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 }

Jersey City Musicians

19 October 2010

These anonymous musicians appear dressed for a high society concert. Perhaps they are members of a hotel or theater orchestra. The gentleman standing in the center holds a roll of music which is photographer's code for the leader and piano player. The instrumentation of  5 string players, clarinet, flute, and piano would be suitable for musical arrangements of light classics and popular tunes.

Again the same musicians but a different pose. Both photos are very large format prints and on the cardboard back is the photographer's name - George L. Wilms of Jersey City, NJ. He was born in Germany in 1857 and immigrated to the United States in 1863. He became a successful pharmacist and was listed in a kind of "Who's Who" of New Jersey in 1883.

George L. Wilms, Pharmacist, No. 142 Monticello Avenue, Jersey City Heights, — 
One of the most enterprising, thorough-going business men engaged in business as a pharmacist on Jersey City Heights is Mr. George L. Wilms, who is located at No. 142 Monticello Avenue. Mr. Wilms is a German by birth, but has been a citizen of the United States many years. He has had a long experience as a pharmacist, having graduated from the New York College of Pharmacy in 1865. He has been in his present location since 1878 and has become popular and won the confidence and esteem of the whole community by his courtesy and gentlemanly manner toward all. As a pharmacist he is thoroughly skilled in its every department and has a full and comprehensive knowledge of drugs and their properties and makes a specialty of compounding physicians' prescriptions and difficult formulas, which he prepares in the most accurate and skillful manner. Mr. Wilms' store is one of the attractive features of Monticello Avenue and is handsomely fitted up with elaborate show-cases and counters. A full and general assortment of pure drugs of every description, also chemicals and all the various pharmaceutical preparations and all articles required by physicians in their practice, together with articles for the toilet, are always to be found there. Mr. Wilms enjoys a large patronage and is regarded by all the community as one of the most reliable pharmacists on the Heights.

In the 19th century, a pharmacist, or "Druggist" in the US and "Chemist" in the UK, often took up the trade of a photographer. Processing early negatives and prints used chemicals that were quite complicated (and dangerous) and it required skills that came naturally to someone trained as a pharmacist. And the early drug stores probably provided a suitable rooms for setting up the large studio cameras for portraits.

George Wilms  first listed himself as a photographer in the 1897-98 Hoboken & Jersey City directory. His address changed to 48 Harrison Ave. and the building still stands today in Jersey City. He took pride in his art and entered some of his landscape photographs in photography magazine contests of the late 1890's. He also was secretary of the New Jersey Kennel Club.  His name still appeared in the 1920 census listing his occupation as photographer..

There are no clues to the identity of this group of musicians. The Hoboken & Jersey City directory lists perhaps a dozen musicians but no orchestras. (However there are over a dozen dealers in Oysters and even two for Ostrich Feathers!)  Mr. Wilms' address would put the date after 1896 but probably are not much after 1900. They could also be members of a musical club or fraternal society. Undoubtedly Mr. Wilms would know the many German groups in his community, and music was an important part of German heritage. But these men look more like a hotel orchestra to me. Perhaps they are from across the river and perform in New York City.

They certainly had very fine tailors.

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