Collecting Third Reich Signalhorns…

I must admit that, many years before I penned my book The Military Music & Bandsmen of AH’s Third Reich 1933-45, I’d always had a bit of soft spot for the German signalhorn or bugle having, in my own time, been a bit of a whizz on my old Potters of Aldershot cadet bugle when I was a Petty Officer in the Royal Naval Section of the CCF back at my old Grammar school in Winchester. As such I could often be heard belting out a fair rendition of Reveille or The Last Post through my bedroom window, (embarrassingly much to my poor old neighbour’s on-going distress!)

But it was to be many moons while later, when I had graduated to the world of documentary  Film & TV and was running Tomahawk Films here in Twyford that the alluring aspect of historical German military music would fully emerge ’front & centre’ in my professional life and the engaging world of the bugle would happily re-appear on my radar in the shape of the German Infantry Signalhorn from the Third Reich and the earlier era of the Kaiser and the Great War of 1914-18.

So it was that over the last 20 years or so this lovely but often overlooked battlefield signalling instrument from the German military inventory became something of a passion for me and, as a result of acquiring all of the stunning Third Reich-era military musical instruments that can be seen in my book, many of the infantry signalhorns have since gone into my own personal collection, where today they take pride of place on display in Tomahawk Films’ production offices here on the UK’s beautiful South Coast…

Indeed the whole office used to be crammed full of Third Reich military-musical militaria as I sought out anything & everything in Germany to photograph and illustrate in the instrument chapter of my book, though many of those wonderful instruments now happily grace similar  enthusiastic Musiker collections here in the UK, over the Channel in France and with a number of great collecting mates ‘across the pond’ over in the US where they are similarly treasured as the terrific historical artefacts they undoubtedly are…

But the long search in various nooks, corners & crevices of Germany, (and their subsequent handling by myself and others), over many years has certainly added to my own personal compendium of knowledge of this, hitherto, unsung area of militaria collecting. For it is a matter of recorded fact the military band of the Third Reich was certainly well placed in terms of equipping itself, for not only was that nation renowned for its expertise in the manufacture of certain specific and highly technical items such as optical instruments and cameras, but Germany was also, historically, a major designer & producer of high quality musical instruments.

Indeed the modern brass instrumentation of today’s military bands the world over can be traced directly back to the Germany of the 16th & 17th century, and in particular to the ancient town of Nuremberg which boasted some twenty to thirty small companies who were actively involved in the manufacture of brass musical instruments and their accessories; whilst around Markneukirchen in southern Saxony, a whole host of musical instrument and associated parts makers also thrived. Other towns and cities operating similar thriving instrument ‘cottage industries’ included Augsburg, Vienna, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Munich, Dresden, Breslau, Leipzig, Graslitz (now post-war Kraslice), Linz, and Adolf Hitler’s beloved Berchtesgaden.

The highly skilled manufacture of musical instruments in Germany was very much a family-run affair, often handing down skills and expertise over three and four generations of craftsmen, all working in small companies, many employing no more than eight or nine employees, each producing the various different parts and components, such as valves, bells & decorations required to produced the finished instruments, often put together elsewhere.

Not only was Germany credited with producing the first true brass musical instruments, but it was also the nation that, in the late 18th century, started their mass-production at about the same time that many German instrument-manufacturing families began to spread their wings and move across Europe and further afield to the United States. Kohler and Metzler were two such instrument families who chose to move and they set up businesses in England, where they continued the strong tradition of excellent instrument workmanship, before sadly finally going out of business altogther in the early 1900′s. 

Meanwhile, back in Germany, the instrument families and their cottage-industry continued to flourish, with Kruspe of Erfurt excelling in the manufacture of the ‘Rolls Royce’ of all trombones, cornets and trumpets, whilst Germany’s oldest brass instrument manufacturer, Gebrüder Alexander, established in Mainz in 1782 by Franz Ambrose Alexander, concentrated on producing superior examples of flugelhorn, French horn, tuba & euphonium, creating and introducing many of the skills and techniques that continue to be utilised in instrument manufacture today. Tragically some of these old companies, like signalhorn-maker Oskar Ullmann of Leipzig, were literally blasted out of existence by the Allied bombing campaigns of the RAF & USAAF in the years 1943 to 1944…

Historically, probably the most famous of all musical instrument producing dynasties was the Denner family of Nuremberg, though similar other large scale family firms followed hard on their heels including the Moritz family of Berlin, (manufacturers of desirable and very high quality signalhorn for the Imperial Army of Kaiser Wilhelm), the Heckel & Grenser families of Dresden and the Adler family of Markneukirchen and Leipzig.

Of the many innovations in musical instrument production credited to German craftsmen, perhaps the most revolutionary was the rotary-valve, which they employed with great enthusiasm on their all trumpets, trombones, cornets, French horns and Wagner tubas. So whilst the bands of other European military armies evolved with the piston-valve, German military bands stuck rigidly to their beloved and, some say, superior rotary-valve. This is a very good rule of thumb when trying to identify German military musical instruments from a photograph or at a some distance! 

In addition a great many German-made brass instruments, particularly my beloved Deutsche Signalhorn, were often distinguished by the manufacturer’s practice of embellishing their instruments with the addition of an inch wide nickel silver plated brass collar or band around the bell-end, known as a ‘Girlande’ or garland.

Traditionally a Bavarian and Austrian deluxe adornment, this metal reinforcement fulfilled two roles: that of strengthening the bell of the instrument in the days when metals and manufacturing techniques could not always guarantee a consistent thickness of the bell, so giving a more ‘rigid’ sound to the instrument as a result, and secondly, providing an area of the instrument, upon which engravings or personal and regimental details could be etched by the manufacturer or the musician himself.

So whilst many brass instruments encountered sporting a garland will be of German & Austrian origin, a number of nations took note and subsequently copied this design feature, including early French produced instruments. Indeed, in American musical circles, the addition of a garland on instruments produced between 1920 and 1940 was considered a rather swanky personal customisation, and was a sure sign of the owner’s affluence!

However, on close inspection of a garland, those emanating from German craftsmen will traditionally be seen to have the lower edge of the silver band actually wrapped around the rim of the instrument’s bell to become slightly tucked under. Non-Germanic garlands will generally be affixed in the opposite manner with the rim or lip of the bell rolling back over the garland and effectively holding it down. In addition, certain manufacturers could be identified by the specific ornamentation and engraving etched onto their garlands.

Another sign of Teutonic origin is that all German-produced silver used in the manufacture of garlands & instrument parts contained a much higher nickel content in their alloy mix; as a result Germans refer to nickel-silver simply as ‘German silver’ even today.

Apart from making the material much stronger, this had the beneficial effect of giving the silver finish a much brighter, polished feel, whilst other manufacturers around the world using a lower nickel content in the mixes had to make do with their silver-plated instruments having more of a greyish quality in their finishes. Thanks to their stronger nickel-silver mixes, German manufactured musical instrument parts, particularly nickel-silver tubing used for the sliding parts, were very much in demand the world over, especially from American manufacturers… and this is very much the case today.

The actual range of instruments in a Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS military band, (as opposed to just the bugles, fife & drums of the spielleute), depended primarily on the overall manpower of the band in question, and on whether it was employed on standard & ceremonial duties or required to perform in a concert situation. These further matters I detail in my Tomahawk Films’ published book: The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Collecting Nazi Song-lyric Postcards…

When I started out on the long road of producing & digitally re-mastering Third Reich/Nazi-era military music over 25 years ago, I never for one minute imagined that, through Tomahawk Films, we would have the pleasure of not only selling hundreds of thousands of such historical important albums to collectors & enthusiasts around the world, but that I would also embark on a personal 7 year journey of study that would result in my reference book entitled: Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45 or indeed a new hobby: The German Soldier Song…!

Basing my reference book around the soldier-musicians of the Nazi era, in the course of my research I happened upon a couple of picture postcards sent back from German soldiers fighting in the icy wastes on the Russian Front in 1941 to their loved ones manning the ‘Home Front’ back in Germany and though I was interested in the military Feldpost stampings on the back, it was the front covers that really captivated me, featuring as they did two popular songs of the day, Rosemarie and the famous Wir fahren gegen Engeland..!

Despite having been a collector of Third Reich militaria since that days of my small museum back in my early teens, I had never come across such cards before and immediately set about trying to find a source and so visited my very first postcard collector’s fair in late 1996, armed with my two Third Reich period song cards, which I proceeded to show to any dealer who could spare the time to talk to me.

Unfortunately the general reaction was one of complete mystery, but undaunted I continued to then trudge around as many postcard fairs as I could; even so I only managed to elicit the odd one or two of these rather lovely Third Reich period lyric cards, (which sadly were usually dog-eared or damaged), and the odd, rather attractive First World War card, but I could still obtain no further thoughts from UK dealers as to just how many types of these specific music-related cards there may have been…

Then a year or so later, with just 20-odd cards to my name, two of my new Third Reich music-collector friends, John in the States and Stuart here in the UK,, found that they too were beginning to pick up similar song-cards and suddenly I didn’t feel quite so alone in my pursuit of knowledge!

Exchanges of the limited information available and sometimes swaps of our precious stock began to take place between my two collector pals, whilst two new American dealers I had located, Tom & Greg, very kindly began seeking out such cards, though with the pencilled Deutsche-Mark prices still left on the back of many, it was becoming obvious that they were mostly coming in directly from Germany!

Several years into my study, I was beginning to see a pattern emerge and even at this early stage, (which was still primarily as a part of my research into German military music), and get a feel for what cards had been  printed during the Third Reich: ornate cards, plain cards, coloured cards, those that were overtly political & propaganda-based, some that were purely military, whilst others of a more civilian nature offered the words to the most famous songs, and others not so well known; indeed some were gentle in their picture content whilst others represented a German people fully committed to the defence of the Third Reich…

In addition the same names of card producers, such as Horns-Verlag of Gotha, Robert Franke of Hamburg, Greishaber und Säuberlich of Stuttgart and Verlag. J. Bottger of Bad Godesberg were beginning to turn up with some regularity amongst the production details on the backs of the cards.

Despite my on-going research, there was still a strange ignorance on this subject and even a well-known publisher of superb works on WW-II who has produced three volumes of Third Reich Propaganda Postcards was perplexed. Apart from a handful of cards devoted to the Horst Wessel Lied he entirely ignored the German Soldier Song postcard as a genre and on questioning him why this should be, received the answer that his work only revolved around propaganda cards, deeming my cards to be purely German military only which I found odd..!

So though no further forward, at least somebody well versed in German postcards had actually categorised my song card collection and knowing that he deemed them to be German military was fine, but where were all the listings (and dealers), for such cards and where were all the wonderful illustrations in other collectors’ written works for me to compare my growing collection?

The other imponderable was the apparent random pricing structure, as  apart from the interest and value attached to the overtly political Horst Wessel Lied song cards with their obvious Nazi link, it often appeared that dealers placed a card value based more on what is/was on the back of the card, i.e. the franking and/or the actual postage stamp, rather than the song & picture details contained on the front; for  example I once paid slightly over the odds for two cards bearing songs that weren’t particularly unusual because both cards, when turned over, bore the imprint of the ‘SS Standort Hospital’ at the Dachau Concentration Camp..!

This as a former school-boy stamp collector myself, I quite understand and this has since played to my advantage when I have been fortunate enough to pick up other cards with Nazi songs and imagery that I considered to be scarce, but because they were unissued and blank on the back I was offered them for merely a couple of pounds each, precisely because the dealer in question had seen nothing on the back, such as a stamp or Feldpost imprint, though which he could value the card higher!.

As with my general Third Reich militaria collecting days, I have built up and then sold several Nazi-era song card collections, and am back on the hunt again but as before  I try only collect mint-to unissued condition postcards where possible, ( a number of which are featured in my III Reich Military Music & Bandsmen Book), whereas dog-eared, damaged or defaced cards do not normally find a permanent in my Archive after they have served their research purposes, though after many years of searching, the number of new cards turning up is much more limited,

However I know of at least one new collector, (Ian up in Scotland), that started acquiring these wonderful soldier song cards as a direct result of seeing those featured in my book, so that is at least 4 of us I now know for sure are collecting such cards… Happy Days!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013