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
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Sharp Hats for Low Brass

24 October 2014

The uniforms of military bands have always been where more high fashion is displayed than martial arts. In the decades before 1914, an army bandsman's apparel was often as bright and flashy as any costumed entertainer in the circus or theater world. A bandsman's tunic was often bedecked with elaborate gold braid and embroidery. Each band used distinctive buttons, badges, belts, and epaulets to signify its regiment. And topping off the uniform was usually an extravagant shako cap like this sharp one worn by a musician from Hull, England.

The Prussian army helmet with its distinctive and impractical spike, called the Pickelhaube, was a popular military headgear emulated by several other nations around the world. Since the British army shared a Germanic heritage when the Hanoverian King George I became the British monarch in 1714, it was not an uncommon British helmet style prior to the Great War.

The swallowtail epaulets on this musician's shoulders are also a Germanic device used to distinguish a bandsman's uniform from an ordinary soldier. His instrument is a baritone horn, a member of the low brass family of brass band instruments and a kind of treble tuba.

Notice that he also has a short sword on his belt, which is a very useful implement to attach to a baritone or euphonium, making it an even more offensive weapon.

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Source: East Yorkshire Helmet

The helmet plate on the bandsman's hat has quite a lot of shine in the photograph, but the shape is still clear enough to identify the era it was used, which was during the reign of Queen Victoria. The center circular boss could be changed for different regimental badges and here we can see an 8 pointed star and white rose which is the symbol of the East Yorkshire Regiment of East Riding.

This image was posted on Photobucket by a collector of militaria and it offers a splendid match to the baritone player's helmet. He might even have served during the Second Anglo-Afghan War and the Second Boer War.

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The photographer was W. M. Edmonds of 123 Witham, Near North Bridge, Hull or Kingston upon Hull as it is formally known. On the back he advertises for Large Groups and All branches of outdoor Photography.  The style of helmet and photographer's stamp would date this carte de visite to the 1890s.

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American bandsmen also used the Prussian helmet style but often added extra height with a feathered plume. This tuba player sports a frilled hat as he stands for the photographer in Jackson, California, which is SE of Sacramento. Unlike the shoulder pads on the bandsman of Hull, his fringed epaulets are a style used by the French military. His jacket also has cut-away tails which are difficult to see. He appears not to have a belt or sword. But then tuba players rarely need them.

This cabinet card dates from the 1890s and the photographer was W. Kay of Jackson, Cal., with L. C. Swain, operator, who must have jiggled the camera or there was a small earthquake, as the image is a bit blurred.   

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To give a better view of the American army band uniform of this period I bring back one of the well dressed trombonists I featured in a post from May 2012. This valve trombone player was a musician in a U.S. Army regimental band in California's premier city, San Francisco. His plume reveals more of the spike and eagle helmet plate. The original photo is quite faded so I have improved and enlarged it.

The photographer was the New York Gallery of J. H. Peters & Co. of 25 Third St., San Francisco.

He might have worn a sword on his belt too, but it would be hidden behind his back. A typical trombone trick. 

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Finally a quartet of seriously low brass from Osage, Iowa. These bandsmen have posed with an alto horn (back right), two tenor horns (left back and front), and a baritone horn (front right). Their uniforms are similar to other army bands of the 1880s and 1890s and I believe they may be members of the 6th Regiment of the Iowa National Guard. They wear a variation of a German style cap that has a flattened top and short plume. The photographer of this cabinet card was Evans and Conray of Osage, IA. which is in north central Iowa near Minnesota. If you click the image to enlarge it, you can see a faint outline of engraving on the horn bells.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where tall hats are all the rage again.


Howard said...

I had no idea that British soldiers wore the pickelhaube. Great post as always Mike.

Postcardy said...

I love the design on the back of the Edmonds carte de visite.

Little Nell said...

I’m so glad you featured the pickelhaube again; I do like saying it! I wonder if it will come up in a crossword some time. Very smart uniforms.

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

The idea of a sword dangling from a euphonium made me laugh as did your comment about a small earthquake causing the blur in one of the photos. The giant plumes on the hats are also amusing when contrasted with the tiny plumes. I wonder when a uniform was designed in those days if it was a democratic process or if one person dictated what the uniform would be.

Anonymous said...

I was interested to read about the short swords and attaching them to an instrument. As far as I am aware the Australian bandsmen in WW1 doubled as stretcher bearers and not as potential fighters.

Alex Daw said...

When I clicked on the last image to enlarge it all I could see was that one man had cleaned his shoes and the other hadn't ;)

B. Rogers, Living in Black Mountain said...

Loved hearing about the swords the various bandsmen wore, and I'm sure they drilled with them as well. Have you also followed the high school and college marching bands that do formations in parades but most especially in half times? I'm impressed that they can play an instrument and remember when to go which direction and turn. Is there a name for those drilling musicians?

Bob Scotney said...

We live in North Yorkshire and I have worked near Hull so this post was of special interest to me. The pickelhaube adds a definite ceremonial style to the bandsman.

Wendy said...

I have not paid much attention recently to what high school and college bands are wearing, but these uniforms from the late 1800s-early 1900s seem timeless.

Anonymous said...

I love the epaulets on the first photo and the back of that photo as well. Sometimes the backs of CDVs are just as interesting as the front.

Jo Featherston said...

I always thought the police wore helmets as a kind of protective headgear, but that can hardly be said for bandsmen, who surely must wear them for purely decorative reasons.


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