Category Archives: Science & Industry

Le Diable Noir

‘Le Diable Noir’ by Gaston De Lille, published by the author (Hénin-Liétard, sd).

The march ‘Le Diable Noir’ is a tribute to a French heavy artillery regiment during WW1. German soldiers allegedly nicknamed French gunners ‘Diables Noirs’, or Black Devils, referring to the colour of their uniform and also to the gunpowder that blackened their faces.

Thanks to Gaston Delille’s great-grandchild (active on Reddit as balfringRetro) we can listen to a recording of Le Diable Noir.

On this week’s sheet music cover we see a black devil sitting atop a red bomb, leering through his binoculars at a ruined city. The projectile has a childish steering wheel. The two telltale circular marks on the grenade let us guess it is a naive drawing of a French 400 mm artillery shell. These bomb types were fired from a railway gun, a large artillery piece or Howitzer, mounted on a specially designed railway wagon. They were the French answer to the German Big Bertha.

The 400 mm railway gun was first put into service during the battle at Verdun. The thing was so heavy and clumsy that it took two days to set it up.

Verdun! on ne passe pas‘ by René Mercier, Jack Cazol & Eugène Joullot, published by E. Joullot (Paris, sd) and illustrated by L. Prevel

The person responsible for manufacturing the ‘Obus 400‘ bomb was Albert Thomas. He was the French minister of Armaments during WW1. A socialist and pacifist, he had cooperated with Jaurès, the leader of the French Socialist Party who was murdered in 1914. In this photo collage we see him proudly and lovingly presenting his 1.000 kg bomb.

‘J’ai Vu’, April 1916. Photo Collage by Hermann.

When the war broke out in August 1914, the French socialists had swallowed their anti-war resolutions to patriotically join the defence of their country. The left wing agreed to a political truce, the Union Sacrée, promising not to oppose the government during the war. Albert Thomas was the epitome of this Sacred Union: the pacifist had become a top manufacturer of weapons by modernising France’s munitions production. He retrieved half a million men already serving with the army, also recruited prisoners of war, refugees and women and put all these people to work to massively make ammunition. At the same time he tried to improve the working conditions in the arms industry, although with little immediate success. In 1917 the French Socialist Party left the Union Sacrée, and Albert Thomas resigned as minister of Armaments. His fight to optimise the war efforts had made him an outsider in his own party, where pacifism was again de rigueur.

What better way to finish this post than with the catching tune of ‘Ancient Combattant’, an ironic anti-war song by the Congolese Casimir Zoba: La bombe ce n’est pas bon, ce n’est pas bon: le diable noir cadavéré!

Marquer le pas, et 1, 2
Ancien combattant
Mundasukiri

Tu ne sais pas que moi je suis ancien combattant
Moi je suis ancien combattant,
J’ai fait la guerre mondiaux
Dans la guerre mondiaux,
Il n’y a pas de camarade oui
Dans la guerre mondiaux,
Il n’y a pas de pitié mon ami
J’ai tué Français,
J’ai tué Allemand
J’ai tué Anglais,
Moi j’ai tué Tché-co-slo-vaque
Marquer le pas, 1, 2
Ancien combattant
Mundasukiri

La guerre mondiaux
Ce n’est pas beau, ce n’est pas beau

Kina for your health, hic!

‘Kina-Cadet’ by Eugene Besançon, published by Vve Jules Iochem Paris, 1896, and illustrated by Ernest Buval.

The man looking rather ominously at his bitter is popular French actor, Ernest Coquelin (1848–1909). His older brother was also an actor, and that’s why Ernest was nicknamed Coquelin Cadet. The sheet music title proves that Coquelin Cadet —probably in an effort to turn his notoriety into money— lent his name to a beverage named Kina-Cadet. These quinine-based wines, or kina’s, were very popular during the fin de siècle as aperitif or as ‘medicinal’ wines.

The source of quinine is the bark of the cinchona or fever tree, native to the Andean tropical forests. The Quechua people grounded the cinchona bark into a fine powder that they used as a remedy against fever. The Jesuits in colonial Peru, having learned of this local use, introduced cinchona bark in Europe as a powerful antimalarial around 1640. Although according to some it was the wife of a Spanish viceroy to Peru, the countess of Chinchon, who brought it back with her after being cured of a fever by her Peruvian maid. In 1820 two French pharmacists isolated the active chemical compound, an alkaloid that they called quinine. From then on pure extracted quinine was used to treat malaria instead of the bark.

Image of a French publicity for Coopquina to increase the appetite
French publicity for Coopquina, a quinine concoction that ‘increases the appetite of young and old’.

As a result of 19th century European colonialism, the demand in quinine rose for colonials and soldiers stationed in malaria-infested areas. To make the bitter quinine more palatable it was mixed into a liquid, commonly gin (for the British). Or it was blended with fortified wine, herbs and spices (pour les Français). And of course today quinine still is a flavouring of tonic water, bitter lemon, vermouth, and cocktails.

According to Dubonnet, the French government even held  a contest in the 1840s, looking for a new drink that contained quinine and also could be enjoyed by the troops.

Left: ‘L’Or-Kina’ by Léon Froment & Achille Rouquet (publisher unknown, s.d.). Right: ‘Madaskina’ by G. Frecheville & P. Guiraud, published by Auguste Bosc (Paris, sd).

At the end of the 19th century the number of different quinine wines on the market exploded. To our delight, this commercial competition gave rise to songs and sheet music to promote some of these Kina brands.

‘Je vends du Kina-Tarascon’ by L. Delormel & L. Garnier, published by Répertoire Paulus (Paris, 1887) and illustrated by Faria (Source Gallica).

These quinine wines were not only sold in liquor stores but also in pharmacies. It was recommended to take at least one glass a day, and even a spoonful for children. The Kina tonic wines supposedly had invigorating effects…

The publicity above (for Marsala Kina) was illustrated by Ballester  using an ephemeral sculpture technique which we explained in an earlier post. Vouched for by a doctor Valiès, the advertisement tried to convince the potential user that kina wines were indeed medicinal. The fortified wine was infused with iron salts, quinine, kola, coca, tannins and iodine. It could be used against all kinds of diseases and was infallible to combat chlorosis, anaemia, tuberculosis, rheumatism, pale colours, states of languor and weight loss due to undernutrition, overwork, etc.

And doctor Valiès spared no expense to sell his wine…

We have found in our collection two other Kina covers which promote an Italian amaro: Ferro-China-Bisleri.

Left: Robur, a waltz by Zeno Mattei. Right: Romance, composed by M. Federico Albini and illustrated by A. Ripalta. Both published by Felice Bisleri (Milano, sd).

Ferro-China-Bisleri was the first bitter to claim having also infused iron salts within the quinine drink. Its label shows a lion in which mouth one reads ROBUR —signifying force in Latin, and phonetically evoking the roar of a lion. Signore Bisleri himself resembles a lion. He looks very determined and ferocious indeed.

Left: Volete la salute? (Do you want health?), publicity for Ferro-China-Bisleri. Right: Felice Bisleri, painted portrait by Antonino Gandolfo. (source Wikipedia)

Felice Bisleri had been a freedom fighter under Garibaldi before becoming an inventor and pharmacist. At the tender age of 14, he fled his home to enlist in the Volunteers Corps of Garibaldi. A year later he was decorated with a medal for Military Valour for having distinguished himself in a battle where he continued to fight despite being wounded. It appears that at this young age Bisleri perhaps already drank vigorously from his own Kina wine…

In the sixties and seventies tonic wines knew a revival.  Advertisements in women’s magazines and newspapers targeted a new clientele by promising that it was beneficial for ladies.

Left: ‘Kids are murder!‘, British advert for Santogen, a tonic wine that helps when kids drive you crazy. Right: Dutch advert for Pleegzuster Bloedwijn, a remedy against nervous conditions.

The publicity claimed that by consuming a few glasses a day of the ‘wonderful restorative’ one could avoid a nervous breakdown. One felt so comfortable and life became suddenly more bearable after drinking this ‘medicine’ with an alcohol percentage of 13.5%. 

Dear housewives or mothers, if you can’t cope any more with another day of drudgery, an empty house, doing the dishes and the same old dull household tasks while your husband has all the fun, don’t reach for the booze. Instead listen to Arno with his version of Mother’s Little Helpers and put your feet up.

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.