spoken can be French, Flemish, and sometimes Dutch.

Photographie Jacqmain
113 RUE CARNOT, 113
ANVERS. Téléphone 5957

Poses á la lumière électrique, le
soir jusqu'á 8 heures également
les Dimanches
Pas de succursales.

Opnamen met electrisch licht.
's avonds tot 8 uren Zon-en
Geene bijhuizen

Pictures in electric light
evening up to 8:00 also Sundays.
No branches.
_ _

Source: The Internet

Somewhere in the vast universe of the internet, on a website now lost, I found this image of a colorful poster for

The Original Bonnes Co. 
Great Musical Novelty

The illustrator has used the last two photographs to draw the four comical characters in their military uniforms.  Presumably the jacket and trouser colors of red and blue did match the real costumes.

Though they are advertised as a musical novelty, for some reason the saxophones do not appear on the poster. However just behind their name is an American flag! What's that about?

_ _

The Bonnes quartet returned with instruments to an unnamed studio for this next photo postcard which shows a typical saxophone quartet in 4 different sizes, (l-r) soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. The saxophone was invented in 1840 by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian instrument maker working in Paris, who had the imagination to combine the single reed sound of a woodwind instrument with a brass instrument so that it would be louder and more stable when played outdoors in a military band. It could even be made in 8 sizes, with one smaller than the soprano, and three monstrous bass saxophones larger than the baritone. It was first used in French and Belgian army bands in the mid-19th century but was generally ignored by German bands and was not common in British and American bands until the 20th century. 

The musician's uniforms, except for the girl's gypsy bandana, resemble those of the Belgian army bands of the era before 1914, so I believe the photos of this vaudeville music hall act date from before the First World War.

The back of this postcard has the address of a French music agent in Paris,
15, Rue de l'Echiquier, 15
TELEPHONE No. 271 60

His stamp appears on other music hall acts of the pre-war era.

The Bonnes also brought along another quartet of instruments – 4 concertinas, a type of free reed button accordion. It would appear that the girl's instrument is one size larger and therefor more baritone than the squeezeboxes of the other men.

And what self-respecting clown could neglect the most comical of instruments – the highland bagpipes?  In this last photo, the Bonnes have changed instruments for two Scottish bagpipes with snare and bass drums. The tall bearskin caps were a feature of the grenadiers or guards uniforms in several armies as well as the British army. The pineapple shaped badge on the Bonnes' caps is the emblem of the Belgian grenadier regiment.

advertisment for Theatro S. Jose
Correio da Manhã, Rio de Janeiro
6 November 1926

The group kept together during the war years and must have been successful enough to keep people of any nationality laughing, as the Bonnes Co. - (phantasistas musicaes) turned up in a 1926 notice for a Brazilian music hall in Rio de Janeiro. They were on a South American tour and performed twice a day at 4:00 and 8:00 alongside Japanese acrobats, Tyrolean singers, and the Catalini bicyclists who pedaled around on a giant spinning plate. The theater also showed a silent film with the American actress Norma Talmadge.

I think the sound of a saxophone quartet can make terrific music, whether for classical, jazz, or pop. We can never know what jokes or music that the Bonnes Co. made, but if they were around today I think we might hear them performing at Disney World, just like this saxophone quartet that works the streets of the Tokyo Disney Resort. And they have one girl too.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to find out what other folks have cobbled together this weekend.


Brett Payne said...

What a wonderful set of postcards, Mike, and I think it fascinating that the scenes - and background - of the beautifully coloured poster are identical to those in the first three postcards. What a great find.

Little Nell said...

Such an interesting set of postcards. The girls stands out for so many reasons, and you’re right, she certainly catches the eye.

Lorraine Phelan said...

The group was together a long time then. I wonder what happened next.

La Nightingail said...

The old postcards of The Good Company are great, but thank you for including the video of a modern day saxophone quartet. My daughter plays alto sax & enjoyed the video very much!

Postcardy said...

Great postcards and poster. I was surprised to see a similar modern group.

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

The girl adds so much to the group...interesting that she wears something like tights, which seems a bit revealing for the times. But then musicians were considered a bit racy weren't they? I wonder if she was married to one of the men.

Alex Daw said...

Helen - I wonder if she's wearing jodhpurs...just a thought. These are beautiful postcards and I do love saxophones.

Bob Scotney said...

Great set of postcards of an entertaining group. The poster is especially colourful and catches the postcard scenes in a different way.

Anonymous said...

The Bonnes were certainly a versatile group. I can't help smiling at the man with the plastered down dark hair with a strong centre parting.

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

An amazingly diverse set of postcards on this group. I wonder if you bought them as a batch, or having collected a couple, sought the rest out.

Wendy said...

The one Bonne fellow reminds me of Harpo Marx.

Kristin said...

It's really something that the girl almost always has her head cocked to the same side with the same expression on her face. Such a cutie.


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