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 }

More Fashion Styles for Lady Cornetists

30 October 2021


Charm, elegance, sophistication.
These are words often applied to feminine fashions,
a common feature seen in the portraits
of female musicians in my photograph collection.
Of course, except for the musical instrument, they were
no different than other portraits of women in their time
when people posed for the camera
in their most flattering garments.


For female musicians a white dress was standard concert attire,
but capturing the delicate textures of white linen and lacework
was a difficult challenge for early photographers
when lighting the subject and
judging the camera's exposure time
was crucial to a successful photograph.

In the age of sepia tone photos
a musician's instrument also presented problems
for a photographer seeking the right balance of tonal contrast.
The reflection of light on the shiny bell of a brass cornet
was very different than on the dark wood of a violin. 

Today I present three portraits of young ladies
posed with their instrument,
the cornet.

* * *

The first portrait is a postcard photo of young woman standing outdoors next to a stony hillside embankment with tall trees looming in the background. The woman wears a beautiful dress with transparent layers of gauzy or lacy material. I believe the color is white, but with black and white film it might be lemon yellow or another pastel shade. The forest setting is an unusual place for this kind of portrait, which would usually be taken in a studio with controlled light. Perhaps she has just finished performing at a city park bandstand and the photographer chose the spot for its nice balance of sun and shade.
The woman's name is written on the back.
Miss Paul, a cornet soloist
Her home is in Lehigh Co Pa
And there is a rubber stamped name, possibly the photographer.
Geo. H. Webb
Columbiana, Ohio
I. P. A.  No. 2618

Unfortunately the name, Miss Paul, and her home area is not enough to establish the woman's identity. She may have played with a band, but her fine dress suggests she may have performed with an orchestra or in a recital.  Lehigh County is in eastern Pennsylvania and Allentown is the county seat. My collection has enough photos of musical groups and musicians from Allentown that I've decided it was one of the most musical communities in Pennsylvania, if not America. However Columbian, Ohio is over 320 miles to the west, just south of Youngstown, Ohio. Was she part of a traveling musical troupe from Lehigh County? A new resident of Columbiana formerly from Pennsylvania? I don't know because I've been unable to find any  reference to a person of that name in either place. The style of the postcard and Miss Paul's elegant dress date the photo to around 1910. 

The stamped name on the postcard is easier to identify. For his entire life from 1856 to 1928, a George (Geo.) Harvey Webb lived in Columbiana, Ohio. In the 1900 census he listed his occupation as machinist. However, thanks to a descendant who provided a full family tree on, I learned that his father, George G. Webb, who was born in 1821, operated a photography studio in Columbiana. After George G.'s death in 1889, his eldest son, John M. Webb continued managing the studio well into the 1920s. It seems very likely that George H. Webb also acquired skill with a camera and worked as a photographer in his spare time. The I. P. A. No. 2618 remains a mystery though. I don't think it stands for a variety of India Pale Ale, or a union local of the International Pilots Association. Maybe it's an independent photographer's association but because of the many possible interpretations for IPA I haven't discovered what it actually stands for. 

* * *

My second portrait of a female cornetist is on a cabinet card from Gay's studio at 39 South Main St., Fall River, Massachusetts. This young lady and her cornet are turned in profile, an uncommon pose. Her hair is cut short and she wears a white dress with bare shoulders and arms. It's a close shot so we can't see the dress hemline but I would judge that she is in a full length gown. The photo gives her a more modern look, but I believe the photo dates from the late 1890s or very early 1900s.  The photographer was Edwin F. Gay of Fall River, MA, who operated a studio with his wife from the 1870 until perhaps 1900. 

There is nothing on the card back so the young cornetist must remain unknown. Nonetheless I hope one day to find her in a photo of a Massachusetts women's orchestra, as there were many that flourished there from 1890 to 1915, especially around Boston.  

* * *


My third cornet player is on another cabinet card photograph, but this time from a photographer in Texas, the Wisdom Studio at 318 Elm St. in Dallas. The young woman faces the camera nearly directly with her instrument in the ready position. Her hair is curly and probably pulled back with a bow or comb. Her dress is the opposite of the previous woman, with a high collar and long fluffy sleeves with much lace. The photographer was Charles H. Wisdom, born in 1862 and active in Dallas from around 1895 to the early 1920s. Again the style of photo and the woman's hair and dress suggest this photo was made around 1895. 

On the back of the photo someone has written in ink a name: Nannie L. Cumby. At first I misread the surname as Cumly, but with a change of l to b, I found a Miss Nannie Cumby in the 1893 Dallas city directory. However her name is not in the prior or latter directories. In 1911 there is a Mrs. Emma L. Cumby but I have no was of knowing if that is the same person. 

The musical fashions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries fixated on romance, sentimentality, patriotism, and bombast. The clothing fashions of the same time period also represent the way people thought about art and music. Gentleman musicians were usually photographed in classic white tie and tailcoats, or in elaborate band uniforms, often decorated with medals awarded for musical merit. The ladies responded with a feminine version of style, sometimes dressed in band uniforms that imitated their male counterparts, or in elegant gowns showing off expensive material or needlework. And hats. There were always hats. Even these three women had a hat resting on a table off camera.

For both genders, no one would ever dress casual for a photograph. Informal or homey clothing was considered coarse and graceless. Even when folk costumes were worn, the effect was intended to showoff the fine embroidery of traditional garments of a native land. Though high couture fashion remains an important part of modern life and certainly of show business too, I think the casual trends in our 21st century have sadly removed some of the high standards that were once accepted as commonplace. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone leans toward old stuff.

Portrait of a Young Violinist

23 October 2021


It was a special day for a photograph.
The young girl is dressed in
black hose, buckled shoes,
and a beautiful white lace frock.
Her wavy hair has been carefully combed back
and tied with a large white bow.
She directs her gaze downward
with tiny hint of a smile,
while holding a violin and bow
that rest on an elaborate rattan chair.

It's one the finest portraits in my collection
as the print condition is near perfect,
requiring no digital correction.
The camera's lens was of superior quality
as it picked up the detail of her frock's stitchwork
and even the chain links on her heart shape locket. 

It could easily be the high class work
of a photographer from Chicago or Philadelphia.

So it's surprising that it came from
a small town in Texas.


The photographer's name is unclear as the embossed logo was pressed onto buff cardstock without ink. The left side has an Aladdin lamp with sparkling rays from the spout, but next to it are just a few letters in a broad italic font, perhaps Fuss or other initials. But the photographer's location is clear — Sealy. Tex., a small town west of Houston, Texas that was built in 1879 on the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad. When this photo was taken there were less than 1,000 residents in Sealy, yet its history is interesting because of a public health issue that we are dealing with in our time. 
Sealy, Texas was named after George Sealy (1835–1901) of Galveston, a business tycoon who developed this railroad as a way of avoiding the Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railroad (GH&H) which was then the only rail link between the two cities. During the 19th century the port city of Galveston was regularly subjected to strict quarantines imposed by the city of Houston when Galveston had outbreaks of yellow fever and other epidemics. So the businessmen of Galveston decided to bypass Houston by building their own railway line that would cross Texas to reach Santa Fe, New Mexico. However it did not succeed and in 1886 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad was bought out by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. 
Sealy, Texas is also known by a famous brand name. In 1881, Daniel Haynes, a cotton gin maker in Sealy began filling orders in town for a cotton-filled mattress of his own invention. It proved so popular that he registered a patent and formed a company which he named the Sealy Mattress Company after his hometown.

What makes this lovely portrait extra special is a note on the back.
In a large cursive hand the girl is identified as:
Helene Rossler
age 11 years
Fort Worth, Tex

It did not take long to find her in the 1900 US Census for Fort Worth.
1900 US Census - Fort Worth, Texas
Helene or Helen Rossler was the second child of Conrad and Helen Rossler, both immigrants from Germany. Helen, then age 6, was born in Texas, as were her other siblings, an older sister, Kate Rossler, born in 1890, and a younger brother, William Rossler, born in 1896. The 1900 census usefully includes birth months and Helen's was June which dates her photo sometime between June 1904 and May 1905.

1913 Austin, TX city directory

In the 1900 census, Conrad or Konrad Rossler listed his occupation as salesman, but in 1913 the Rossler family was living in Austin, Texas where Konrad Rossler ran a barbers' supply business dealing in cutlery and grinding, i.e. sharpening. Miss Helen E. Rossler, now age 20, was listed separately, as was her brother William, a grinder, though both still lived at home.


On the 30 May 1917, Helen Rossler and Alfred Dieckert took out a marriage license in Houston. Helen was age 23 and Alfred 28. Like Helen, his parents were also from Germany. He worked for the Houston gas company, and in 1923 the couple moved to St. Petersburg, Florida where Alfred took a foreman position with the city gas department and also worked in real estate.

Tampa Bay Times
11 December 1927

I don't think Helen was ever a professional musician, but a search for her name and instrument did bring up one social event where she performed for a bridge party in Tampa/St. Petersburg.  
Helen's father suffered a heart attack in January 1932 and died at age 62. His wife, Helene Rossler had moved to St. Petersburg and passed away there in June 1953 at age 80. In December 1960, Alfred Dieckert, by now retired at age 72, died in a St. Petersburg hospital. And finally on 27 October 1974, Mrs. Alfred Dieckert, née Helen Rossler, a retired beautician and resident of St. Petersburg for 52 years, died at age 81. As far as I can determine, she and Alfred never had children.

Tampa Bay Times
29 October 1974
It was indeed a special day.
We may admire the photograph by its own merits,
but learning the background of young Helen Rossler
gives us a better portrait of the child and her family.
Her violin is displayed not only as evidence
of her parent's pride in Helen's musical talent
but is also a reflection of how the old world culture
came over from Germany and contributed to American music.
Since it's likely that Helen's brother and sister
also learned to play a musical instrument,
the Rossler family home must have resounded with constant music.
 But discovering that her father's trade was in barber supplies,
that is what really makes Helen's hair shine.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every child is as pretty as a picture.

The Family Portrait

15 October 2021


It's a classic portrait of a young family. A husband and wife pose with their two children, a daughter, perhaps at age three or four, and an infant, a boy (maybe?) that is only a few months old. The photographer has caught their full attention and successfully directed them to look beyond the camera lens. The result is a happy photograph full of love and hope.
But this cabinet card photo was glued to plain card stock that has no imprint of the photographer's name or location. The mount was then trimmed to fit into a photo album. That album was passed down to younger generations until it met the inevitable fate of most family ephemera — sold at an estate sale. The album's collection of photos, a web of family images linking generations now forgotten, was disassembled into categories. Old tintypes and little carte de visites from the 1860s and 70s were removed from the pages and sold separately. Larger cabinet cards and albumen photos were likewise put aside, destined for some antique shop's 50¢ basket. Tiny snapshots from the 1920s and 30s were just tossed into the trash bin. Only the best photos, like this one, got placed for auction on eBay to see if someone might pay more. And with luck, that someone is me.
Who was this sparkling family? Where did they live? When did they pose for their picture? The only clue is on the back of the photo card mount. A name written in pencil, but marred by scissors that cut off a letter.
Annie Milan_?
Milans? Miland?


Is Annie the mother or the daughter?  Maybe Annie was given the photo as  a gift and was a cousin or friend. Alas, her name is not enough to solve this small mystery. All we can do is admire their bright pleasant faces. 
And the tuba.

Father keeps a firm grip on his tuba, which rests upright on the floor, as his young babe is cradled in the instrument's bell. It's an E flat model with three piston valves. (The tuba, not the child.)  The young man wears a dark band uniform which has collar pins with the initials AFM that mark him as a professional member of the American Federation of Musicians union. Unfortunately the grainy quality of the print hides the musician's local union number on his cap badge which could have identified his location. The only other clue is the little girl's white hair bow, a fashion that was popular around 1900 to 1910.

Despite the unknown elements, the photo remains a fine example of a family portrait. And at the same time, it's a whimsical occupational photo that no pianist, violinist, or trumpet player would ever attempt with their instrument.
 For more photos of babes in tubas, try these stories:
The Bassic Baby Carrier
Another Tuba Baby
Tuba Babies




This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every weekend is a family day.

Music for the Birds

09 October 2021

 Their music was played loud and brassy,


though the townsfolk thought it too sassy, 


but out in the yard it sounded a treat
and even the tuba sang so  sweet,

 that their neighbors thought it high classy.

This postcard, circa 1910,
offers no clues as to who, where, or when
this brass band of nine musicians,

all female except for a lone man on tuba,
gathered together to pose for the camera.
There is enough resemblance in their faces
to think there is a family connection
of sisters or mothers with daughters,
but we shouldn't assume that the tuba player
is married to one of the women.
He is just as likely to be a brother
or even just a farmer from down the road.
In any case they all look too well dressed for just a rehearsal,
so I think the photo was taken at their concert.
What makes it a curious image is that the band
stands happily below a very impressive bird house
which boasts of a front porch and two chimneys.
What lucky birds.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is welcome
to join the lawn party.

La Sérénade des Clowns

02 October 2021

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Tonight, I present to you
the celebrated and world famous duo

Les Conches

Comedians and Musical Virtuosos
all the way from Paris, France.



This pair of French entertainers appeared on a postcard of unknown date. However on the back corner is a single clue showing that the card originated from a studio in Paris. Based on the style of photo, these two musical comedians likely performed their violin and guitar in European music halls and circuses sometime from 1905-1915. It should be obvious which was the funny one.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every duo has a story to tell.


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP