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 }

No Smiling, Please.

24 September 2021


 A very tiny photo nano-story.

As they clustered together in the parlor like a flock of chickens, George, the photographer, told them severely, "There will be a flash of light and it might make you blink. So don't look at the camera!". He fiddled with the camera lens. "And no smiling, please," he added with a grin. "Light may reflect off your teeth. "

The group dutifully followed directions. They were all musicians who played by the book. George pressed his camera's shutter switch. Myrtle sneezed.

This small ensemble of eleven musicians is pictured on a small photograph rather than a postcard, though it does have the same proportions. It was taken with a camera that had a special feature on the back, a small, rectangular shuttered window that allowed the photographer to write a caption using a stylus that would be recorded directly on the film negative. The group of eight men and three women is identified in white block letters on the right edge of the photo as The Miles Concert Orchestra. It's a mixed instrumentation of five strings and six wind instrumentalists, with two too many cornets for such a small 'orchestra.'

But unlike the smart phone cameras of our century, this camera did not register time nor place. So this photo could date from roughly the early 1900s, judging by the garment fashions and hair styles, but the location of the parlor might be anywhere in North America.
They have the look of a church or school group more than a professional orchestra. However after searching through the new!dapper archives, I found them in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where the Miles Concert Orchestra played at the Jonas Long's Sons department store on 6 October 1906. The Scranton Republican ran an  advertisement for the store promoting its selection of men's French ties,  women's broadcloth walking skirts, Billy Bounce, a new book for children, and an evening concert by the orchestra.
Scranton PA Republican
6 October 1906

Saturday Evening Concert
7:30 to 9:30, by
Miles Concert Orchestra
  1. "An American Heiress" ... Herbert
  2. Selection, "Happyland, or the King of Elysia" ... DeKoven
  3. (a) "Calico"  — Rag.
    (b) "Os-Ka-Loo-Sa-Loo" ... Sawyer
  4. Selection, Cornet Solo, Prof. Miles
  5. Selection, "Moonshine" ... Hein
  6. (a) "Bill Simmons" ... Spink
    (b) "Waiting at the Church"
  7. Intermezzo, "African Dreamland" ... Atwater
  8. March, "The Free Lance" ... Sousa
This is a superb musical organization. Their playing attracts and holds your attention
to the last sweet note.


I found no other reports of the Miles Concert Orchestra in Scranton's newspapers so its performance history was likely very brief in just 1906. Were they employees at the Long department store? We will never know. It's a shame that they didn't get a better photo, but at least it had comical qualities that make it memorable a century later.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where a frown is just an upside down simile. 


The Art of Zeppelins

18 September 2021

It was a warm mid-summer evening. Strung out along the lake shoreline of Manzell, a village on the outskirts of Friedrichschafen, Germany were thousands of people waiting patiently to see the great airship of Graf Zeppelin. For over two years the construction activity on Lake Constance, the Bodensee, had sparked curiosity. What was he building? Why was it inside that floating barn? Was it really a flying machine? 

Already three days of rain had delayed this first test flight. Just the evening before, a few people got a glimpse of it when a motorboat pulled the airship's docking raft out from the immense shed that anchored out in the lake. For a few minutes the giant airship floated about 12 feet above the water but to the disappointment of the onlookers it was taken back in again because of the shifting weather. 

Finally in the late afternoon of 2 July 1900, Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin decided that the weather conditions were now acceptable. At 7:30 pm the crowd watched as a huge cylindrical craft emerged from the barn and slowly rose to about 30 meters. On board were five men, including Graf Zeppelin, who gave their equipment a final check. Then at 8:03 the Graf called down to his crew on the raft to cast off.  

Zeppelin LZ-1
Source: Wikimedia

Immediately there was a problem with the release of the mooring cables as one line became entangled with a propeller, and the pitch mechanism was fowled. After a few tense moments to reestablish a level position the airship moved off with the wind and ascended. But then one of the two benzine engines failed and the command was given to descend to the lake surface where a motor launch towed the crippled airship back to the shed dock. It was now 8:20 pm.

For just 17 minutes, Graf Zeppelin's experimental airship, the LZ-1, flew through the air traveling about 3½ miles. On that day in July 1900, five men reached an altitude of 410 m (1,350 ft), a little more than three times the length of their craft. Though it was not a complete success, Zeppelin had proved that his invention could fly and was steerable. Now he would need to make repairs and corrections before his machine could attempt another test flight. 

First flight of Graf Zeppelin's LZ-1, 2 July 1900

For the people who witnessed the first flight of the LZ-1 it was only a brief few minutes of wonder. The danger and excitement of this experiment in powered human flight was reassuring. But the notion was enough to inspire an artist to make a watercolor of this amazing flying machine, even if he took some liberties with the lighting and exaggerated the length of the airship. 

Six days later on 8/7/1900, Otto Dorsch(?) of  Feurbach, near Stuttgart, bought this postcard of the LZ-1 to send a friendly greeting to Ernst Schwarzlander of Nürnberg. What did Ernst think to see this picture?
Not everyone shared Count Zepplin's enthusiasm for air travel. Some people considered his airship a folly, an expensive waste of time and effort that would never be practicable or profitable. Some newspapers labeled it a failure and reported on critics who thought Zeppelin's approach was wrong and doomed to fail. Others jumped onto the fantastic idea of flight and called it a success, even exaggerating the distance that the airship covered to 35 miles.

Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838–1917) was very familiar with Lake Constance, or the Bodensee as it is known in Germany, as he was born in Konstanz on the western side of the lake. As a young man he decided on a military career in the army of Württemberg. In 1863, having reached the rank of lieutenant, he was sent to America as a military observer of the Union Army during the American Civil War. During General McClellan's Peninsular Campaign, Lt. Zeppelin visited a reconnaissance balloon camp and met Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, an aeronaut, scientist, and inventor who is considered the father of military aerial reconnaissance in the United States. A short time later while traveling in the Midwest, Zeppelin encountered a German-born balloonist, John Steiner, who offered to take him on a balloon ascent from a site in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. These chance meetings inspired Ferdinand von Zeppelin to pursue his idea of building a steerable, self-propelled balloon. 

The French Dirigible, La France, 9 August 1884
Source: Wikipedia

The first controlled lighter-than-air flight was made in 9 August 1884 by a non-rigid airship called La France. At 51m (168 ft) long and with a diameter of 8.4 m (27 ft 6 in), it was created for the French army by Charles Renard and Arthur Constantin Krebs. On its maiden flight, La France, with its crew of two men, completed a round trip of 8 km (5.0 mi), returning to its starting point in 23 minutes. During the years 1884 to 1885, the French airship made seven successful flights and was later exhibited at the 1889 Paris Exhibition, site of the now iconic  Eiffel Tower.

This was the foreign competition that in 1891 inspired Zeppelin, now age 52, to resign from the army and dedicate all his attention into developing a steerable German airship. He sought financial backers and with the help of the King of Württemberg, he formed a company and hired engineers to turn his ideas into a workable machine, the LZ-1.   

Unfortunately after that first brief flight in July 1900, the repairs and modifications to the LZ-1 delayed the next trial until September, when once again, another accident forced more delay. Then on 17 October Count Zeppelin undertook a second flight where , despite some problems, traveled twice as far as the first flight, 6.8 miles, and stayed aloft for 1 hour, 20 minutes. Unfortunately the landing caused some light damage but repairs were quickly completed to make a 3rd flight on 21 October. This time Zeppelin's airship made three successful accents and descents and it responded to more positive control.  It landed without incident and was returned to its floating hanger.

The LZ-1 was stored for the winter, but in January 1901 a violent storm damaged the hanger, ripping open the side of the airship, badly twisting the framework. By May newspapers around the world reported that Count Zeppelin's company was forced to liquidate its assets. The LZ-1 was sold for scrap. 

{For a more complete history on the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin 1, (LZ-1) as well as
other history of lighter-than-air aviation, I recommend this website:}

Yet Ferdinand persisted and found another engineer to redesign his next airship. It would take five more years, but in January 1906 he released the LZ-2 which became the model for all of Zeppelin's future airships. Unfortunately, despite some success, this second ship had a short life. It was closely followed by the LZ-3 which made its maiden flight in October 1906, and continued making many long distance flights, often with passengers like the German Crown Prince, until its retirement in 1913. 

My particular interest in zeppelins is in the art of airships found on postcards during this pioneering era of flight. This was a few years before the advent of heavier-than-air aviation, as the Wright brothers did not demonstrate their first practical airplane until 1908 when they brought it to France and then Germany. Before their American flying machine, the real marvel of the air was the German zeppelin. That was the future of powered flight. 


The reason that Count Zeppelin used Lake Constance for his airship's tests was primarily for safety. The airship was constructed with polygonal aluminum framing that supported 17 gas cells made from rubberized cotton to provide lift from hydrogen, a very explosive gas. Two 14.2 hp benzine engines powered four propellers on either side of the cylindrical superstructure. As a test site, the lake provided more predictable winds and was clear of any obstacles. And in case of a crash, boats were able to arrive faster on water than wagons on land. Count Zeppelin and his engineers were testing a technology that came without a manual. Constructing a lighter-than-air machine was only part of the challenge. Learning how to operate in the sky's three dimensions was a far more difficult experiment. How would an airship behave in strong wind? How would the hydrogen gas react to heat or cold as the craft ascended and descended? How much power was needed to maneuver this huge cylinder and point it to where you wanted to go? These were just a few questions that could only be answered by test flights.

Here Graf Zeppellin's lenkbares Luftschiff - steerable airship, is depicted flying over Bregenz, Austria which is at the southeast end of Lake Constance, about 18 miles from Friedrichshafen. The artist created a birds-eye view which gives the zeppelin a dramatic perspective over the city. This postcard was sent to Herrn Victor Streichert of Graz, Austria with an Austrian postmark of 1 October 1901 which is a curious date. By the end of 1901, Zeppellin's company had dissolved and the LZ-1 taken apart for scrap. And the LZ-1 had never flown so far as Bregenz. This illustration was probably made the previous year when the townsfolk of Bregenz had optimistically promoted airship travel over the Bodensee, and no doubt consider Graf Zeppelin a second cousin if not son. 

* * *

In this next postcard illustration Graf Zeppelin's Luftschiff is in voller Fahrt - full speed over an unnamed city whose inhabitants are cheering it along. Much like a whale, a zeppelin was clearly a wonder just because of its great size. How could something so large stay up in the air? The early designs had only two propellers, or screws as they were often called then, on each side of the airship. From the ground they were too small to see and actually had difficulty pushing the craft so the zeppelin moved rather slowly. The LZ-1 had a calculated maximum speed of only 27 km/h (17 mph). The engines on the LZ-2 and LZ-3 increased in horsepower by nearly 6 times more, but still their best speed was a leisurely 40 km/h (25 mph). But I think the pedestrian pace gave the airships a less threatening appearance and made them more acceptable to a skeptical public.

This postcard was sent with a message hand-dated 1 June 1904 to a young lady in Duisburg, Germany a city situated at the junction of the Rhine and Ruhr rivers. This is four years after the flight of LZ-1 and a year and a half before LZ-2 would take its first flight in January 1906.

* * *

On this next postcard a clever but unknown artist places four modes of modern transportation in the picture. Along side a narrow river, a street car passes under a stout railway bridge on which a steam train pulls along a set of passenger cars. In the foreground an amazing tram runs above the river suspended on a monorail supported by steel girders. And high in the sky is a zeppelin. The caption reads: "Z. III." in voller Fahrt über der Sonnborner Brücke. 4 Verkehrsmittel überinander. – Z-3 at full speed over the Sonnborn bridge. 4 modes of transport on top of each other. 

The Wuppertal Schwebebahn
Source: Wikipedia

The tram is the Wuppertal Schwebebahn, the oldest electric elevated railway with hanging cars in the world. This single line system has twenty stops linking the cities of Barmen, Elberfeld and Vohwinkel and the first section of track opened in 1901. The Schwebebahn is credited with helping these industrial cities grow and merge into the greater city of Wuppertal in 1929. The system was destroyed during WW2 but rebuilt and modernized with updated cars that still follow the same route 12 m (39 ft) above the River Wupper. 

The card has a postmark from Barmen, but the date may be in error, as the numbers are 31.10.01 8-9 or 31 October 1901 8-9 hour. But the LZ-3 made its first flight in October 1906 and the Wuppertal Schwebebahn only began operations in 1901. So I think it is more likely a misprint and dates from 1907.


* * *


The next postcard is a kind of classical style painting mixed with absurd concept. A small group of German villagers are standing by a dirt road. In the sky are five zeppelins, one labeled Z.III. The caption reads:
Bilder aus dem Volksleben des Schwarzwalds

Jokel: Hannes komm m'r ganget hoim, mir kommts vor, dia wöllet auf unsere Dreispitz landa!

Hannes: Du hast recht Jokel, komm no schnell!

Amel: Dass i' aber au' des verleba muss, was thät do d'r Aehne saga!
Pictures from popular life in the Black Forest

Jokel:  Hannes come to me ganget hoim(?), it seems to me, she wants to land on our three-cornered hat!

Hannes: You're right Jokel, come on quickly!

Amel: But then I have to lay down what the ancestors do saga! (?)

This is obviously some lighthearted satirical humor in a German dialect about the proliferation of flying machines upsetting simple rural folk. But we in the 21st century can still understand the point: 'Those new fangled vehicles are annoying and make life difficult.'

This postmark is dated 4 September 1912 from Hirsau, a district of the town of Calw in the German state of Baden-Württemberg.

* * *

Germans have always been proud of their postal service. (And most of the postcards featured in this story have taken advantage of it again in this century when I've purchased them from German postcard dealers.) In this postcard illustration a group of German postmen, identified by the posthorn over one man's shoulder, look skyward at a zeppelin stenciled with Flug Post - Flight Post. In the background are a few spherical balloons, on the ground is a motorized postal van, and in between is a bird-like monoplane. In the corner are heraldic badges of a posthorn and a winged coach wheel, a symbol for railway service.

This card has a postcard from Berlin S.W. with the lucky date of 12.12.12. 12-1N. And by coincidence for me, it is addressed to Herrn A. Groste(?) a Musiker.  At the time the notion that letters and packages could be carried by aircraft seemed a pipedream. But with the advent of both zeppelins and aeroplanes, rapid airmail delivery became a distinct possibility.  

* * *


My last example of zeppelin art is a postcard painted by Anton Hoffman of München. It shows a mounted troop of hussars or uhlans chasing an automobile which follows a zeppelin high on the horizon. It's a beautiful classical composition with wonderful horses and lots of movement as the soldiers gallop toward the airship. It's a clash of the past and the future, the gallant cavalrymen versus the impersonal modern machine. 

The card was sent to Hella Westphal (?) in Bramstedt, a village in Lower Saxony, and is hand dated 22 October 1911. A printed caption on the back marks the card as a souvenir for the Crown Prince's and Crown Princess's Foundation for the German Kriegerbundes - Warrior League.  


For ages beyond ages, man looked to the sky as the realm of clouds and birds. Man might rule the land and master the oceans, at least on the surface, but the air was only for winged creatures. Then within a decade, balloons, dirigibles, zeppelins, and then airplanes conquered the laws of physics and gave humankind a new perspective on the sky. With the help of these marvelous machines we could fly with the birds. 

How did it feel to first see a zeppelin float among the clouds? Amazing? Frightening? Awesome? This was a new kind of wonder that few people had ever imagined. It was not like a faster steamship or more powerful locomotive. This required accepting a seemingly impossible thing, lighter-than-air, as a new reality. It was more than trusting in an unfamiliar science. It was believing with your own eyes that someone was flying safely through the sky. Who wouldn't want to see that for themselves? Or maybe one day even travel through the sky yourself. How exciting would that be?

Lately the world has been distracted by several new ideas of flight — space flight. Billionaire entrepreneurs of our 21st century have invested gazillions of dollars in building rocket ships that will take ordinary folk on out-of-this-world tours beyond planet Earth. Tickets will be pretty pricey. The competitive hype tries to market these novel spacecraft into modern marvels not unlike the zeppelins did. But I think our century has lost that true sense of wonder that existed in the world of 1900. People back then were more trusting of new things. Many people today have that more skepticism and mistrust in technology. It's a risky business. Rocket ships can crash. And what about the aliens?  Will there be postcards too?

Ferdinand von Zeppelin was a remarkable aviation pioneer who deserves better recognition. He had the good fortune to have a splendid surname that inspired the eponymous name of zeppelin for an airship. During his long career developing these rigid airships, his company built over 130 zeppelins, 25 of which were made prior to World War 1. Sadly in 1914 it was his misfortune to see his airship turn into a new weapon of war, one that would drastically alter the peaceful impression of airships seen in these postcards. That is another postcard story about the art of zeppelins which I hope to tell on some future sepia weekend.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday

where X² + Y² = Z²

A Pair of Kings

11 September 2021

They were once the most recognizable men in the world.
A trimmed beard and a upturned mustache representing
the two great world powers of their time.



Everyone knew who they were
because their faces appeared on items
people handled every day:
coins, stamps, tins of tobacco,
boxes of tea, and postcards.


They were kings,
royal sovereigns, heads of states,
and indeed, emperors too,
commanding their nation's vast colonial empires.

They were born to a life
of immense wealth and supreme privilege,

yet obliged to follow the ancestral rules
of their realm and of their class.


Any personal ambitions they may have held
were rigidly constrained by the enormous responsibilities
embodied in the imperial crown
that their people bestowed on them.


Their subjects saw them as figureheads of a nation,
and this role came with a wide variety of costumes.

Today I present a series of postcards
of a  pair of  kings,
Edward and Wilhelm. 


My first royal postcard is a photo of His Majesty King Edward VII, (1841 – 1910), produced by the Rotary Photo Co. Ltd. of London. It's an unusual portrait of King Edward as he is dressed in a simple wool suit with a cane and a homburg hat, a hat style he popularized in the 1890s. One might easily mistake him for a businessman, a doctor, or an academic. In January 1901 Edward succeeded his mother, Queen Victoria, after her death ended a reign of nearly 64 years. 

The publisher of this unposted card, the Rotary Photographic Co., was founded in 1898 as a subsidiary of a German printing company, the Neue Photographische Gesellschaft, which developed an economical bromide process for reproducing photos onto calendars, brochures, and postcards on massive kilometer-long rolls of special photo paper. The British Royal Family became a popular feature for the company which produced a wide range of novelty real photo postcards featuring royalty, politicians, and theatrical celebrities. Unfortunately the craze for postcards began to decline in 1910 and with the outbreak of war in 1914, the company's fortune declined. Its assets were liquidated in 1916.

 * * *



My second king is Kaiser Wilhelm II, (1859 – 1941), pictured here wearing a formal dinner jacket instead of a military uniform. Wilhelm assumed the title of Kaiser and King of Prussia in June 1888 after the death of his father, Prince Frederick William of Prussia, who tragically reigned for only 99 days before succumbing to throat cancer. Frederick's wife and Wilhelm's mother was Victoria, Princess Royal, the eldest child of Queen Victoria. So Wilhelm was Edward's nephew and he grew up very close to the British Royal Family. Both Wilhelm and Edward were at Queen Victoria's bedside when she died in 1901.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, age 12
seated, C. Brasch, Berlin
Source: Wikimedia

Sadly, as a result of a traumatic breech birth, Wilhelm's left arm was about six inches (15 cm) shorter than his right. The photograph above was taken when he was a boy, age 12, and shows the withered effect of his left hand and arm. He managed to conceal this difference in later photos by always holding something in his left hand. The gloves seen here became his standard prop, sometimes changed to a cane or a sword hilt.  

The card was posted on 23 August 1910 to Peter Bruckwoldt, a Matrosen Artilleristen - a navy artilleryman in Cuxhaven in lower Saxony, situated on the North Sea at the mouth of the Elbe River. This colorized photo of Kaiser Wilhelm was printed by the Neue Photographische Gesellschaft of Berlin, the same firm which owned the Rotary Photographic Co. in London.


Both kings posed for many formal photographs, but Kaiser Wilhelm was almost always dressed in a military uniform. His green quasi-formal attire, perhaps for a state dinner, is about as close to casual as he ever appeared in public. In my efforts to find other images of Wilhelm in civilian garb, I came across this next image that is nearly identical as my postcard. The main differences is that his jacket is now red and the chair has changed. This image is described as produced by the same Neue Photographische Gesellschaft Co. in 1906. The similarities are so close that I could believe they were both taken on the same day. Color photography was still in an experimental stage in the 1900s, so I believe both postcards were originally sepia-tone photos that were colorized by the NPG company's new printing technology.

Kaiser Wilhelm II,
postcard produced by
der Neuen Photographischen Gesellschaft Steglitz, 1906
Source: Wikimedia

* * *

The next image of King Edward has him dressed in a more kingly manner, but oddly in another country's military uniform. The postcard has a caption in French: Édouard VII, Roi D'Angleterre, but his uniform is Austrian. The three stars on the collar, the cuff braid, and toggle buttons are distinctive marks of a hussar in the Austrian-Hungarian empire. I found another version of this photo that was colorized and the tunic is a light Austrian blue. 

In May 1904, King Edward was awarded a title of Feldmarschall by the Austrian Emperor Franz-Joseph, so this French half-tone postcard probably dates from that year. The back of the card has an elaborate message in French that, I believe, makes no mention about the King on the front.


* * *

Likewise Wilhelm as was often required to don the military uniform of another country. Besides his numerous German honors, he accepted medals and ranks from 26 foreign countries, including Korea, Siam, Venezuela, and Hawaii. In this postcard the caption identifies him as just Unser Kaiser als „Spanischer General” – Our Emperor as Spanish General. The photography studio, T. H. Voigt of Hamburg and Frankfurt am Main, is imprinted in smaller type with the year 1906. It's possible that Wilhelm is wearing the uniform of the Royal Spanish Dragoon Regiment "Numancia" which awarded him the title of Ehrenoberst or Colonel of Honor. 

The postcard is also marked as printed by Photochemie of Berlin. Though it was never mailed, it's worth pointing out that in 1906 a postcard needed to be labeled as such in 14 European languages. The printing process also added a side note of something called Papier Radium Brom. I believe that the paper is, supposedly, coated with Radium Bromide, a radioactive salt first discovered by Pierre and Marie Curie in 1898. This material was produced when they separated radium from uranium ore. Though it is extremely toxic and can explode under certain conditions, it marked an important step in developing radiochemistry and radiotherapy. However once the public showed an interest in this new "magical" science, the term "radium" was applied to all kinds of chemical processes like photo paper, in order to market a modern novelty.   

* * *

Kings commanded navies as well as armies and King Edward's valet probably kept a closet devoted to just naval uniforms. In this postcard he wears one of his commodore outfits and the photo is captioned simply as Edward VII. But the reason I bought it was because of the writer's extraordinary handwriting.

The back of the card is printed with just one label: Levelező-Lap and Czim, the Hungarian words for postcard and addressee. In fact the postmark is from Budapest and dated 901 Mar 2 in the Hungarian manner of year/month/day and leaving off the superfluous numeral 1. It has two more postmarks dated 4 March 1901 in Paris, and 5 March 1901 in Hyères, France on the Mediterranean coast. But the language of the writer is not Hungarian nor French. Can you figure it out?

This spiky cursive handwriting is in English.

Have you got already
the photo of the English
King?     Josephine Lucky(?)

I can't decipher the writer's last name
or the addressee except that the address
was sent through (Nice) France to Hyères.

What makes this card doubly special
is that when it was posted in Hungary on March 2, 1901
Edward has only been king since January 22
on the death of Queen Victoria.
His coronation was not until 9 August 1902.
This was likely a Hungarian postcard
hastily published to profit on
a likeness of the new English king.

* * *

The Kaiser had a closet of naval gear too, and here Wilhelm is posed on the deck of his imperial yacht, the SMY Hohenzollern II, dressed in a full length coat with white trousers, shoes, and hat. His yacht, which is a gross understatement common with monarchs, was launched and completed in 1892. The ship was 120 m (390 ft) long, with a beam of 14 m (46 ft) and draft of 5.6 m (18 ft). From 1893 to 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm made many trips on this yacht and altogether spent over four-years time on board her. Ironically in June 1914, the Kaiser's last state banquet before the war was on the Hohenzollern II at the Kiel regatta where he entertained officers of the British fleet whose ships had been invited to attend.
Imperial Yacht of Kaiser Wilhelm II
Hohenzollern II in Venice, Italy. Photochrom print, 1890s
Source: Wikipedia


King Edward's royal yacht was the HMY Victoria and Albert. It was launched in 1899, but not completed until the summer of 1901 after Queen Victoria's death. It was a bit longer than the Kaiser's yacht at 128 m (420 ft) length overall, a beam of 15.2 m (50 ft), and a draft of 5.5 m (18 ft). King Edward used it for the first time in August 1901 when he sailed to Germany to attend the funeral of his older sister, Victoria, who was Empress Frederick, the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Considering the date on Edward's postcard in his commodore's uniform, it seems likely that the photo was taken when he was just Albert, Prince of Wales.

HMY Victoria and Albert (1899)
Source: Wikimedia

Collecting postcards of royalty was a popular pastime in the era of King Edward and Kaiser Wilhelm and it's amazing to see the number and variety of their portrait photos. This was, of course, in addition to their formal painted portraits and frequent photos in newspapers. Both men had grown up being in the public eye and clearly were comfortable in front of a camera. Countless images of both men show them at parades, regattas, banquets, hunts, spas, and other events where they are always dressed in splendid uniforms. 

Organizing the royal wardrobes was a major duty of any king's valet, but these few photos only suggest how large a task that must have been. Imagine learning the complex arrangement of ornaments, medals, and hats for each uniform. A Spanish sash was not suitable for a state dinner in Russia. An Austrian tunic made in 1880 might be a tight fit in 1905. No king ever  wasted time trying on clothes off the rack. It was always bespoke tailoring for a monarch. 

My own interest in royal postcards focuses on the ones that date from before World War 1. They represent so many elements of society, culture, and class that changed as a result of this terrible conflict. For example, here is a postcard of the four monarchs of the Central Powers in 1914-18.

Leaders of the Central Powers in 1915 (left to right)
Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany;
Kaiser and King Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary;
Sultan Mehmed V of the Ottoman Empire;
Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria
Source: Wikipedia

Most of the Entente Powers such as Serbia, Belgium, Russia, Italy, and Great Britain were monarchies too. All of the monarchs and emperors on both sides held a range of autocratic power that was not always constrained by constitutions or legislatures. True democracies like France and the United States  were the exceptions. When the war ended in 1918, the age-old dynasties of Russia, Germany,  and Austria-Hungary all collapsed and were replaced by new republics with different political rules. The age of kings seemed finished.  

When we look at the rich accoutrements on Edward's and Wilhelm's uniforms, see the opulence on display in their royal households and imperial yachts, we are seeing images of two men magnified by history and time. Uncle Edward and his nephew Wilhelm were not self-made men who worked in order to achieve their position. We don't see the laborers who built their palaces and managed their hunting estates. There are no photos of servants mending Wilhelm's shoes or altering Edward's trousers. It was only by their family's royal fortune that they became sovereigns.

Today the world has evolved so that most democratic nations change leadership on a regular basis. However some countries are ruled by kings with a lifetime appointment and hereditary family power. And unfortunately some people in the world remain under the tyrannical domination of one man. The times may have changed but emperors still survive dressed in new clothes. 


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where a every hand is a winner.

Four Musical Jokers

04 September 2021


What makes a clarinet funny?
By itself, nothing,
as it's not really an odd looking instrument.
But placed in the wrong hands
it is capable of making the most distressing noises.
Especially if it's the smaller variety of clarinet
designed to squeal like a small animal.
That can be funny.
For a moment or two.
If you are ten. 



What about the bass drum?
Is that a funny instrument too?
Again, it depends.
not difficult to master,
but it does require a steady pulse.
Which for some drummers can be pretty variable
if they can't count to four or walk in a straight line.
When a bass drum's boom skips a cadence
and lands on the wrong beat
that usually provokes a guffaw.
But it's always the same punchline.



Now the trumpet is not an especially funny instrument.
It's more likely to annoy than charm.
trumpet players do tend to be pranksters
who amuse themselves
by inventing childish tricks and silly gags.
A good reason to never sit in front of one.



But for shear entertainment value,
nothing beats a bassoon for buffoonery. 
This woodiest of woodwinds
seems designed in both shape and sound
to be played as one continuous musical farce
of funny stories and slapstick comedy.
It's always good for a laugh.


Today I introduce four maestros
of instrumental humor.


My first musical joker is Adam Wenk, der originelle Komiker ~ the original comedian. Dressed in formal white tie and tails, Herr Wenk is pictured in the center of a postcard triptych with his two comical characters on either side. The fellow on the left is playing a little E-flat clarinet, an instrument often added to brass bands to play the high melody line instead of a piccolo. His coat has decorative braid embroidered on the cuff so I think he is supposed to be a member of a town band. On the right, Wenk is costumed as a Tyrolean country bumpkin with leather breeches, vest, and feathered cap. He is holding a fishing pole or a livestock whip. I've found numerous examples of this type of theatrical character in German and Austrian postcards sometimes labeled as "Seppl" which, I think, translates to English as "rube" or "dope".  

The back of the postcard has a postmark of 9 July 1913 from Altenburg, a town in Thuringia, Germany, south of Leipzig. The printer was Nordische Kunstanstant Ernst Schmidt & Co. of Lübeck, a German port on the Baltic Sea.


* * *


The second joker is Artur Heidenreich, Komiker whose postcard's design is identical to Adam Wenk's card. Herr Heidenreich stands in the center of three photos wearing a long wool coat and bowler hat. On the left he plays a goofy-looking German soldier carrying a marching bass drum. On the right he is dressed as a Feuerwehrmann or  fireman with a water/sand bucket and fireman's hard hat. It would appear that in the center photo his mustache is trimmed in the upturned Prussian style, but that was actually penciled in by the writer who added initials on the other characters' drum and bucket. 
This postcard was sent from Saarbrücken dated by the writer 12 November 1912. Saarbrücken, which translates as Saar bridges, is located on the Saar River and is the capital of the state of Saarland, Germany. Today Germany's border with France, which does not follow the river, is about 2.7 miles (4.35 km) west of the city. But in 1912, the border was officially about 40 miles (60 km) further west, as Germany claimed the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, now called Alsace-Moselle, as part of the German Empire after capturing it from the Second French Empire in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. In 1914 this area would be hotly contested during the Great War.


* * *

The third musical joker is Carl Bergelt, Sächsischer Komiker, whose name is captioned on the top photo in a quartet of images from his act. Herr Bergelt appears a young sophisticate posed with his smoky cigarette. But on stage he played a dejected looking dolt who is pictured making hapless faces and playing a cornet. It's interesting that his instrument has piston valves instead of rotary valves which were the standard for brass instruments in Germany. 

For some reason the Free State of Saxony was noted for its Sächsischer comics, as this was a common regional appellation used by German comedians. This postcard was never mailed but bears the imprint of a Berlin photographer's studio on the back. The printing style resembles other German entertainer's postcards from the 1910-1920 decade. 


* * *


The fourth jester is Hans Meppe, Original Instrumental Humorist und Charakter Komiker from Leipzig, the largest city in Saxony. Herr Meppe's smiling portrait is shown in a group of six photos of his act. One photo shows him portraying a fireman climbing a brick wall and another as a raggedy tramp trying to hang himself. The others demonstrate his versatility as an instrumentalist with wacky characters playing a bassoon, a clarinet, and an oboe. In the image with bassoon, Meppe seems to be inflating a balloon attached to the end of the instrument. While this seems a perfectly funny concept, as a practical matter it must have been very hard to do. A bassoon is about 8 feet long and it would require superhuman air pressure to make a sound through the little double reed and also blow up a balloon.

The postcard has a postmark from Essen of 22 February 1918 or maybe 1919, but I believe it is the earlier date. By coincidence this Sächsischer comic's postcard was sent to Saarbrücken.


* * *

Humor is possibly the most ephemeral of human emotions. A joke has a shelf life that depends entirely on current events, fashion trends, and a comedian's insight into the public's fickle emotions of the day. Unlike music which can gain merit on repetition, a joke usually loses laughs the more it is repeated. Humor easily goes stale. 

Back in February, I devoted a post to this subject in Two Wise Guys. When we see pictures of comedians from earlier times like these four musical jokers, we are forced to imagine their funny jokes,  their inevitable puns, and their clever double entendre humor. Sadly, no one wrote down their wisecracks, transcribed their 10 minute stage act, or recorded their droll stories for posterity. All we have left of the laughter they produced are little images displayed on old faded postcards. They don't seem very funny now. 

Except for one thing, their musical instruments. These comical props featured music, the universal language, as a way to tell a joke. We may be unable to ever hear their funny stories or clever wisecracks, but seeing their instruments at least lets us imagine the awkward tunes, the silly mannerisms, and the ridiculous sounds that these Komickers made. That's entertainment.

Here is a performance of Sid Millward & The Nitwits,
a British comedy act which appeared in 1970
on a popular German television show
hosted by Rudi Carrell, a Dutch presenter.
I think everyone will recognize that this band of looney musicians
follows in the footsteps of the jokers I've featured today.


Another band of crazy musicians,
Spike Jones and his City Slickers band,
is better known in America where 
their madcap music 
became a big hit on radio, film, and television.
In this so-called Tchaikovsky Medley from The Spike Jones Show,
which ran on CBS in the summers of 1957, 1960 and 1961,
Spike Jones and his band masterfully demonstrate
how any 
squeak, bang, or squawk
will work as a joke's punchline.  




This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where old family photo albums are a dime a dozen.


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