Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Jingling Johnny Puts in a Rare Appearance

The Rehearsal
Taking the time to examine historic objects brings out details that imbue the articles with interest. The above photo is from an 1870’s stereoview and shows a typical genre scene of a musical rehearsal, but a second glance shows that the photographer recorded something unusual. 

There are four male musicians accompanied by a woman playing a keyboard instrument. Two of the men are playing a cornet and a trombone, both perfectly ordinary. One is playing an early tuba, highlighted in a blue square, but the most interesting is the performer on the right, highlighted in red, who is playing the Turkish crescent, also known as the Jingling Johnny.

The jingling Johnny blends in with the elaborate sconce behind

The Turkish crescent was a percussion instrument, basically a pole hung with bells. Mostly a flashy parade instrument, it was meant to be shaken or twisted to ring the bells. It is still made and used to some extent, so is not entirely obsolete. This one is very typical, with a crescent on top, conical “hat” below (yet another name is chapeau chinois, or Chinese hat), and a larger crescent below that, all hung with bells. Their polished brass and exotic shape make them popular with musical instrument museums, as with these examples:
Turkish crescent in Boston MFA
Example in Basel

and one in Germany

The Turkish influence was popular in Western music starting from the 18th century—think of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca. Many pianos of the period had Turkish or Janissary stops which controlled various bells, cymbals and drums.

Although the jingling Johnny itself was popular, photographs of it are rare, especially in use, and this is the only photo I have seen that shows it in a home environment. Thus this photograph, even if possibly staged, gives evidence of how people used and thought of the instrument.

Notice the very wide conical bell on this tuba, with almost no flare

Most mechanized brass instruments were developed in the 19th century, but this tuba seems primitive even by the standards of 1870. It is still shaped very much like the earlier ophicleide, from which it was developed. Notice that the bell end is simply a wide truncated cone, with very little flare to it. The tuba in this photo resembles the Moritz tuba, which Phillip Young remarks is noted for its early primitiveness.

Ophicleide, early brass bass instrument, by Guichard, MFA

Early tuba by Moritz
Early American tuba by Gilmore

More modern tuba by White (made in Cleveland!)
This baritone also shows the typical modern brass profile

Here is the entire stereoview. (The two halves were taken at slightly different angles, and appear three-dimensional when viewed through a special viewer.) The image as a whole helps tell us how people spent time and entertained themselves 140 years ago, playing instruments, forming home music ensembles, and even looking at stereoviews. An interest in musical instruments lets us notice the individual elements of this photo, with the result that two early and unusual instruments are brought into focus.


MFA crescent, Guichard ophicleide and Gilmore tuba courtesy Boston Museum of Fine Arts,
Basel crescent courtesy HISTORISCHES MUSEUM BASEL,
Moritz tuba from The Look of Music, by Phillip Young.
White tuba courtesy U. of Michigan Stearns Collection,


  1. Hello:
    We have found all of this most intriguing, first from a social history point of view and secondly for its detailed explanation of the development of these particular musical instruments.

    In Budapest the Turkish influence is very strong in architecture, food, music and painting but we have never heard of the 'Jingling Johnny' and have certainly never seen it in any photographs. How marvellous that you have it captured on film.

  2. Hello Jane and Lance, In America there is also some Turkish influence; of course in Hungary it probably stems from proximity, and in America from exoticism.

    One of the ubiquitous examples is the "Turkish cozy corner" of interior design, with its swags and divans. I have a number of old photos of these, and if I can ever dig them out I hope to write a piece on them.

  3. Thank you for introducing me to something entirely new (to me, that is) and unusual. Had I been the one looking at your photograph, I would have been distracted by the figure above the instrument, and when I read your headline, I assumed that the figure in the background was the "johnny."

    I can see how this instrument would be a great component to a marching band, and with its interesting shape, I can imagine that its roots might go back to ancient times. The Persian Empire, perhaps?

  4. Hello Mark, You are right--it does look like a person. I think that there is a lot else to see in this photo--the unusual plaid wall panels, the sconces which seem overly elaborate for the simple room, etc.

    Parade and military instruments do indeed go way back, and it would be interesting to explore more of these someday, especially spectacular ones like the buccin.

  5. Hi Parnassus - Where did you find this photograph? Also, any ideas about who owned it?

  6. Hello Anonymous, Thanks for your question. The original photo is in storage now, so I cannot examine it closely, but genre groups like this were very popular--many of them were produced in England or on the Continent, then re-printed or re-staged in America. On the other hand, this might be an actual family--there does seem to be a resemblance among the men. If this was a performing group, then more evidence might turn up.

  7. Hello Celestial Charms, Thanks for your comment and for Following!

  8. This is so interesting and intriguing. Thanks for the post. Hf, Kevin

  9. Hi Kevin, I agree: The instruments are cool, and there are inherent mysteries in old photos waiting to be figured out.

  10. I don't think I have ever seen a photo or painting of someone playing the Turkish crescent aka Jingling Johnny. I have no idea about the sound, but the instrument _looks_ impressive.

    Thanks for the link

    1. Hello Hels, I was surprised to see this instrument in your post about the Hotel Ritz under German occupation, but perhaps not, given the military penchant for pomp and show. Given that the jingling Johnny basically consists of ranks of small bells, it probably does look more impressive than it sounds. --Jim


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