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 }

Self Portrait with Flute

10 November 2017

Every good portrait photo has a focus point.
Usually it is the subject's face,
specifically the eyes.
Where do they gaze?
Directly into the camera lens?
Off sides but downward for a look of humility?
Level to show assurance?
Upwards for aspiration?
Each arrangement conveys
a different attitude and meaning.
This man clearly intended a romantic ideal.
His eyes are focused on some distant mountain.
His high forehead, flowing long hair,
add to his mystical appearance.
But it is his blackwood and ivory flute
that captures our attention.
This man appears to be a musical artist.
But he was also a portrait artist
and a photographer.

His cabinet card photo was taken by  

Prof. Ehrlich    New York.

This is one of the most remarkable photos
in my collection because it is
a rare self-portrait made
by the photographer himself.
How do I know?
Because Professor Ehrlich
included a picture of himself
engraved in the photo's backstamp.

Prof. Ehrlich's
Photograph Gallery
Art Studio

Portraits in Oil,
Pastel, Watercolors
and Crayon.
Photographs Beautifully Colored

No. 160 East 66th Street
bet. Lexington & 3rd Ave.
New York

Duplicates can be had
at any time.

The photo's backstamp was embellished with fine engravings of Prof. Ehrlich's profile in the upper right corner, his 3 story walk-up studio gallery, seven medallions of his awards for portraits in different media, and his camera seemingly prancing on its tripod.

One medallion awarded for Portraits has a year, 1885. But his first name or even initials were not included. That was resolved by discovering his engraved portraits in the archives of the New York Public Library. The first picture is of the same profile used on the backstamp.

Prof. D. Ehrlich, Portrait Artist
Source: NYPL

The second portrait has a caption Prof. D. Ehrlich. 
That initial D was an important clue in finding him in the census records.

Prof. D. Ehrlich, Portrait Artist
Source: NYPL

His full name was David Ehrlich, born in Austria on June 16, 1848. He emigrated to the United States in April 1878, residing in the Manhattan borough of New York City. This was recorded on his petition for US citizenship filed in NY on September 12, 1906 after he had been in New York nearly 30 years. He listed his occupation as Artist and his address as No. 7 East 116th Street.

In the 1900 Census Ehrlich lived at 136 E. 70th St. His wife's name was Rosa, age 36 and they had five children aged 21 to 6: Oscar, Martin, Jennie, Jacob, and Laura. His occupation was Artist & Photographer. His birthplace was listed as Austrian Poland. Rosa was born in England but of Polish parents. However they had been married for only 11 years and she had only three children. Therefore the older brothers, Oscar and Martin, came from an earlier marriage.

In the 1880 census David Ehrlich, recorded as age 30, though actually 32, occupation Artist, and lived at No. 184 E. 76th St. with his first wife, Jennie, age 19. Oscar Ehrlich was then only age 3/12. Jennie was born in Germany and David's birthplace was recorded as Vienna. Their neighborhood had a large number of people who came from Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg, and Lübeck.

During this age of American expansion, German immigration made New York the third largest city of German speakers after Berlin and Vienna. Manhattan's Lower East Side became known as Little Germany. The New Yorker Volkszeitung was a German language newspaper which published in 1895 an advertisement for Prof. Ehrlich's studio at 160 East 66. Strasse. He offered a dozen ivory finished cabinet cards for only $1.25. Note the clever shoes from E. Fischer just below.

New Yorker Volkszeitung
20 July 1895

Two years later, Ehrlich ran a similar advert in The World, calling himself the King of Photographers while reducing his price to just 75¢ for a dozen. Like the Volkszeitung ad, this woodcut shows him wearing a colorful wide cowboy style hat. With his long hair, he strikes as image of a daring western cowboy not unlike Buffalo Bill Cody whose Great Wild West Show was a popular touring circus spectacle in the 1890s. 

New York World
27 July 1897

A number of photographers printed pictures of their establishments on their photos. It made good marketing sense to show your attractive exterior to people living in a bustling urban maze like New York. The house number is prominently displayed on a rooftop sign along with a banner that reads PORTRAITS, and two more signs. Window light was particularly important for early photographers and it's likely that Ehrlich's studio was on the top floor. However contemporary maps show that 160 East 66th St. also had a rare back garden view too.

Today the house has survived Manhattan's skyscraper development but has been remodeled by removing the steps to the main floor and filling in the ground floor. In 2015 it was listed for sale at $11.9 million. You can find a description and slideshow of the interior rooms at this link.

160 East 66th St., New York City
Source: Google Steet View

It's difficult to know how successful Prof. Ehrlich was as a photographer, but enough of his work has survived to be fairly common on eBay photo sales. I've bought examples that have the identical backstamp with his profile. Here is one of a young woman who gazes just to the side of the camera lens. Ehrlich has artfully tilted her head to give her face a flattering light.

The economy of the United States suffered a major depression in the summer of 1893. By the winter of 1893-94 New York City's charity organizations made a combined effort to provide assistance to the city's poor. Each newspaper took on a different need. The New York Herald had a clothing drive. The New York Tribune did coal and food. And New York World, published by Joseph Pulitzer, ran the World's Bread Fund. In February 1894, the Henry Irving Dramatic League presented its contribution to the fund, a three act drama entitled "Enlisted for the War." Tickets to the show included a coupon for one dozen cabinet photographs from Prof. Ehrlich's studio on East 66th St. It's possible that the woman's cabinet photo above was one of these promotions.

New York World
23 February 1894

In addition to that offer Prof. Ehrlich also gave out souvenir photos at a production of Cinderella by Carl Marwig's juvenile company. Every woman attending the benefit received a photo of two pretty children, laden with good things to eat.

New York World
23 February 1894

Just this week as I was preparing this story, I found a copy of this same souvenir photo. A small sad-eyed boy, age about 2, holds a loaf of Challah bread and a smoked turkey. Around his neck are several links of sausage and at his feet are two eggs and another loaf of bread. The caption reads:

Just coming from the “World's Bread Fund”
Original and Copyrighted '94
by Prof. D. Ehrlich

In February 1894, Rosa and David Ehrlich's youngest son, Jacob had just turned two. Their next oldest child was daughter Jennie, age 5. Rather than picking up random street urchins, I suspect Ehrlich used his own children to make these melodramatic photographs, and that this small boy is in fact Jacob Ehrlich, born January 1892. It is no coincidence that on the wall behind the child is a framed portrait. It is the photo used to make the engraving of Prof. D. Ehrlich, Portrait Artist and Photographer. Based on this likeness, I believe his self portrait with flute dates from 1892 to 1894.


Now for some flute lessons.

Like many other woodwind instruments the flute underwent significant improvements during the 19th century. New materials and mechanisms altered the simple flute design of the baroque era into an instrument with louder tone and an ability to play more notes faster. This was due to the innovations in woodwind keywork. The man who takes most of the credit for this was Theobald Boehm (1794-1881) a Bavarian flute virtuoso and celebrated inventor of what is called the modern concert flute. Boehm applied new methods of scientific measurement to understand the acoustics of the flute. His use of silver and gold instead of wood made the sound of the flute more brilliant, but it was his innovative key system that gave flutists' fingers better facility to play faster and with more chromatic notes.  He introduced his first Boehm system flute in 1851 at the London Exhibition, but it took many decades before was adopted by flute players. Over time his key system attracted the notice of other woodwind makers and is now used for oboes and clarinets.

The Library of Congress has a fine portrait photo of Theobald Boehm which resembles Ehrlich's photo. You will notice that Boehm's flute is made of African blackwood including the headjoint. This photo appears in Boehm's book on flute design where he is described as age 60 so it was prpbably taken around 1854-55.

Theobald Boehm, 1794-1881
Source: LOC
A second photo from the LOC collection shows Theobald Boehm and Antoine Sacchetti, an Italian flute virtuoso, posing with two silver flutes. Sacchetti's career took him to St. Petersburg, Russia where he became a noted performer and teacher. Boehm appears a bit older so this photo probably dates from the 1860s.

Antoine Sacchetti and Theobald Boehm
Source: LOC

However the flute David Ehrlich is holding is not a Boehm flute. It is another system designed by Heinrich Friedrich Meyer (1814–1897) who was from Hannover in Lower Saxony, Germany. Elephant ivory was a material often used for the headjoint  because it was considered more durable and stable. It was also very easily turned on a lathe.

Unlike Boehm's metal flutes which were cylindrical, Meyer's flutes used the same reverse conical bore as the simple baroque flute. It also had open tone holes with just 11 keys. The Library of Congress has the wonderful Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection of over 1700 flutes and flute iconography which provided several examples of a  Meyerflöte. I have arranged one next to Ehrlich's flute to show how the keys match up.

On Murray Street near Broadway, not too far from Prof. Ehrlich's studio, was  C. A. Zoebisch & Sons, Importers and Wholesale Dealers in Musical Instruments. They made a point of advertising both Superior Boehm and Genuine Meyer flutes.

1898 New York City directory
Advertisement for C. A. Zoebisch & Sons
Importers and Wholesale Dealers in Musical Instruments


New York Tribune
15 September 1901

David Ehrlich labeled himself an artist beginning with the 1880 census. The New York city directory likewise listed his occupation as artist from 1884 to 1891. His Manhattan studio at 160 E. 66th Street first advertised in newspapers in 1882 but only for portraits in oil, pastel, water colors, and crayon. Photography came later, added sometime around 1890 at the E. 60th St. studio which continued until at least 1897. After that year he stopped advertising and by 1901 he had a new address at 157 East 75th Street where he advertised lessons in oil painting, pastel, crayon, and photography. Just two ad boxes above is Flute Instruction (Boehm system) given by an expert flutist at the same address. This marks his change from the fine arts to musical arts.

- -

New York Times
04 October 1912

In the new century, photography was turning popular tastes away from fine art portraits, and now even studio photographers had competition from new inexpensive film cameras that let anyone take a good picture. David Ehrlich moved away from artist/photographer to flute teacher. In the 1910 census only he and his second eldest son, Martin, were recorded as a family unit. By 1912 he had a new address at 519 West 138th St. where he offered flute instruction, moderate rates, pamphlets mailed free. 

It's likely that as Europe went to war in 1914 and then as America joined the allied effort in 1917, Austrian-Americans like Prof. Ehrlich were at pains to avoid any connection with the enemy.
_ _

Although I don't know if Ehrlich worked as a professional musician in New York, I can't say he didn't either. Orchestras and band rosters from this era are very rare and often incomplete in regards to substitutes or transient musicians. Certainly there would have been lots of musical work in New York's theaters for a skilled flutist.

And it's not impossible that Prof. Ehrlich was personally acquainted with the German flute masters Theobald Boehm or Heinrich Friedrich Meyer. It does seem very likely that as a resident of the biggest cultural city in America and a self-promoting portrait artist, Ehrlich made efforts to meet all the flute players of New York and any who passed through on tour.

But I believe the flute was initially only an avocation for Ehrlich, not a profession. His emphasis on fine art portraiture in his early career makes no mention of music until 1901 when he was age 53. I think the pamphlet mentioned in this last advert may have been the start of a more ambitious project.

In 1922, Dayton C. Miller (1866 – 1941), a physicist, astronomer, acoustician, and accomplished amateur flutist, revised Theobald Boehm's 1871 book, The Flute and Flute Playing. In the appendix bibliography was a reference to The History of the Flute, by D. Ehrlich, New York, 107 pages, published in 1921. When Mr. Miller's flute collection was donated to the Library of Congress, it included two flutes identified as coming from David Ehrlich, though not the flute on his photograph.

The Flute and Flute Playing, by Theobald Boehm, 1871
revised by Dayton C. Miller, 1922

Professor David Ehrlich, portrait artist, photographer, and flutist
died in Manhattan on April 3, 1926.
He was not quite 78 years old.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where sometimes you get to see the photographer.


Postcardy said...

Great contribution! I am always amaxed at all the information you uncover based on one photograph.

Little Nell said...

I’m thinking that the multi-talented and very handsome professor was also very charismatic. Great research once again.

Susan Kelly said...

What a terrific post! The professor would make a good character for a book or film.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

Another fantastic piece of research. The professor was an interesting figure and very much an artist.
Susan's comment is right on.

Tattered and Lost said...

This was perfection. And I immediately thought Wild Bill! Instead it's Wild Ehrlich. I love the back of his photos. Goes beyond simple advertising. Some designer spent some serious time putting that together.

Mollys Canopy said...

Excellently researched article about Prof. Ehrlich and his photography/flute instructor careers. New York City used to have beer gardens all over its boroughs dating from the period of significant German immigration. Now there is only one of the originals left, in Astoria, Queens, N.Y. -- currently run by a Czech proprietor. I like the way you include the entire photo print in your posts. I usually crop mine, but may start doing this in future to show every detail.

Barbara Rogers said...

What a great artist, Professor Erlich was, whether with camera or flute. I went to a recent concert where a black flute was played, the first time I'd seen one. I admit I don't attend concerts often, but it did sound wonderful.


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