Category Archives: Science & Industry

Songs about light

Arlita‘ (Chanson Lumineuse – Het Lied van het Licht) by Daniel J. A. Van de Vyver, published by Le Reveil Artistique (s.d. Brussels). Illustration attributed to Marcel-Louis Baugniet.

This superb geometrical cover suggests the song is about a beautiful girl named Arlita. Far from it though, it prosaically sings the technological praise of a light bulb! The glass lamp is represented here by large discs in shades of purple around the fleshy rose face of a girl. The design is attributed to Marcel-Louis Baugniet (1896-1995) a Belgian painter, furniture designer and decorator. The drawing certainly reflects his style which was influenced by Bauhaus, cubism, De Stijl and Russian constructivism.
In the girl’s 
traits many like to recognise the portrait of the Brussels dancer and artist Akarova (born Marguerite Acarin, 1904-1999). 

Portrait of Akarova, in A-Z Hebdomadaire Illustré (No 16, 9 Juillet 1933).

Akarova was an emancipated garçonne. Her fame as a dancer earned her the unofficial title ‘the Belgian Isadora Duncan’.  In 1922 she married Marcel-Louis Baugniet. Both designed the avant-garde costumes and decors for her stage performances and continued to do so after their rather brief marriage. They stayed friends though, and both lived well into their nineties.

Left: ‘Lettres Dansantes’ costume design for Akarova by Marcel Baugniet, 1923. Right: ‘Akarova dansant’ by Marcel Baugniet, 1924.

Philips, the producer of the Arlita light bulb, is a Dutch company founded at the end of the 19th century. Immediately after WWI a Belgian branch was established. From there the Arlita lamp was manufactured and launched in 1929. A massive advertising campaign —including press articles, brochures, publicity folders, albums and posters— heralded the birth of the frosted lamp. 

Adverts for the Philips Arlita light bulb (Source: Kunst in de Philips Reclame)

It is in this marketing storm that one has to situate the sheet music above. The song and the publicity celebrated Arlita as a wonder of technology and cost cutting. To deliver this last message the marketeers even introduced a nasty Gollum-like figure: the current devourer (or stroomvreter in Dutch).

The current devourer or ‘stroomvreter’ in Philips’ campaign for the Arlita light bulb.

The marketing strategy led to a commercial success. The Arlita sales soon accounted for 80% of the turnover. The Arlita bulb was  followed by the super Arlita, and then came the bi-Arlita with a double filament. One man was at the heart of the marketing operations: Jacques Vink. He had been involved with the international advertising department of the Philips house in the Netherlands, before becoming head of the Belgian branch. From his beginnings in 1907 Vink regularly gave artists assignments to create publicity. And once in Belgium it was but a further step to ask avant-garde Belgian artists to design merchandising in order to promote the Philips light bulbs. In this way he ordered this silverware salt shaker from Oskar Wiskemann…

Oscar Wiskemann: silver-ware salt shaker for Philips.

… and a set of playing cards with various instances of the lamp, hidden in the pictures.

Advertising playing cards in art deco style, manufactured by Etabl. Mesmaekers Frères S.A., Turnhout, Belgium. (Source: The World of Playing Cards)

The Arlita campaign coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the light bulb by Thomas Alva Edison. To anticipate this event Philips supported a series of school lectures throughout Belgium. Moreover, Jacques Vink also devised a delicate attention for the parents who’s baby was born on October 29, 1929. They received a luxury box with an Arlita lamp. He even sent one to Edison himself who replied with a friendly letter.

Edison‘ (Grande Valse Electrique) by Albert de la Gravelière, published by Léopold Cerf (s.d. Paris) and illustrated by Buval.

We discovered in our collection another publicity for light bulbs. It is more than a decade older and is for Osram, the German competitor of Philips. The name of the light bulb holds an oriental flavour: Osram Pacha.

Osram Pacha‘ by Emile Doloire, published by Delormel (Paris, 1913) and illustrated by Pousthomis.

The illustration is by Pousthomis who got his inspiration from a 1911 poster by D. Vasquez Dial. The composer fantasised about the brand name Osram, which is derived from osmium and wolfram (German for tungsten). Both these elements were commonly used for lighting filaments. Maybe the name Osram, in its resemblance to Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman empire, inspired Pousthomis to draw this oriental dance setting for the German light bulb. This consonance can also explain why the lamp was christened Pacha, ‘pasha’ being an honorary title in the Ottoman empire.

Osram publicity poster by D. Vasquez Dial, 1911.

We will end with a documentary as a tribute to Thomas Edison, who is granted the invention of the incandescent bulb although it is the work of many inventors, rather than his lone genius. A pity he didn’t invent a hearing aid.


Valse Tabromik by Otto Heitzmann

‘Valse Tabromik’ by Otto Heitzmann, published by Gebethner & Wolff (Warsaw, 1921) and illustrated by Wilhelm Ludwik Rudy.

Alexandra Chava Seymann wrote us from Vienna about her grandfather, the composer of Valse Tabromik. Otto Heitzmann (1885-1955) was born in Linz, Austria. His parents continued the prestigious Viennese piano company founded by his grandfather Johann Heitzmann in 1839.

Otto M. Heitzmann (private collection of Ms Seymann).

But as Alexandra Seymann tells us “Otto M. Heitzmann turned out to be more interested in actually creating and making music than in manufacturing pianos. He became a composer, conductor and music director. He worked in Poland, Denmark, Iceland, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic. He was married three times, first in Poland, then in Denmark (where he left two children), finally in Austria (where my mother was born). Unfortunately, due to his vagrant life, two world wars, and also family conflicts (his third wife was not exactly happy with his artist’s life and cut ties with him), there is close to nothing left of his portfolio.

Otto Heitzmann composed the Tabromik walz while working in Poland in the early Twenties. The sheet music is used to promote Tabromik, a vodka and liquor factory in Poznán and Gniezno, Poland. The brand took its name from the first letters of the factory owner’s name, Tadeusz Bronislaw Mikołajczyk (1895-1933).

Tadeusz Bronislaw Mikołajczyk (source: ‘Mistrz interesu i przegrany w życiu‘ by Rafał Wichniewicz) .

Mikołajczyk was an ambitious businessman who had only completed elementary school. He taught himself marketing and advertising and founded Tabromik in 1920. It is not clear where he got the funds for the company’s development but after a year it is said he already employed 250 people. He also started other successful projects but got involved in speculative and shady business and ended up bankrupt. Shortly thereafter, he died young as the result of an accident.

The illustration of the sheet music was created by Wilhelm Ludwik Rudy (1888-1940). The same year Rudy also designed a set of air mail stamps. They were issued by Aerotarg, the first Polish airline, in agreement with the Polish Post. Attached to each stamp was an advertising label, inscribed T.A.B.R.O.M.I.K. These stamps had to be bought for airmail in addition to the normal postage rate.

The left stamp shows a Junkers F-13 plane dropping mail over Poznan. The right one shows Icarus against Poznan’s sky. Both designs by Wilhelm Rudy. (source: wikipedia)

The short-lived Aerotarg was founded in Poznań in 1921 in order to serve visitors of the first Poznań Industrial trade fair. The organizers of the fair financed the venture. Aerotarg leased six Junkers F 13 aircrafts and the first regular Poznań-Warsaw and  Poznan-Danzig flights were set up.

Junker F13 used by Aerotarg for the Poznań-Danzig connection, 1921.

Between May and June the newly created airline transported  around 100 passengers and 3 tons of parcels. The venture turned out to be unprofitable and ceased operation less than a month after it’s start-up. The fair committee lost its venture capital.

Wieczor‘ (Le Soir) by Jan Rozewicz, Published by Gebethner & Wolff (Warsaw, 1922) and illustrated by C.F.

In the copyright statement of Valse Tabromik Mikołajczyk proudly mentions Tabromik’s ‘Publishing and Advertising Department‘, giving it a prestigious cachet Compared to other Polish sheet music from the time though, it looks to us a rather clumsy publication. It is printed in black and white on thin, cheap paper with the notes shining through. The typography is uninspired. In an attempt to brighten up the cover Wilhelm Rudy drew a slightly bizarre couple: he grins idiotically at his waltzing partner while she —oblivious to her fraying hat— stiffly tries to ignore an upcoming nipple gate.

Valse Tabromik, detail.

Apart from the few air stamps above, I could find almost nothing about the life and work of this illustrator, although there is the horrendous fact that Wilhelm Rudy died in the Katyn massacre in April 1940.

To conclude, Alexandra Seymann explains how so few things have remained from her grandfather’s musical opus: “Otto Heitzman died in 1955 in Waidhofen an der Thaya (Lower Austria), Austria, at the age of 70; my mother was merely 11 at the time, and I never got to know my grandfather as I was only born more than two decades later; the children from his second marriage died before I could get in touch with them. The Heitzmann family is now dispersed all over the globe, but there is very little information and very few documents left of Otto. I try to piece together whatever I can find in archives, old newspapers, official records. Finding a complete composition is a beautiful and touching moment!

A Frog Swallower

‘Ranita’ by Gil d’Azil, published by Cicada (Paris, 1927) and illustrated by André Marcy.

“Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day”. The Frenchman Mac Norton took this advice from Mark Twain quite literally. About a hundred years ago he started his magician career by eating live frogs on stage. No wonder that our cute frog on the sheet music cover seems a bit worried.

Mac Norton ‘Das menschliche Aquarium’ – 1912

For his ‘human aquarium’ performance Mac Norton, artist name of Claude Delair, took from a fishbowl five frogs and six goldfish, and swallowed them alive one by one. Then he made a point of nonchalantly lighting a cigarette. After a relaxing moment of small talk with his audience he started to disgorge all the small animals, still alive. It is said that he could keep fish, frogs or other aquatic animals moving around in his stomach for more than two hours.

All Mac Norton’s shows centered around his stunning ability to hold large quantities of water in his stomach and to disgorge it afterwards. Sometimes he would emphasise the enormous amount of water by ordering a parade of waiters to bring him 50 glasses of it. He would then demonstrate La Fontaine: he expelled the water he had just swallowed into a delicate jet in which he washed his hands. Or he performed La douche. The water then gushed from his mouth with force, but still seemingly without effort.

In Berlin, Mac Norton did his trick with beer. Houdini who watched the show behind the scenes was not that impressed. “The filled glasses were displayed on shelves at the back of the stage, and had handles so that he could bring forward two or three in each hand. When he had finished these he would return for others and, while gathering another handful, would bring up the beer and eject it into a receptacle arranged between the shelves, just below the line of vision of the audience…”.  So at least some of it was a trick.

‘l’Amour Magicien’ (Mister Magician) by Charles O’Flynn; James Cavanaugh & Frank Weldon, French lyrics by Jan Marotte & Jean Cis. Published by Salabert (Paris, 1934) and illustrated by Ch. Roussel.

Houdini goes further. “I remember his anxiety on one occasion when returning to his dressing-room; it seems he had lost a frog—at least he could not account for the entire flock—and he looked very much scared, probably at the uncertainty as to whether or not he had to digest a live frog.”

‘La Grenouille au Nénuphar’ by Clapson & Teredral, published by Clapson (Paris, 1919) and illustrated by Lt. Fetaz.

Mac Norton himself believed that he had an extra stomach like a cow. But more likely he suffered from rumination syndrome. This is the effortless regurgitation of undigested food from the stomach back up into the mouth. There is no retching, pain or other inconveniences as in the case of vomiting.
Thanks to the treasure trove that is Gallica, I found out that Mac Norton became the subject of medical examinations in 1912.

Drawings of Mac Norton’s stomach. Fig 1: after ingestion of 125 g milk of bismuth. Fig 2: after ingestion of 400 g milk of bismuth. Fig 3: after ingestion of 3,5 litre liquid. From ‘Archives d’Electricité Médicale experimentales et cliniques’ – 1912

With radiography a doctor revealed the structure of the performer’s stomach. One would expect that he would have taken images of Mac Norton’s insides after swallowing the frogs. But no, he just made him drink some fluid and concluded that his stomach was ‘very muscular‘ and that was about it. How absolutely deceiving!

To illustrate once more that songs were made about anything, we insert a Dutch sheet music cover of a song about Röntgen’s discovery: X-stralen (X-rays). On the cover we see the first ever photograph of a human body part using X-rays. It is the hand of Röntgen’s wife on a photographic plate.

‘De X-stralen’ (The X-Rays) by Tommy & Bassy, published in 1896.
Mac Norton’s international career took him all over Europe and in various parts of South America. The protest actions of the American Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty made North America a no go for the frog eater. Claude Delair (1876-1953) continued his Mac Norton tricks until he was well into his seventies.
Claude Delair, aka Mac Norton, in the Forties.

I found a similar regurgitation act from 1931 by Hadji Ali in a Spanish-language version of Laurel and Hardy’s Chickens Come Home. Enjoy and have a drink!


Further reading on magicians and illusionists:  ‘Miracle-Mongers and their Methods’ by Harry Houdini.