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 Tales of Umbrellas

26 October 2012

Most of my photograph collection features musicians. But occasionally I come across unusual photos with an interesting subject (and an inexpensive price too) that I can't resist. So today instead of musical instruments, the topic will be umbrellas.

The early photography studios must have resembled the backstage of a theater, with different painted backdrops for artificial landscapes or imaginary interiors, and countless drapes, bell tassels, columns, pedestals, plinths, podiums, gates, fence posts, steps, chairs, benches, stools, desks, floor cloths,  and of course the all-purpose sheepskin strewn about the photographer's well-lit stage. The scenery and prop choices presented to the client for their appointment must have required lengthy discussion about artistic fashions and the subject's personal interests.

Standing or seated? Hat on or off? Hold the book or place it on the desk? And what about your umbrella , sir? Shall we include that as well?

_ _

The umbrella seems to have been a fairly common personal item to include in early photograph sessions. Why this was so fashionable is hard to fathom. Was it a mark of status or class, or just some new fancy thing to show off? In any case, this distinguished English gentleman wanted to hold on to his when the camera shutter snapped.

It is not that he looks at all silly but just that the umbrella seems such an odd element to use for a serious photo composition. Perhaps it was an accepted substitute for a cane.

The umbrella was what attracted my interest, but it was the writing on the back that gave added value.

To Mr. & Mrs. Hughes, with my best love to you both.

My Dear Husband,
Taken in 1863.

Unfortunately the writer and the recipients felt no need to add full names, but the date of 1863 gives the gentleman's frock coat, top hat and umbrella an historical context.

The back also had an imprint of the photographer's name and address.

Photographed at
S. J. Wiseman's
Art Repository
15, Above Bar

For some that might be the end of the story, but for the curious like me there is more to find.

Southampton, England is a city on Britain's channel coast and has long been associated with ships and maritime activities.

Mr. Wiseman's Art Repository must have been a popular place for the many navy and society people to have a photograph made. And in 1864, he took a photograph of Raphael Semmes (1809-1877),  a Captain in the Confederate Navy.

Captain Semmes was  without his naval sword, (or his umbrella) as he had thrown it into the sea, rather than give it to the Union commander of the USS Kearsarge, which had destroyed Semmes' ship, the CSS Alabama, in a heated battle off of Cherbourg, France on July 23, 1864.

_ _

The Sinking of CSS Alabama
engraving, Harper's Weekly Magazine

As his ship was sinking, Captain Semmes escaped with some of his crew to a nearby British yacht, the Deerhound and retreated to the safety of the neutral port, Southampton.

The exploits of the CSS Alabama became an epic sea story of the War between the States where most battles were fought on land. The CSS Alabama was built in England and secreted away by Semmes to the Azores where it was outfitted with armament to be a commercial raider of US merchant ships crossing the Atlantic. Powered by both sail and steam engines, it captured or sank over 65 Union ships without loss of life to either passengers or its own crew. Over several raiding missions, going even to the South Atlantic around Africa, the CSS Alabama was at seas 534 days out of 657, and yet never once visited a single Confederate port.

Captain Semmes would later evade the Union blockade, via Cuba, and return to the Texas gulf coast and then Virginia where he commanded the James River Squadron defending Richmond before the fall of the Confederates in  April 1865.

The image referenced below
is unfortunately
no longer available
on the internet.
But trust me,
the information is true.

On the back of Captain Semmes' carte de visite photograph
is an identical backstamp of S.J. Wiseman's Art Repository, and a note:

Capt. Semmes
Confederate Cruiser
Sunk off of Cherbourg
by "Kearsage"

Could Mr. & Mrs. Hughes' elderly friend have met Captain Semmes?
Maybe loaned him an umbrella?

They certainly shared the same camera lens.

* * *

This next English lady is younger and from the next decade. She stands by a plinth with a theatrical background wearing an attractive fur stole and brandishing an umbrella. It is a dark winter dress so I don't think this is a summer parasol. She actually looks a bit cold.

The umbrella has a long history and its original use was mainly for shade. In ancient times, hats and cloaks were the usual protection against rain. But the Victorian period must have been very wet, as it inspired Samuel Fox of Stocksbridge in Sheffield, England to invent the Paragon steel-ribbed umbrella in 1852. Being mass produced, it was inexpensive, and it quickly became the staple outdoor accessory in Britain.

Earlier umbrella frames were constructed with baleen, the whalebone extracted from the mouths of whales. This long flexible material,  a byproduct of the whaling industry, was used in all kinds of manufacturing. It was not only in the ribs of parasols and umbrellas but it stiffened buggy whips, shirt collars, and the hidden under-structure of 19th century women's voluminous garments. This lady's narrow waist was no doubt compressed by a corset reinforced with whalebone stays.

The photographer had a much more elaborate backstamp on the reverse of the cdv.

Friese Greene, 
Artist, 7 Corridor, Bath.

He was  William Friese Greene, (1855-1921) who ran several studios from 1876 to 1888 beginning first in Bath where he apprenticed, and then expanding to Plymouth, Brighton, and London with partners. He was born in Bristol as William Edward Green but in 1874 married Victoria Mariana Helena Friese,  daughter of a Swiss baron. Friese Greene must have seemed a more artistic choice for a photographer so he changed his name in 1877.

His studio addresses are well documented and this was an earlier location, so the lady with the umbrella has a historical context of 1875 to 1880.

That might be the end of the story, except ....

_ _

This backstamp came from a small collection of Friese Greene's photos at the excellent website Luminous-Lint. It reads:

Friese Greene for Instantaneous work
Friese Greene for Out Door Photography
Friese Greene for Enlargements
Friese Greene for Tinting
Friese Greene for Opals & Plaques

Friese Greene for Tuition in Photography
Friese Greene for Wedding & Other Groups
Friese Greene for Lawn Tennis Clubs, Schools & Colleges
Friese Greene for all Description of Animal Photography.

Friese Greene was a typical 19th century entrepreneur with grand ideas that seemed to require more business ability than he actually had. He was driven into bankruptcy a few times, and even sent to prison for his debts. But he had the obsessive imagination of an inventor that distracted him from the ordinary work of a photographer.

_ _

His real passion was not really with static photographs. Instead he wanted to capture moving images on film. William Friese Greene is celebrated as one of the first pioneers in creating cinematic  motion pictures. His first attempts were with a collaborator in Bath named John Arthur Roebuck Rudge (1837-1903). They used the technology of the magic lantern, and by 1890 were able to demonstrate moving images. Building on the ideas of George Eastman and others, Friese Greene would ultimately have numerous patents for kine cameras, perforated film tape, and other improvements that led to the art of moving pictures we know today.

In Bath there is a plaque on New Bond Street Place where Greene and Arthur Roebuck Rudge had their first studio. The text reads:

"To perpetuate the name and memory of John Arthur Roebuck Rudge who lived for many years in the adjoining house and after numerous experiments conducted in the basement was the first Englishman to produce moving pictures by means of photographs mounted on a revolving drum.

And also of his friend

William Friese-Greene who had his studio at No. 9 The Corridor nearby, the inventor of commercial kinematography being the first man to apply celluloid ribbon for this purpose.

Kinematography can thus be attributed to the labours of these two citizens of Bath where this wonderful invention undoubtedly received its birth."

_ _

Mr. Rudge, who made scientific instruments, is credited with inventing the Rudge Projector, a kind of image lantern that eventually developed into the Biophantascope. But it was Friese Greene who seems to have had the real insight that a camera could be designed to take a continuous tape of film and thereby capture the movement of life on each negative frame. His life story was made into a movie in 1951 called The Magic Box.

You can find excerpts of the movie on Youtube which stretch the truth of Friese Greene in that exaggerated way of the 1950s. I'm prevented from embedding the player here but Click the link for an explanation how his fiancee sparked his imagination in the 1870s.  The following scene shows the interior of an early photographer's studio too, and has the clutter of the props and sets. Watch it at least until Mr. Guttenberg snatches the doll away from the little girl.

But let us hear the great director Martin Scorsese tell how he was inspired by this movie and the biography of William Friese Greene to work in cinema.

* * * *

* * * *

I hope you have enjoyed the tale of two umbrellas.
Sometimes there can be a lot of history concealed inside a small photograph.

This was my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you find more stories and photos of people and umbrellas. 

The Well Dressed Clarinetist No.2

19 October 2012

CLARIONET, n. An instrument of torture operated by a person with cotton in his ears.   There are two instruments that are worse than a clarionet -- two clarionets.
                                   Ambrose Bierce  -  The Devil's Dictionary
There are many uniformed musicians in my photo collection, but I would be pressed to find one that radiates pride any better than this young clarinet player from the 1890s. In his spiked helmet, gleaming buttons, and striped trousers, he strikes a gallant pose with a clarinet tucked under his arm as if it were a rifle with bayonet. He looks good and he knows it. I can't be absolutely certain, but I believe he is a bandsman from a U.S. army band as his coordinated dress style seems more soldierly than a typical town bandsman, and for a short time the tall helmet was a regulation US Army parade hat. Unfortunately there was a lot of variation in regimental uniforms in this era, and many civilian bands often wore military style uniforms.

The photographer was Ernest Adams who left a mark but no address. It is amazing how common the name Adams is among photographers, and I have found several different ones in this time frame, but none were an exact match. The best was an E. Adams in Massachusetts but the use of initials in the census records and especially the missing 1890 census, makes this a difficult identification.

The B-flat clarinet which he holds is not nearly as frightful an instrument as Ambrose Bierce complains, at least in small numbers. I suspect Bierce was referring to the smaller E-flat clarinet which played the high treble part in wind bands in the 19th century, often as the only woodwind instrument in the band. This circa 1910 photo of  a community bandsman with an E-flat clarinet was posted in 2010, with a factious title  Musical Instrument or Deadly Weapon? Having sat far too close to one on many occasions, I can attest to its disagreeable qualities. Two or more E-flats will strip paint better than a piccolo.

In the second half of the 19th century, military bands began to increase the number of woodwind instruments in the wind ensemble, as earlier bands had used only one piccolo or E-flat clarinet. The improvements in the design of woodwind keys and the efficiency of mass production made better musical instruments that could play more complex music. As the 20th century approached, the tremendous popularity of band music inspired composers to develop more colors in the band sound, and in arrangements of opera and symphonic music, the larger woodwind sections now substituted for the string parts of the original orchestra music.

This army bandsman was featured in my first Well Dressed Clarinet post from 2011. His uniform coat has a fuller cut with a darker color than the first clarinetist's tail coat. He does have a similar tall helmet that sports a tall two-toned feathered plume. The photographer was George H. Eggers of Dunkirk, NY and the cabinet photo dates from the 1890s. .

But when it comes to fashion, no man can compete with a woman's style. These six ladies are musicians in the Oesterr. Damen-Orchester "Singspiel" from a 1904 Austrian postcard. Their uniforms are in at least three colors, and include magnificent helmets with spikes, plumes, and cords. They don't have their instruments but I'd bet that one, or maybe two, could play the clarionet.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday

where you might discover more tall hat stories. 

The Royal Military Band of the Gold Coast, West Africa

12 October 2012

Music is often called the universal language, and in our modern world that may be true. But there was a time that music was an export product, and this postcard of the Royal Military Band of Kumasi, Gold Coast West Africa is a good example.  The band, dressed in British style military uniforms, represents the way European musical culture was exported to foreign colonies in the 19th century. These 25 African musicians pose with a standard mix of European brass and woodwind instruments along with western style drums. The original sepia tone photo has been crudely colorized with swatches of red on their caps, yellow on the brass instruments, and brown on their faces.

The Gold Coast, or Ghana as it is now known, was once part of the collection of British colonies in West Africa. This small country, just beneath the immense territory of French West Africa, is on the Gulf of Guinea and adjacent to the French colony of Ivory Coast. After the Dutch left in 1874, it was made into a British protectorate, but the native Ashanti people objected to the need for protection. This led to a conflict in 1900 known as the War of the Golden Stool in which the British prevailed and the Gold Coast became a British colony. Independence would have to wait until 1957.

Map of Africa in 1895

The publisher was the Basel Mission Book Depot of Accra, a Christian mission organization started by German Protestants who first came to the Gold Coast in 1828. They recruited both Dutch and English missionaries and established schools for teaching various trades, including printing, to the native people. They were also important for compiling the first translations of African languages in the region.

The name Royal Military Band may refer to the Ashanti Royalty whose capital was the city of Kumasi , which is inland from the coastal city of Accra. If you look closely, some bandsmen have medals, and the drum has regimental markings, so I suspect these may be awards from that 1900 conflict, or perhaps from the earlier Boer war. The postcard was never mailed, but I believe, based on other sources, that it dates from around 1905.

I found this short video of the Ghana Police Band on parade in 2011. Their website describes a musical tradition that goes back to 1918, and there are now 5 regional police bands providing ceremonial and festival dance music in Ghana. I would imagine that the Royal Military Band of Kumasi had a very similar sound and marching style.

* * * *

* * *

If you have been following my posts on this blog, you will recognize the theme in this next video which I hope you will watch. When I was preparing this story, I made an exciting discovery on YouTube of a video that combines this notion of exporting musical culture with the older tradition of teaching children to take up a musical instrument. It also comes from Ghana.

* * * *

* * *

The Kopeyia School Brass Band is a music education project run by Jo Junghans , a German pianist and trombonist, who has traveled to a rural school in the village of Kopeyia in Ghana's Aflao region. In this next short video you can meet Sena, one of his students, who explains the value of being in the brass band.

* * * *

* * *

My collection has many early photographs of bands very similar to this one from Kopeyia. But these antique photos of boys and girls with their music instruments are always frustrating because they are forever silent.

Now for the first time we can see and hear the enthusiasm of children just like them, and meet their young band leader too. As you listen and maybe read about Jo Junghans and his Kopeyia School Brass Band , you will understand how the dream of a children's brass band in Africa is no different from that same dream held by thousands of American, British, and European communities 100 years ago, that true culture begins with teaching children the love of music. This is the real truth of the universal language of music.

UPDATE:   As Jo Junghans explains in his comment below, the Kopeyia Brass Band is is an educational project about promoting peace through cultural exchange. By including their videos in this story, my intention was not meant to imply any connection to the colonial period other than geography.  The connection I would like to make is that the excitement these young people have for learning and performing music was undoubtedly shared by the many children pictured in my antique band photos. That zeal is the very essence of what makes music a world language.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday 
where you may encounter more uniforms and pill box hats.

The Flagship Orchestra

05 October 2012

The musicians of the Flaggeschiffskapelle des Kreuzergeschwaders pose on the dock beside their ship for their official postcard photograph. This band was stationed on the Cruiser Squadron Flagship of the Imperial Germany Navy or Kaiserliche Marine. Though more a light orchestra than a band, the string players in this small ensemble of 16 sailors probably doubled on brass or woodwind instruments too.

Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz

Navy bands are an old tradition in many countries, but the new nation of Germany, which was created in 1871 by the unification of the many German States, did not have any history of a real navy. Instead it developed out of the small Prussian navy, and since the King of Prussia became the German Emperor, it was the grandiose enthusiasms of Kaiser Wilhelm II which really expanded the German navy.

And the man who became the driving force for the Kaiser's ambition for German domination on the seas, was Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, who advocated for building a larger fleet with many more battleships and armored cruisers.  I'd think it was hard to argue with someone sporting such a  magnificent beard. 

The postcard was sent from Kiel, the home port of the German Navy's Baltic Fleet, on  18 April 1908. Though the penmanship is fantastic, the language style again prevents me from a translation. There is a  note on the front with something about Leopoldshall, which suggest a concert date perhaps.

The word Kreuzergeschwaders is crossed out and B.S.A. is written. I believe this may stand for Baltic Scouting Group, a division of the High Seas Fleet.  In 1908, the Imperial German Navy was still using many older ships, and in the next few years, just prior to the outbreak of the First World War, Germany would build dozens of huge battleships, in an effort to intimidate the British navy. So I don't think the ship in the photograph is one of the great dreadnoughts, and despite scanning the card at 2400 dpi, I'm unable to make out the ship name on their caps.

The Kapellmeister or band leader stands in the center with both his baton and sword. Conductors can be quite expert in fencing with musicians, but I think that cutlass would command a lot more attention from a wayward trombonist than a small pointy stick.

With seven strings, flute, two clarinets, two trumpets, two horns, trombone and percussion, this chamber ensemble probably played regularly for the admiral's meals and parties, as well as providing ceremonial music for the ship's company.

The idea that programs of waltzes and polkas were heard on board a battleship, really softens the image of a great naval power. Could Admiral Tirpitz have nodded his head in time to the music of these musicians?


The dashing beards wore by several of these musicians, resembles the imperial style beard of a musician in  another photo postcard I recently acquired. This elegant violinist stands in front of his music desk, presumably in his home, and though there are no markings or note to date or place him, I believe based on his aristocratic beard, that he is German and from this same period. With his frock coat and striped trousers, he is certainly a professional musician too.

If he had a sword, I'd even say he was the same man as the flagship orchestra's Kapellmeister.  Note the wedding band on his little finger of his left hand.

Since I have chosen a German naval theme this weekend, I must include another photo postcard which I recently acquired. They are sailors too, but maybe not so musical.

These four lads are Die Söhne des Kronprinzen am Maschinengewehr, or the sons of the Crown Prince on the machine gun. These boys, dressed in bright white sailor suits, are the sons of Friedrich Wilhelm Victor August Ernst, better known as Crown Prince Wilhelm the heir to the German Imperial throne. They are lying on a garden lawn, taking aim with their machine gun, and defending the fatherland sometime around 1917-18. Just the kind of patriotic postcard to send to grandmother.

The subtitle reads Eigenhändige Aufnahme Ihrer Kaiserlichen Hoheit Frau Kronprinzessin in Zoppot, or Handwritten Recording Her Imperial Highness Crown Princess in Zoppot.  My interpretation is that her Royal Highness the Crown Princess took this photograph herself. Did she let the boys use live ammunition?

Zoppot, or Sopot as it is now known, is a seaside spa on the Baltic in Pomerania, now Poland, which was part of Prussia until the end of WW1.

Sons of the German Crown Prince

Wikipedia provides another postcard image of the same boys dressed in army uniforms, but without weapons. The postcard publisher is the same, but the number is smaller so this may be a few months earlier. Their names are:
  1. Prince Wilhelm Friedrich Franz Joseph Christian Olaf of Prussia (1906 –1940) 
  2. Prince Louis Ferdinand Viktor Eduard Albert Michael Hubertus of Prussia (1907 – 1994) 
  3. Prince Hubertus Karl Wilhelm of Prussia (1909 –1950) 
  4. Prince Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Christoph  of Prussia (1911 –1966)

Mother must have been so proud!
Want to bet she collected the whole postcard series?

This is my nautical contribution to Sepia Saturday,
where you might discover a whole wave of vintage maritime stories and photos.


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