Category Archives: Sheet Music Covers

Comments on some special, funny or beautiful covers

A devil’s game: Diabolo

‘Ah! Le joli jeu!’ by Christiné, published by P. H. Christiné (Paris, 1907) and illustrated by Clérice Frères.

‘Ah! Le joli jeu!’ illustrated by Clérice is one of several sheet music about the diabolo. Curiously, apart from one, all are dated 1907. We learned that in that year Gustave Phillipart started the diabolo craze. He was a Belgian civil engineer who lived in Paris. During seven years he had researched how to perfect the old toy. After building about 150 prototypes he finally patented the toy in 1906 giving the diabolo its present-day look. Through an astute marketing campaign the game came into vogue in Paris, shortly to appear all over France the next year.

Partition Musicale, illustration de Pousthomis
Left: ‘La Diabolette’ by Charles Borel-Clerc published by E. Joullot (Paris, 1907) and illustrated by Pousthomis. Right: ‘Diabolo-Danse’ by Antonin Louis published by Henry Wykes (Paris, 1907) and illustrated by Georges Dola.

To draw attention to the diabolo Philippart and a few friends played diabolo in the Bois de Boulogne every morning. They attracted a cloud of elegant walkers. These onlookers, fascinated with the flying spindle, rushed to a shop to buy one. Word got round and soon the diabolo mania was born. Journalists wrote long articles about the new graceful game. Maybe the new divertissement became quickly popular because it attracted both men and women, young and old alike.

In a French professional magazine, Publicité Moderne, Philippart explains that he also used the many theatres in the capital to promote his diabolo. One such theatre even presented a diabolo ballet. Composers and song writers, always on the lookout for a novelty, followed suit in contributing to its success.

Left: ‘Le Vrai Diabolo’ adapted by Paans and Léo Lelièvre & Briollet published by Aux Succès du XXe siècle (Paris, 1906). Right: ‘Le Vrai Diabolo’ adapted by Paans, published by Hachette (Paris, 1907).

The first diabolo song already appeared in 1906 and probably had to be published fast to keep pace with the booming fad. A little British music-hall ditty, By the Side of the Zuyder Zee, was hastily adapted in France as Le Vrai Diabolo. The trifling French text of the song promotes the game with the obligatory harmless sauciness.

Il est un petit jeu ravissant,
Qui partout fait fureur à présent…
C’est un p’tit jeu bien rigolo
L’Diabolo! L’Diabolo!
Si la jeun’ fill’ le jett’ sur l’dos
Des badauds.
C’est qu’elle rêve en lançant bien haut
L’Diabolo, L’Diabolo!
Qu’elle pourra plus tard avec son p’tit mari
Jouer le diable au lit!

The gist of the verses above is that diabolo is an enjoyable little game that is all the rage, and that if a girl misses her throw of the spinning top, it is because she’s already dreaming of diabolical bed games with her husband-to-be.

‘Le Diabolo’ Gustave Dreyfus & Georges Millandy. Published by Ricordi (Paris, 1907) and illustrated by Georges Dola.
Gustave Dreyfus, the conductor of the Parisian dance hall Bal Bullier, composed ‘Le Diabolo’ a new dance with accessories: two sticks connected by a ribbon, thus providing an elegant instrument to diabolically! entangle one’s dance partner as seen on this postcard.

Diabolo tournaments and parties were organised everywhere in France. Parks and beaches offered the best venue.

During the carnival of 1908 the diabolo could not be missed in the parades

Unfortunately Philippart also got bad publicity. A baby in a pram was killed on the Champs Elysées when a top fell on its head. Philippart argued that the spindle had no shock absorber and thus clearly was a counterfeit. Anyway, as a result of the dreadful accident playing of the game was from then on regulated by police ordinance.

To launch his product in England Philippart had contacted the publisher and sportsman C. B. Fry. This famous cricketer created a new sport around the diabolo skills. It could be played like tennis but without a net: it was replaced by a rectangular court. The diabolo is slung from the service court and the player receiving the diabolo allows it to bounce once, then catches it on the cord and returns it… if possible. This playful tennis version did not catch on though.

‘The devil on two sticks’ published by The Illustrated London News, June 23 June 1906, illustrated by Russell Flint.

In 1910, miss Renée Furie introduced a new circus act in Paris: the human diabolo. It was a variation on the human cannonball. The daredevil crept into the giant diabolo which was then catapulted into a net. Quel frisson! After which the charming lady elegantly climbed out of the contraption. Ouf!

The diabolo craze never lasted that long and only revived moderately during the fifties. Nowadays its popularity has sadly dwindled to that of a traffic light entertainment.

A short from 1907, Diabolo Nightmare, attributed to Walter R. Booth, pictures the bizarre story of a maniac office worker addicted to the game. Crazy…

Doing the Raccoon: the collegiate style

‘Doing the Raccoon’ by Raymond Klages & J.Fred Coots, published by Francis-Day (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Würth.

We see three couples dancing a foxtrot. From the academic gown and black cap we can assume that they are students. Possibly the building in the back is their Alma Mater. But the French illustrator Würth failed to draw the essence of the American song. Fortunately the original cover reveals what ‘Doin’ the Raccoon‘ is about, namely dancing gaily in a thick raccoon coat.

‘Doing the Raccoon’ by Raymond Klages & J.Fred Coots, published by Remick Music Corp (New York 1928)

The flashy full-length fur coat was the trend in the 1920s and 30s. Especially American college boys —and even some young women— adopted this fashion in the Roaring Twenties.

College men, knowledge men,
Do a dance called raccoon;
It’s the craze, nowadays,
And it will get you soon.
Buy a coat and try it,
I’ll bet you’ll be a riot,
It’s a wow, learn to do it right now!

The raccoon fur coat craze became identified with affluent students at the Ivy League colleges and universities:

Oh, they wear ’em down at Princeton,
And they share ’em up at Yale,
They eat in them at Harvard,
But they sleep in them in jail!


The coats were particularly popular among the playful students on campus: fun seekers or male jazz enthusiasts who got nicknamed collegiates or Joe College. These cheery types would drive dilapidated old cars, wear a straw hat or fedora and carry a hip flask of illicit booze. They made it very clear that you didn’t need to go to class to become collegiate:  slip into your huge fur coat and dance the raccoon!

The raccoon coat became a fashion symbol of the Jazz Age. It was popularised by celebrities: football players, actors, singers, 

‘I love no one but you’ by Phil Spitalny, published by Phil Spitalny (Cleveland, 1927) and illustrated by Geo Orpin.

 … and even by avant-garde artists like Marcel Duchamp.

Marcel Duchamp wearing a raccoon coat (1927)

While the raccoon coat originally appealed to a white clientele, the modern and rich black American man and woman followed suit. James VanDerZee, recording Harlem’s growing middle class, took this beautiful photo of a couple dressed in similar raccoon coats in their luxurious sleek Cadillac. They embody sophistication and wealth during the Harlem Renaissance.

Couple in Raccoon Coats, Harlem by James Van Der Zee (1932).

I had never heard of raccoon coats before. I only remember Walt Disney’s romanticised version of Davy Crockett wearing a coonskin cap in the series from the 1950’s.

Portrait of Fess Parker, best known for his Davy Crockett role in the Walt Disney’s TV series.

But well, that wasn’t the real Davy Crockett. Neither was this stereotype of Davy Crockett on the cover of a 19th-century sheet music. In fact it is the actor Frank Mayo with moustaches and a dead animal sitting on his head. From 1872 until his death in 1896, he frequently played the role of Davy Crockett, the 19th-century American folk hero, frontiersman and politician.

Davy Crockett March’ by George Loesch published by White Smith & C° (Boston, 1874).

Amusing Duplicates

'Das ist der Bimini...' sheet music cover by Dely
Das ist der Bimini…‘ by Stephan Weiss and Beda. Cover illustrated by Vertès for publisher Wiener Bohème Verlag (Wien, 1925).

Amusing double items, over the years we have grown to cherish these lucky finds. All of the graceful flavours of print and design become apparent: subtle similitudes, minor mistakes, lost details, delicate varieties in shade, colour or contrasts. However sometimes a duplicate is nothing but a gross replication. Take for instance the small Czech songbook, that would like to be an exact copy of the over-the-top incorrect but oh so cute Vertès illustration. A mediocre but bleak reproduction if you ask me.

Das ist der Bimini, song book published in
Das ist der Bimini, Accord-Sammlung für Gesang’, published by Accord in Prague (1925?).

Here is another example of how an ingenious and expressive design of Marcel Vertès is muddled, wasted and ruined. It is obvious that in the French version of the Passion waltz the red and green colour plates have ineptly been aligned…

Passion‘ a boston waltz by Otto Weber (1920). The cover illustrated by Marcel Vertès was published by Drei Masken Verlag in Vienna (on the left) and Smyth in Paris (right).

Have a look at a similar debacle, this one from the workshop of Hawkes in London. What happened, was the red ink too thick or too thin? Shouldn’t the gold have been printed  first? It may be that the red ‘Gold and Silver’ waltz was an ordinary printing press reject. Which we now ironically give the status of ‘collection item’. Anyway what a shame for the beautiful drawing by W. George.

On the left ‘L’Or et l’Argent‘ from Franz Lehar, published by Edouard Salabert (Paris, 1903). Right: ‘Gold and Silver‘, the washout from Hawkes & Son, London, s.d. Illustration by W. George.

Some ‘duplicate’ sheet music are just different. Having both versions in the collection is worthwhile, and brings on a few moments of delight. As does the gliding sound of the great-grandmother of all waltzes ‘Sobre las Olas’ (Uber den Wellen, Sur les vagues, Over the Waves) composed by Mexican Juventino Rosas in 1888.

Sobre las Ollas‘ by Juventino Rosas. Published by Otto June (Leipzig, s.d.). Illustration signed G.B.
Sobre las Ollas‘, waltz composed by by Juventino Rosas. Publisher: Schott Frères (Bruxelles, s.d.). Unknown illustrator.

Time now for a musical intermezzo: float and twirl over the ocean  waves!

All the duplicates above show essentially the same drawing. It is more fun when the same theme is drawn differently, as with this chucklesome waiter.

Im Hotel zur Grünen Wiese‘ by Edvard Brink, illustrated by Otto Dely and published by Wiener Bohème Verlag (Wien, 1922).
A l’Hôtel de la Prairie Verte (Théodor)’ by Edvard Brink, illustrated by Robert Laroche (published by Smyth, Paris, 1922).

A last surprising duplicate which brings joy is The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

The Teddy Bears Picnic‘ by John W. Bratton. Illustrator unknown. Published by Feldman & Co (London, s.d.).

The UK branch of American publisher Witmark resolutely chose  for an extra row of bears.

The Teddy Bears Picnic‘ by John W. Bratton (Witmark & Sons, London, 1907). Unknown illustrator.

German publisher Roehr on the other hand preferred chubby Teddies for its Baby-Bären Parade.

Baby-Bären Parade – The Teddy Bears Picnic‘ by John W. Bratton. Cover of the sheet music published by C. M. Roehr (Berlin, 1907).

Strangely The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, copyrighted in 1907 by American composer John Bratton, was for many years just an instrumental number. Twenty-five years later,  in 1932, Irishmen Jimmy Kennedy wrote the lyrics that beautifully accompany the two-step rhythm:

If you go down to the woods today
You’re sure of a big surprise.
If you go down to the woods today
You’d better go in disguise!
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain,
Because today’s the day the
Teddy Bears have their picnic.

 

Now comes the special moment: a scene from the Eighty’s serial drama The Singing Detective, wherein Michael Gambon plays crooner, detective, and psoriatic patient. Thank you Dennis Potter.


Previous posts on duplicate sheet music covers: