Category Archives: Sheet Music Covers

Comments on some special, funny or beautiful covers

Alcool de Menthe Américaine

Alcool de Menthe Américaine‘ by Henri Kling, published by Oertel (Hannover, s.d.)

Our story starts with a cover for a commercial song to promote an ‘American’ mint alcohol. Well, not very American as you will learn from the little fait divers we are about to tell.

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No one should be fearful of tropical fevers when in possession of l’Alcool de Menthe Américaine.

But first this. Mint alcohol is a solution of essential mint oil diluted in alcohol. Not the best of recipes if you ask me, but hey someone even invented menthol cigarettes.
According to a publicity from 1884 the menthe américaine could  treat cholera. It was also a mixture of the highest quality to stop epidemics, and a remedy for dyspepsia, stomach cramps, head aches, nausea, colonial fevers or in the event of one or other epidemic. Mmm, haven’t we seen similar effects for an alcoholic beverage before?

From ‘Feuille d’avis de Neuchatel’, August 14, 1884.

This advertisement tells us that the medicinal drink was an American creation by R. Hayrwardt & Cie from Burlington in the United States, and exclusively imported by Jules Lecoultre, who owned a drug store in Genève. Now this Burlington-origin was a clever find because there are over a thirty places called Burlington in the US. Hard thus to verify the credentials of the merchandise…

In 1893 the company of Jules Lecoultre (by then Bonnet et Cie) had to appear before the court. Its biggest rival Ricqlès, who was selling L’Alcool de Menthe de Ricqlès, accused Lecoultre of fraudulently inventing the American house ‘R. Hayrwardt & Cie’. And indeed, after having searched the whole USA no such firm was found. Nonetheless the court ruled that —although being unfair— it didn’t matter that the advertisement was not entirely truthful because this fabrication did not actually harm Ricqlès.

Judgment of May 20, 1893 in the case of Ricqlès against Bonnet & C°.

So the court was lenient: a little white lie about the origins of your product couldn’t harm anybody. However, when it came to winning medals, now that was an altogether other matter: only the strictest rules could be applied, as we’ll see next.

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At one point Jules Lecoultre and his then associate Bonnet raised billboards all over Geneva, showing off all their medals and certificates. But they shrewdly omitted to mention for which competition Alcool de Menthe Américaine had been admitted ‘hors concours’. Ricqlès also brought this to court and claimed that Lecoultre & Bonnet mislead the public in letting it believe that they had participated at the Parisian World fair, while in fact they had only received a silver medal. Their hors concours participation was at a much lower graded fair in Genève. The court ruled that this was indeed an act of unfair competition to falsely promote the superiority of a product. As a consequence, Bonnet & Cie had to adapt all of their billboards!

Medals were clearly very important in these days.

mentheThe polka Alcool de Menthe Américaine was composed by Henri Kling (1842 – 1918), a French-German horn virtuoso and  professor at the Conservatoire in Geneva. He was also a prolific composer but with a penchant for the lighter music.

His peculiar Kitchen Concert for piano, snare drum, funnel, forks, glasses, shovel, egg beaters, wooden spoons and other kitchen utensils was probably written as (a Christmas) entertainment for  children.

Let the kid in you enjoy Henri Kling’s culinary rhythms. Fascinating!

Mysterious Phenomena In Illustrated Sheet Music

Mystery‘, Fox-Trot by Joseph Cirina. Published by Salabert (Paris, 1919) and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

The world of illustrated sheet music is magical. In this week’s article we give you an overview of puzzling cases in the realm of music publication and song illustration. Put on your Sherlock attire and grab your magnifying glass. There we are, ready to solve a few great mysteries…

The Vanishing Cloud

The Battle March –Triumphant entry into Delhi‘  by John Pridham, published by Samuel J. Brewer (London, 1857), lithography by M. & N. Hanhart.

The Miraculous Corn

LEFT: ‘Golden Rod‘ music by Vivian Grey, published by Leo Feist (New York, 1907), illustrated by John Frew.  RIGHT: ‘Gold Aehren‘, by Vivian Grey, published by Roehr (Berlin, 1917), illustrator unknown.

The Travelling Dandies

Gigerl – Les gommeux de Vienne‘, by J. F. Wagner. LEFT: published by Louis Gregh (Paris, s.d.). RIGHT: published by Rebay & Robitschek (Wien, s.d.). Unknown illustrator.

The Enigma of the Clock

LEFT: ‘Jeden Morgen in der Strassenbahn um half acht!‘ RIGHT: ‘Tous les jours, dans le tramway‘. Both by Sissermann and Hans Bussmann, illustrated by Herzig and published by Cranz (Leipzig Bruxelles, 1931).

The Botox Failure

LEFT: ‘Ciega de Amor‘ by José Camprubi and Pedro Puche – RIGHT: ‘La Cocaina‘. Both unknown publisher, date and illustration. Both performed by Raquel Meller.

The Metamorphosis of the Student

LEFT: ‘Lo Studente passa’ by J. C. Ibanez and Chiappo (Casa Editrice Musicale Chiappo, Torino, 1929). RIGHT: ‘Der Student geht vorbei‘ (Doblinger, Wien, s.d.). Both illustrated by Domenico Lubatti.

 

“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four

The Greek Life

‘Frat’ by John F. Barth published by Sam Fox (Cleveland, Ohio in 1910) and illustrated by Ray.

This handsome young man is smoking a long-stemmed clay churchwarden pipe. He poses comfortably, relaxed in his turtleneck sweater which in the 20th century became associated with academics and artists. The title of the song tells us that he belongs to a fraternity, a kind of student club. One of the cushions even bears the name of his fraternity, Phi Delta Phi, a combination of ancient Greek letters. Our frat boy is definitely ‘living the Greek life’, that means to follow the customs and rules of a fraternity. And so are the girls on the covers below.

Left: ‘Sorority Rag’ by Margaret Bartlett, published by The Thompson Music C° (Chicago, 1909). Right: ‘Sorority’ by Chas. E. Roat, published by the composer, (Battle Creek, 1908) and illustrated by Arthur W. Peters.

According to my perfunctory research a fraternity is a brotherhood, an elite club of like-minded people at university or college in the US and Canada. A sorority is the feminine counterpart. Fraternity brothers or sisters subscribe to the same ‘high’ values and beliefs. Many hope that their membership will be a stepping stone to a life of power, wealth and success. And I who thought fraternities were all about drinking inhuman amounts of booze, vomiting profusely and libidinous behaviour! Perhaps I got that impression forty years ago from the low-brow comedy National Lampoon’s Animal House

Fraternities were originally formed around 1775 as secret literary dining clubs, with rituals similar to the Freemasons. They always have been keen on using complex symbols such as their Greek-lettered names, but they are also fond of secret passwords and hand grips, and love intricate coats of arms…

‘Kappa Sigma Waltz’ by Frank Grey & Thomas J. MacWilliams, Published by Paul-Pioneer (New-York, 1941) and illustrated by Barbelle.

… and pins.

‘My Fraternity Pin’ by Geo. J. Bennett & Lou Klein, published by Witmark, M. & Sons (New York, 1933)

In the first quarter of the 20th century, the sisters and brothers made plenty of time to organise sports events, parties and dances and they tended to date within their ‘Greek caste’. This of course provided the inspiration for a number of songs.


Enough history. Time for a song, and what a song!  It was probably the most popular fraternity song around. Now sing along with Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians: The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi.

The girl of my dreams is the sweetest girl
Of all the girls I know.
Each sweet coed, like a rainbow trail
Fades in the afterglow.
The blue of her eyes and the gold of her hair
Are a blend of the western skies;
And the moonlight beams on the girl of my dreams
She’s the Sweetheart of Sigma Chi.