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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Two Cincinnati Top Hats

06 January 2012

Once upon a time in Cincinnati, Ohio there was a fancy dress ball. In a society season of the 1890's, a young lady and her dressmaker created a most elaborate and beautiful outfit celebrating the horn, or specifically the post horn. The lady was so delighted with the effect that she had her photo taken to commemorate the occasion. She wears a wonderful coat and dress embroidered with horns, along with a silk top hat, and expertly holds a small post horn to her lips.


The Post Horn was once a very common instrument. Played by the postillion, a man mounted on one of the coach horses, its call announced the approach of the fast mail coach, signaled a command to clear the roadway, or gave advance notice to the post station for fresh horses. Like the sound of the bugle and the coach horn, it was a music of utility and practical purpose that is now lost.


The design of the post horn is now the universal symbol for a Postal Service, and nearly every nation has used it at one time or another on their stamps. This is a German stamp series from the 1950's.

Deutsche Bundespost from Wikimedia Commons

The young lady's purpose for her dress is really only a guess. However Cincinnati was a very important place for culture and society in 19th century America. Located on the Ohio River, it was a center of industry and commerce and attracted many European immigrants, notably Germans. So a dress with a Post Horn theme would not be an odd fashion for a young woman from a German heritage to choose for a Fasching or carnival ball. Alas her name is unknown, and though I know this cabinet card was taken in Cincinnati, the photographer's name must remain unknown for now, as I gave the original to a good friend as a gift and failed to save the original full scan of the photo.

The second Cincinnati top hat is in a cabinet photograph of an unknown gentleman with his violin, standing ready for a conductor's downbeat. His violin case lays open showing an extra bow, and on a fern stand at his side are his top hat and gold capped cane. Surely this is a professional musician, perhaps even a concertmaster of a Cincinnati orchestra. I think he has a very Germanic look about him, which would be the typical nationality for most orchestral musicians in the major American cities of this era.

The photographer is Herman Mueller of 607 Central Ave. Cincinnati, O. and despite the 5 or 6 pages of Muellers, I found his name easily in the city directories, as Herman Mueller was the only photographer. Born in Germany in 1833, Herman started his photography studio in Cincinnati around 1885, but only the 1888 directory lists the address as Central Ave. as in later years he continued on Vine St. until just after 1910. Interestingly, Herman's two daughters Maria and Alfrieda Mueller were listed in the census as a photographers too. Did they hear this gentleman play his violin that day?

My contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link for more enthusiasts of vintage photographs and rabbits.


Lisa said...

Wow. My favorite kind of post! Well written, great vintage photos, and now I know some things I didn't know before! Glad I stopped by (from Sepia Saturday)!

Little Nell said...

Great pictures and history behind them as usual Mike. That first picture is wonderful with such a detailed costume. I would have loved to see it in the flesh as it were, in all its glory.

Postcardy said...

that first photo is very intriguing. It seems like an odd choice for a ball. It looks more like something for a performance of some sort.

Bob Scotney said...

Hats are appearing a lot this week, but it was yur stamps that distracted me. I've spent a while searching my albums for stamps showing horns. The horn connection with postage had slipped my mind, but not any more. Interesting as usual Mike.

Kristin said...

I wonder what everybody else was wearing at that fancy ball. And if not a ball, what occasion she was wearing it for.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful detail in these photos - imagine the work which went into making the horn outfit! Jo

Nancy said...

Your posts are always so richly informative. I can only guess at the time it took to stitch and embroider the young lady's costume. Don't you wish we could tell colors from the old sepia photos? I do!

21 Wits said...

Oh it would be fun to recreate one of those fancy dress balls, and just see such a gala presentation of style and good taste.....!

Unknown said...

Mike, I always love your posts and especially when they feature Cincinnati! It seems you have a large number of Cincinnati photos. I will email you a series of articles on Cincinnati photographers. It may save you from downloading more Cincinnati directories. ;)

The top hat was a great take on the theme. I'm really enjoying seeing where folks have gone with this.

Tattered and Lost said...

Stunned by the woman's grand coat. I wonder whatever became of it.

And I do remember those German stamps. I believe I have some.

Wendy said...

I've never heard of a post horn. It looks much like the horns you see in Christmas cards that evoke that colonial time or the hunt, I suppose. Very interesting post.

Alan Burnett said...

As always, quite fascinating Mike. Your posts are always such a joy to read - and an equal joy to look at. Perfectly presented, perfectly composed, perfectly balances - a bit like a Cincinnati Top Hat.

Bruno Laliberté said...

great evolution through vintage pics and stamps and a myriad of details. And you could almost do a repost with the first pic for next weekend as it is about ladies and hats. But surely you have more in store...


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