Category Archives: Science & Industry

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 its 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.

Of Moths and Mums

Frisson d’Automne‘ by Victor Divoir. Sheet Music cover illustrated by E.D. Published by Auguste Bosc, Paris, 1907.

Inspired by autumn I scanned our collection for chrysanthemums. And look what I found: no less than a dozen covers! That doesn’t come close to the number of sheet music romantically decorated with roses. But at least it shows that in the beginning of the 20th century mums (the informal name for cultivated chrysanthemums) were cherished. Perhaps because they seem to add a touch of exuberance to the music?

Left: ‘Les Chrysanthèmes’, a schottisch by Gaston Anglade. Illustrated by H. Viollet-Douhin and published by Emile Marchand in Bordeaux (s.d.). Right: ‘Les Chrysanthèmes’ a mazurka by Julien Heins. Published in Ghent by Paternotte- Gaucheron (s.d.).
Chrysanthèmes‘ by Alfred Margis and P. Jeanne de Fallois. Unknown illustrator. Édition Almar (Paris, 1907).
Music Kiosque
A cascade of chrysanthemums at a bandstand (De Kouter, Ghent 2017)

Chrysanthemums are botanically described as a genus of compositae with more than 200 species. The variety of colours and wildly arranged petals often reminds one of small fireworks.

Als Chrysanten bloeien’, by J.V.D. Brink and Stan Haag. Published by Ch. Bens (Brussels, 1944) and illustrated by J. Hgos (or Ilgos?).

It is probably their Chinese origin (and centuries later also Japanese roots) that explains their highly decorative value for many orientally inspired art nouveau images.

Dans nos deux coeurs‘, by Eug. Stoerkel and Henri Darsay. Cover illustration by H. Gillet, published by G. Ricordi & Cie (Paris, s.d.)
Fleur d’Hiver’, by Thérèse Wittmann. Unknown illustrator. Published by G. Ricordi & Cie (Paris, s.d.)

Twenty years later, art deco artists showed no lesser fascination for the orient. Look at de Valerio’s beautiful cover design for ‘a Japanese fox‘ or Granath’s Swedish illustration for a ‘Japansk serenad‘.

Chrysanthème Blues‘ by José Sentis. Published by Salabert (Paris, 1924) and illustrated by Roger De Valerio.
En vit chrysantheme‘ by Jules Sylvain and N. G. Granath (Edition Sylvain, Stockholm, 1929). Illustration: Granath.

As a finale, here is one more sheet music: charming, though I’m not really sure that it is an ‘official’ chrysanthemum…

Quelques Fleurs‘ by J.M. Zoubaloff and probably illustrated by himself. Editions Maurice Senart, Paris, s.d.

I was surprised to learn that one can brew tea from certain chrysanthemum flowers. For centuries it has been a popular drink in China and other parts of the world. It is praised for its floral aroma and health benefits.

Gukhwa-cha, a Korean infusion of dried flower heads. On the right a packet of ready-to-drink Yeo’s from Malaysia.

Chrysanthemums have also been used in the Chinese kitchen and in medicine. The flower heads of two particular species have traditionally been used in the Middle East and the Balkan as a repellent for insects. This effect is caused by the toxic substance pyrethrum which they contain.

Tanacetum cinerariifolium and Tanacetum coccineum, two species that contain pyrethrum, a  natural insecticide.

And here is where the moths enter our story. In 1814 a certain Johann Zacherl was born in Munich. Following the steps of his father he learned the pewter crafts. A few years and travels later he found employment in a pewter foundry in Vienna in 1836. He must have been an enterprising lad or a restless soul, because from there he travelled via St. Petersburg, over Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa to finally arrive in Constantinople. In the early 1840’s Zacharl moved again, this time to the Caucasus where he set up shop in Tbilisi. He had a pewter foundry, but also a wood and iron turning workshop.

Sheetmusic covers of chrysanthemums (partitions musicales chrysanthèmes)
Left: ‘Amusements pour Piano‘ by Wilhelm Aletter (Bosworth & C°, London, s.d.). Right: ‘Chrysanthème‘ by Eduardo Garcia-Mansilla and Charles Fuster (Au Ménestrel, Paris, s.d.).

In Georgie, Johann Zacherl moreover started trading tea, rum, amber, carpets and oil paintings. It is probably through his contacts with Armenian merchants in Tbilisi that he discovered ‘Persian powder’. This was in fact grounded chrysanthemum flower heads, which when mixed with water gave a powerful lotion against vermin, parasites and moths.

1907 advert for Zacherlin insect repellent (source: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

In the West the demand was high for an efficient protection against insects, and moths in particular: think of the damage to precious carpets, curtains and furs. Gradually Zacherl increased his trade in Persian powder (which he branded as ‘Zacherlin’). It is said that he travelled deep into the Caucasian mountains in order to organise the picking of the wild-growing chrysanthemums.

Publicity poster for the Zacharl factory (source: Zacherlfabrik)

After having put in place an export network to Europe, Zacharl moved to Vienna in 1855. He first set up a shop and then a real production factory. His business expanded successfully, and later his eldest son joined the flourishing company. Today one can still admire the Oriental facade of the Viennese workplace. Part of the building is used for cultural events and exhibitions.

The Zachherl factory in Vienna. Photo by Eva Offenthaler
Statue of Johann Zacharl (source: it.wikipedia.org)

Johann Zacharl senior died in 1888. A bronze statue in the staircase of the former factory shows the company founder in Circassian costume. He holds a chrysanthemum in his hand.

We’ve already told you that in these days they made songs about almost anything. Well…

Zacharl und sein Pulver!‘ by Moritz Kässmayer and Josef Weyl (s.d.). source: Wienbibliothek im Rathaus, via ÖBL.

Since I started preparing this post, and all through the writing of it, another song has persisted in my mind. It still is, and I can’t get rid of it. I know Jacques Brel’s lyrics so well.

De chrysanthèmes en chrysanthèmes
Les autres fleurs font ce qu’elles peuvent
De chrysanthèmes en chrysanthèmes
Les hommes pleurent les femmes pleuvent…

Well, it can linger in your head now, until it really gets under your skin!


Further reading on Johann Zacharl (in German): Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon, Biographie des Monats, by Eva Offenthaler.