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 }

The Wheeler & Wilson Factory Band

30 March 2012

One hundred years ago, village bands, town bands, city bands, army bands, navy bands, boys bands, ladies bands, circus bands, theater bands, and even prison bands posed for a camera. But another type of community band shows up less often in photographs - the company band. This postcard shows an rare example of such a factory ensemble, the Famous Wheeler and Wilson Band of Bridgeport, Connecticut. When not playing music, these men  made the machines that kept America in stitches, they worked for the  Wheeler & Wilson Sewing Machine Company.

Wheeler & Wilson number 9 machine
Wheeler & Wilson manufactured some of the most successful sewing machine designs of the 19th century. Allen B. Wilson started in 1850 with several inventions that could make a lockstitch in cloth. In 1853 he attracted the interest of Nathaniel Wheeler who had the capital to  start a manufacturing plant. Together they made machines for all kinds of sewing operations and at one time had factories in Bridgeport employing thousands of workers. In 1907 the company was taken over by the Singer Corporation but the factories continued to make machines until after WWI. The band seems to have continued too, but it is possible that this postcard is a copy of an earlier photo.

This 26 piece wind band has mostly brass instruments with one flute, 4 clarinets, and 3 drummers. It includes 3 horn players in the back row and a second tuba player on the right who holds a German style instrument which has a more conical bell. Their uniforms are more conservative than the embroidered style of some regimental or town bands of this period. 

Many factories, railroad companies, and trade unions maintained bands. Company bands like this played not only for the factory employees but were also part of the local musical culture performing for many civic events. The musicians were usually ordinary employees, but some were professional musicians brought in as soloists. Band leaders especially might be music teachers or noted players engaged to improve the quality of an ensemble.  All work and no play was not always a company rule. Last year I wrote about a similar band from another great center of American industry, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Kempsmith Band.

In a 1919 edition of The Music Trades. a journal for workers in the music industry offered this report: 
The sixtieth anniversary of the Wheeler & Wilson band Bridgeport Conn was celebrated recently George Sanger a member of the band for fifty five years related the history of the band as he recalled it Mr Sanger is the oldest living member of the band.

The cornet player seated second from right has a G.A.R. medal on his coat, a union army veteran's badge of the Grand Army of the Republic. I think he may be George Sanger.   

The back is postmarked Bridgeport, Conn August 23, 1910 and addressed to A Usinger Middle-field Ohio.

             Dear Brother,
I re-ceived the receipt  for the back and round of chairs thanking you for same. do you remember any of the faces on other side of card. best of love to each and every one
                    Sister Rickie

Brother Usinger is Andrew Usinger born in Connecticut in 1853. His father was a cabinet maker from Prussia who worked in Bridgeport. In 1870 at age 17, Andrew was the oldest of 5 children and worked in a brass factory.  One of his younger sisters was Frederica, undoubtedly the Sister Rickie writing here.

In the 1880 census, Andrew was in Ohio with occupation: Regular Army. The great black hole of genealogy - the 1890 census records that were destroyed by fire, leaves the usual 20 year gap until 1900. Now Andrew is living in Middlefield, Ohio, married with 2 children and working as an Undertaker and Merchant Hardware. At the next census, the year of this postcard, he is still in Middlefield but is a Merchant of Furniture.  I bet he got his sister a great deal on those chairs for a wholesale price. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you can find more skilled labor by following the link.

Two of a Kind

23 March 2012

What shall we call them? A pair of musicians. A brace of bandsmen. A duo of brass players. Or possibly a couple of brothers.

The men in these four photos are lost, though I'm sure they knew where home was. But for the rest of us, their latitude and longitude are a mystery. This is the difficulty with unmarked photos and postcards. Sometimes there just aren't any clues. But the scarcity of facts doesn't diminish the artistic and musical quality of the subjects.

However I am fairly confident that these gents are all related.

These two young bandsmen have cap badges with initials LMB  which might stand for L..... Marine Band, or L..... M....... Band. Anywhere over the rainbow. The eldest (?) on the right has a helicon tuba around his shoulder and the younger holds a cornet. The set of their ears, nose and jaw has to be a family trait. Their uniforms have a more conservative style without fancy needlework. The blank postcard back has the AZO 4 diamonds up stamp box which suggests a year between 1910-1918.

(Check out this page from Playle's Postcard Auctions for more information on dating old postcards.)

This next postcard has a similar pair of bandsmen, but is probably from an earlier date. The back has a CYKO stamp box which dates sometime from 1904 to 1920, but I think this is may be a reprint of an 1890's photo. Like the first pair, they share similar facial geometry, so I believe they are brothers.

Their band uniforms have the very fancy embroidered jackets and soft caps that were popular with 19th century bands into the first decade of the 1900s.  The older brother on the left has a silver mellophone with piston valves played with the right hand. Unlike the horn which must use a hand in the bell to adjust the pitch intonation, the mellophone  player only holds the outside of the bell or main tubing.

The other instrument is a silver valve trombone, but pitched higher, i.e. shorter, than the standard tenor trombone. Both were standard brass instruments in the early bands, as they were inexpensive and not too difficult to play. They took the middle voice in the music, usually playing more accompaniment than solo lines. Both instruments were a kind of evolutionary dead end in the history of the brass band, and are now extinct. Compare these fellows to another unknown Drum and Mellophone-duo in my collection.

These two tuba players are probably not brothers but they are from the same unit. They are US Army or maybe US Marine Bandsmen. The have military issue hats but are wearing ordinary soldier's work clothes or what passed for fatigue uniforms. This is not a postcard but a small albumen photo mounted on card stock.

Look at the vegetation in the background and the construction of the house. This is not somewhere in Kansas. Bamboo grows in many places in Asia but because of the Philippine-American War that followed the Spanish-American War of 1898, I think these two bandsmen are musicians in one of the US regimental bands that served in the Philippines.

And to complete my octet of brothers I offer these two gents. Not musicians as they hold canes instead of instruments, but we can easily imagine them in a music hall. A comedy team perhaps?

This small cdv came from England but has no markings. The photo mount has gold edging so I think 1890s. But the brick wall could be on any street in Britain. 

Charlie Chaplin was born in London in 1889. Did he see these two taking a stroll down some seaside promenade?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday 
where the theme this weekend is a pair of ladies. 
Click the link to find more matched sets.

The Boys Concert Band

16 March 2012

In the 1900s, what could a boy do for fun? There was no little league baseball, no pee wee football, no boy scout troops, no chess clubs. In fact childhood was considerably shorter than it is now, with many boys taking employment even before their teen years. But in many communities across the US, boys could have fun by making music in a brass band. The story of Meredith Willson's musical The Music Man is more true to this era than we might think today. And of all my photographs of young musicians of the 1900s, this one is my favorite, The Boys Concert Band.

What makes this large 8" x 6" albumen studio photo a special find is that the nine boys have signed it. Their small brass band of two cornets, an alto and a tenor horn, two tubas and a snare and bass drum have their names added in different colored inks and in different handwriting. They are dressed in sharp white duck trousers, dark shirts (blue is my guess in this sepia tone), white bow ties, and neat bandsmen caps with a monogram BCB badge. And one boy, perhaps age 6 or less, wears a fine embroidered bandmaster uniform and holds a long baton. On the snare drum, which is unusual since a snare drum head takes a lot of wear, is written their name - The Boys Concert Band.

There is no photographers mark but there is something on the back.

Unfortunately the mounting has been cut and part of the full text is lost,
but what we can read says:

.... ..... collection to uniforms        taken in 1908
Frank Wright
Darl Rinken
Frank quinn
Walter Hitchcock
Urban? McGonagle
Carl Craven
Clarence Lehman
Ben Craven
?mascot "Pete" Yater - with Baton

A wonderful photograph with date, names, even signatures - but no location.
are these boys? This could be any town in any state in 1908 America. But this is the kind of challenge that genealogy detectives love. Where shall we start?

The band's name is useless, and produces nothing on the internet. The names are fairly unique but individually they are still too common to develop a connection between each other or to any one place. A search on Ancestry,com provides the best results but comparing the residence of each name against the others makes for a very large grid of cross references.

Finally success. In the 1910 census for Pike Township, Perry County, Ohio I found a name and age that fit, then a second, and then a third. And then nearly all the names.

Frank Wright, the drummer standing left, born in 1891. Darl Rinken, the tuba next to him, born 1890. Frank or Francis Quinn, the drummer with folded hands, born 1894. Walter or William W. Hitchcock standing on right with his tuba in front, born 1896. Urban McGonagle, seated left with a cornet, born in 1895. Carl Craven, on alto horn, born 1896. Clarence Lehman, tenor horn, born 1895. Ben Craven, seated right with cornet, born 1891. And little Pete Yater? Missing. 

Ben and Carl Craven were brothers in an extended family of 12 children. Their step-father, Phillip J. Flautt was a foreman at a planing mill. Two older step-sisters worked in a shirt factory, and another as a cashier at a "Motion Picture Show".

Urban McGonagle's father, John McGonagle was a bookkeeper at the Pike planing mill. One older sister was a milliner and his older brother was a deliveryman for a grocery.

Clarence Lehman had 3 siblings, and his father William J. Lehman was a laborer at the tile factory.

Francis Quinn and William W. (Walter) Hitchcock lived next door to each other. Both their fathers were coal miners. By 1910, Francis, age 16 was a deliveryman for a laundry where his sister worked as a laundress. Walter, now age 18, was listed as a laborer at the tile factory. Interestingly his older brother Clarence Hitchcock, 21, had an occupation of Showman, Circus.

The most elusive name was the mascot band leader, Pete Yater. The surname has a few spelling variants and both are in the Pike census. In this era, children succumbed to so many illnesses and accidents, he may have died before the 1910 census. But with the other names and ages fitting together so well, it seems certain that they all lived in Perry County, Ohio. Working class kids who played together in a brass band. 

The name Pike is popular in Ohio, as it is shared by 8 different townships. The Pike in Perry County had a population of 2559 in 1910. Most of the work was in coal mines, planing mills, tile or insulation factories, and even oil drilling. Today, Perry County is described as one of the poorest counties in Ohio. But in 1908, music was evidently considered important for a boys education. Compare them to the 1909 Malta-McConnelsville Cadet Band that was only a short distance away in Malta-McConnelsville, Ohio.  And it was only a few miles beyond that to Caldwell, OH which had a celebrated "Caldwell Kid Band" from 1906 to 1913.

Just like in The Music Man, part of this fade for bands was driven by the instrument companies which promoted music to generate more sales. But quite a lot of the bands for boys (and girls too), were established as a way to encourage discipline, teamwork, and civic pride that comes from making live music. These boys had fun and yet learned some important life skills.

This evening as I write, I checked some of my resources on and noticed that someone yesterday had saved the same 1910 census for McGonagle. I looked into the family tree and discovered more information for Urban S. McGonagle. Seems the young boy with the cornet took up study of the law, and became a judge. He died in 1985.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the theme this weekend could be a boy's life.
Click the links to scout out more stories from old photographs.

Bearded British Musicians

09 March 2012

I have a theory about how old family photos break away from their original relations. In the 19th century when photographs become inexpensive enough for ordinary people to have their portraits taken, it was the usual practice to have multiples made. With the larger families of the time, there was one to keep and the others to give to brothers, sisters, parents, et al.  This meant most photo albums were filled with countless uncles and aunts. The photos of parents and grandparents became heirlooms, but inevitably the photos of distant forgotten relatives got hawked to the local antique dealer. That's why I think the most common subject in a vintage photo is always someone's long lost uncle. 
This is Uncle Jim.  He plays the cornet. His full name is neatly written on the back of this carte de visite, Uncle James Pallister. Besides his cornet, he also holds his music as he sits in a relaxed pose for the camera. Though he is not wearing a uniform, his fine tailored suit and splendid beard gives him the distinguished air of a gentleman.

_ _ _

Uncle Jim presumably lived in the town where the photographer kept his studio.
Thomas Spetch
23 Upper Victoria Street,
Bank Top Darlington
of County Durham, England did not produce many references but I did find another family Web Album with similar Thomas Spetch photos dated 1879. The rounded corners of this cdv and the relatively simple stylized photographer's logo, compared to those of the later 19th century, would date Uncle Jim to around 1872-1875.

His cornet is a piston valve instrument which was just beginning to become the premier solo instrument of the 19th century. The great French cornet soloist, Jean-Baptiste Arban, had just published his great method book in 1864, and the popularity of this instrument was soon to push the older rotary valve saxhorns and keyed bugles out of the brass bands.

_ _ _

So is Uncle Jim a professional musician? I can say from personal experience that it takes real skill to place the mouthpiece correctly under a brush like Jim's. But it is difficult to know for certain, as the name James Pallister turns out to be less than unique. There were over 12 men, age of 30+/-, with this exact name, living in or around Darlington during the census years of 1871 and 1881. Two joiners, a farmer, a grocer, a coal dealer, a butcher, a mason, a games keeper, and a gentleman's coachman among other occupations. Without another reference, Uncle Jim will just have to remain lost.

This next cdv is a musician who comes from Glasgow, a flutist seated in profile with his instrument artfully posed on his thigh. His hair and beard suggest he is more blonde than Uncle Jim's auburn locks. There is a fabric object with a feathered edge on the side table beside him. Perhaps a cloth case for his flute, or even a Tam o'Shanter.

I think his appearance seems very professional but the flute was a gentleman's instrument too, and there were many celebrated amateur flute players who had careers outside of music. His flute, a wooden instrument with ivory rings and silver keys, was the traditional orchestral flute in Britain even into the mid-20th century.

_ _ _


The photographer's stamp on the back reads:

Stuart, Photographer
Thistle Bank, Charlotte St.
Head Establishment
120 Buchanan Street, Glasgow

An excellent website, Glasgow's Victorian Photographers, identifies him as John Stuart and shows a number of his back stamp logos. This one matches cdv photos from around 1867-1870.

I recommend this Glasgow Photographers website if you'd like to learn more about dating this type of early photograph.

_ _ _

This next cdv is of a violinist standing with his violin and bow at his side. It is a very unsophisticated photo with a plain backdrop and a common diamond pattern floor cloth. There is no photographer's name or other markings, but the photo came from England so I think it is almost certainly of British origin.

The gentleman has a formal suit and a neatly trimmed circle beard, perhaps more continental, which again suggests a gentleman, but I think this man was a professional violinist. He has the look of a concertmaster or orchestra leader. The simple style of this cdv, square corners and no borders suggests an earlier date, perhaps 1863-65.

_ _ _

This last British musician's photo is of another flutist, this time from London. He is older than the other musicians, perhaps 60 + years, with muttonchops and Pince-nez spectacles hanging by a ribbon, and wears an older style frock coat. He holds a silver flute which was a relatively new invention in this era. It is likely a Boehm Flute which was introduced by Theobald Boehm in 1847, and slowly became the modern instrument we associate with today's modern flute. The first wooden flute has a conical bore shape but this metal flute was actually cylindrical. More information on the secret mysteries of flute design can be found at

The photo's back is marked:

F. York, Photographer, 
Alfred Villa, Lancaster Road,
Notting Hill. W.

along with a name, Recherson, possibly that of the musician. But alas, I can find no one living at this time in all of Britain, let alone London, with this name. Even trying more Germanic spellings does not work. Yet another lost uncle.

_ _ _

The photographer on the other hand, is one of the more documented photographers I have acquired. He is Frederick Arlington Viner York (1823-1903), who first apprenticed as a chemist in Bristol. In 1855 he moved to South Africa for his health and worked as a photographer in Cape Town. He returned to London in 1861 where he opened his first photography studio on Lancaster Road in 1864.

_ _ _

Frederick York

Frederick York was respected for his landscapes and traveled with the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, on his grand trip to India in 1875 via the newly opened Suez Canal. Many of York's photographs of India and Egypt were later produced as glass magic lantern slides.

He was a member of the Royal Photographic Society and his name appears many times in the minutes of their meetings. I offer a short excerpt here from the 1876 edition of the British Journal of Photography  to show how photographers in this era were very close to scientists in evaluating the different ways to create an image with a camera. The knowledge of chemistry and understanding of the development processes needed for this trade made it a very complex and even dangerous business. I imagine that these professional meetings could sometimes create intense rivalries and foster some loud disagreements.

Frederick York lived not far from the London Zoological gardens in Regent's Park. One of his projects was to photograph the animals at the London Zoo, and Scrabble players the world over owe him a debt of gratitude for taking the photo of the very last Quagga in 1870. This animal is now an extinct sub-species of the Zebra and was found in South Africa. Perhaps Mr. York even knew of it when he was living there.

Quagga, London Zoo c. 1870 photo by F. York

Notting Hill is a short walk west of Regent's Park, and along the way is the Royal Academy of Music.  Founded in 1822, it is the oldest music conservatoire in Britain and would be just the place for a photographer to drop a business card. Could Recherson be a flute professor from the RAM?

His name is still elusive but I would bet he is at least someone's lost uncle too.

This is my hirsute contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the theme this weekend is hairy men.
Click the link for even more fuzziness. 

The Janietz Elite Damen Blas Orchester

02 March 2012

Musical groups have always needed to find new ways to stay in the public eye if they are to be  successful. A hit song or a fancy costume might help, but self promotion was often more important in building a fan base and swaying the fickle taste of public opinion. One hundred years ago the postcard was the favorite way to sell a band, and the Janietz Elite Damen Blas Orchester, literally "Janietz Elite Ladies Blowing Orchestra" was a group that certainly posed for a lot of photos.

They first appeared as part of my post last October, Postcards of German Ladies Orchestras but this ensemble made so many postcards, that this weekend I devote a showcase just for them.

The Janietz Orchestra numbers varied from around 10 to 12 women and 5 to 7 men. Most of the cards feature just brass instruments, primarily rotary valve instruments, but there are also saxophones and several percussion shown too. The most striking instruments are a kind of valved Alphorn that stretches across the front of the ensemble. Herr Janietz the leader, appears seated here on the right with a cornet and the ubiquitous Kaiser Wilhelm mustache.

The back of the card has an obscured postmark, but I believe it is from around 1908. The printer is Wittenbecher of Leipzig.

Here four women trumpeters and a tympanist stand at the ready for a fanfare. These herald trumpets, a type of bugle, were featured in many German and Austrian Ladies bands of this period. The Janietz Fraulein costumes are clearly an imitation of Scottish fashion with tartan dresses, sashes, and feathered Tam o'Shanters. But their wearing of a Sporran is a major mistranslation of this specialized Scotsman's accessory. Perhaps this odd tartan-mania uniform was a reflection of the Kaiser's supposed admiration of British culture. Or maybe they just liked fur and plaid.

This card was sent in October 1910 to Mr. William Dickmann in Brooklyn, NY.  He is found in the 1910 Census, age 33, wife Gertrude, son George, occupation - Butcher.

Dear Friend,
Spending a couple
of days in Dresdon (sic). Today
it is raining that stop our fun.
Will see you next week.
Regards to all.

That's an optimistic travel schedule for 1910, even with a fast ship.

The next two photographs were not colorized and are in a subdued sepia but the cards produce an interesting game of "Spot the Difference. Can you?

The 16 musicians were clearly a versatile bunch playing not only brass instruments of every kind, but string instruments too, as indicated in the added Streich Orchester. There is also a glockenspiel on the right foreground and another xylophone type instrument on the left that appears often in photos of German bands of this era. Such a novelty may have been a special sound attached to specific popular dances or songs. There is also a woman flute player and two women horn players.

The last postcard was sent Feld-Post on 17 April 1915. This postcard from the front required no stamp for the soldier sending it. The German handwriting is beyond my skills so I leave it to more talented readers to work this one out.

Here the Janietz Elite Damen Blas und Streich Orchester have reached their largest number with 20 musicians, 12 women and 8 men. They have a bassoonist now and three large suspended percussion instruments. There are tubular orchestral bells on the right, and rare soprano tubular bells on the left, but I am unsure of the instrument in the back center. I believe it is a kind of tuned wooden clapper.  It's quite possible that this is an extended family of brothers, sisters, wives and husbands. I imagine them filling an entire train car with their cases and bags, taking all the seats.

I have no clue as to Herr Janietz's full name. He was one of hundreds of band leaders, each impresario with a marvelous waxed mustache, that formed ladies bands to perform over the vast German and Austrian-Hungarian Empires. The large number of professional women brass musicians at this time is amazing and given the German emigration to America in the early 20th century, it surely must have influenced the formation of similar ladies brass bands in the United States.

Back in November, I participated in a performance of Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony. Listening to some of his imaginative effects for ranks of brass, wind and percussion instruments, I was reminded of the instruments shown in these photos. Mahler's orchestrations are wonderful but he may have been using a musical vocabulary that was more common than we can appreciate now. When these women played they must have made a great noise.

One more postcard of the Janietz Elite Damen to add. This one is postmarked 1919 and is another game of "Spot the Differences."  Given this period of the the Great War, one wonders how such a band coped with the challenges of a wartime economy. Travel, food and accommodation must have been difficult for touring with such a large ensemble. And what about the musicians called up for military service? I also believe that during the years 1914-18 many brass instruments were destroyed in order to recycle the brass metal into ammunition shell casings. 

But perhaps this is only a left over card, posted some years after Herr Janietz broke up his Elite Damen Orchester.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the photo theme this weekend is Korean ladies
smoking and playing the game of Go.
Click the link to Go for more.


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