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 }

Birds of a Feather - The Well-Dressed Cornetist

25 January 2019

It's a total effect that catches the eye.
The gleaming buttons trimmed with lustrous gold lace, 

the tall feathery shackos with ornamental medallions,

the fancy corded aiguillettes with tassels and knots

and the shoulder epaulets with their frilly bullion fringe,
all make a kind of colorful plumage
that decorates the dress uniform of a primer bandsman.

And a mustache only sharpens
the viewer's attention
on these four portraits of cornet players.

{click any image to enlarge it}

My first cornetist is dressed in a splendid outfit with classic fringed epaulets and nine rows of triple gold buttons embossed with a lyre symbol and joined by lace banding. His fashion borrows the accoutrements of a military uniform but is not really a regulation serviceman's dress, only a fanciful imitation.  Hanging from his pocket is a watch fob that could be an insignia for a fraternal order society. A boutonniere is attached to his chest which suggests his photo was taken on a special occasion.

His cabinet card photo with a 3/4 pose in an oval vignette was taken by photographer H. J. Kertson of Crookston, Minnesota and likely dates from the 1880s or early 1890s. Crookston lies in the Red River Valley in northwest Minnesota and at one time it was the hub for eight different railroad lines. In 1880 its population was 1,227. By the end of that decade it jumped to 3,457. 

* * *

The second cornetist has arguably the tallest feathered hat plume. His uniform has a similar arrangement of 9 rows of three buttons but is more subdued, lacking epaulets or braid. His cuffs however are made of a neat contrasting material with a three button scalloped edge. His belt buckle has a large embossed bugle, very like a post horn, which was once the insignia for an infantry regiment. It was discontinued for the U.S.Army in 1875 and replaced with a symbol of crossed flintlock muskets. But the medallion on his shako has the initials PCB which likely stand for P_ _ _ Cornet Band. So I don't think he was a military bandsman. My theory is that the infantry bugle belt buckle reflects his personal service in the army before 1875.

The photographer was Root of Dubuque, Iowa, a port city in eastern Iowa on the Mississippi River border with Wisconsin. The city had a population of 25,254 in 1880 which is the decade this cabinet card photo was produced. There are several good candidates for the town name of P_ _ _ Cornet Band. Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin is just 70 miles upriver from Dubuque while Princeton, Iowa is about the same distance downriver. And Platteville, Wisconsin is just 21 miles northeast. 

* * *

The third cornet player combines all the elements of the previous dress uniforms and adds an aiguillette accessory. For the military these silk cords signified special honors for officers and were typically worn attached to a shoulder board. This bandsman's cord is draped between two buttons and he is certainly not an officer or even a member of any official US military band, so it may be a type of fourragère which is another kind of braided regimental honor for the enlisted troops. Both cords descend from French military traditions which exerted a strong influence on American military fashions. Whatever it's called I can say it was once a very common ornamental trimming with American band uniforms in the 19th century. Notice also that this cornetist's instrument, a B-flat cornet like the others, is very highly engraved and, I believe, plated in silver.. 

This cabinet card photo is slightly trimmed and has no marking for photographer or location. Like the others he dates roughly from 1885 to 1899.

* * *

The last of the four cornetists was photographed seated and bareheaded. He appears older than the other three men, perhaps late 40s or 50s? His uniform has the same nine row triple button pattern, generous frilled epaulets, and an large belt buckle with an embossed music lyre. Like the others he also has a striped ribbon sewn to his trouser leg. On his lap he holds his music folio. He is not without a hat though, as a feathered shako rests on the table next to his cornet.

The photographer was Cornell of Waterville, New York which is a village in Oneida County, NY just east southeast of Syracuse, NY.   In 1890 it had a population of 2,024 citizens. 

* * *

In my observation of 19th century photographs and within my photo collection, the cornet was king, as photos of musicians who played one far outnumber those of any other kind of instrumentalist. It was clearly the most popular musical instrument in America as newspaper reports of band concerts regularly promoted the names of cornet soloists. In the 1880s and 90s, every town across the country had at least one band, or more, led by, or featuring, a talented cornetist. The names of these four men may be lost to us now, but once upon a time, their photos would have been easily recognized by thousands of their fellow town citizens who not only knew their name but remembered the beautiful music they played. And the dazzling delight of their dress uniform. If only we could see the color.

Expect more on this series of The Well-Dressed Cornetist. They rival my other fashion series on trombonists and clarinetists, but there are many more cornets in my collection to feature.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where a man's car is his carriage.


Wendy said...

The second and third cornetists seem to have purchased their uniforms from the same place. Interesting point that local bands were often led by cornetists. Doc Severinson from the old Johnny Carson show played trumpet. I wonder how many other tv show bands were led by trumpet players.

tony said...

Mike, I always thought I would make a rubbish soldier! You have to be so organised,tidy,+love routine & discipline. Not my style at all!
Your post confirms my thought.
Imagine the time it must have taken him to keep clean & tidy. The uniform (those braids!):the polished brass! Even the mustache!!!

Kathy Morales said...

You provided me with a vocabulary lesson today! I played cornet. It was not my instrument of choice and I don't believe I was physically suited - weak embouchure. Or could that have been a lack of practice? I was usually the only cornet player among a row of trumpets and usually the only girl as well - which was ok by me. When I wanted to take band in elementary school, my dad came home with a used cornet and said "here's your instrument." I stuck with it through my first semester of marching season in college. By then, most members of the band were music majors, unlike me.

La Nightingail said...

All four cornetists are smartly outfitted and all would deserve a good look. But it's that second fellow who would make me look twice - and not because of his uniform! :)

Susan Kelly said...

Such granduer.

Tattered and Lost said...

Over the years you have provided me with such a wonderful education about these musicians from long ago. I thank you very much for each one you've written. They always send me back in time.

Barbara Rogers said...

I'm so glad you are fluent in "uniform-vocabuary" - knowing what all those bits and braids and shiny parts are called. I had no idea beyond "buttons" and perhaps epaulettes. I can just imagine how all those musicians practiced at home, then had rehearsals together (several times a week?) compared to the music we stream from the internet, when we happen to not have another electronic devise providing entertainment. I am definitely drawn to a band when I might be walking in a small town that has a bandstand still.


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