This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Elegant Low Brass of Philadelphia

18 November 2017

Good portraits try to present
more than just a mere likeness.
The image should, of course,
show the person's countenance at its best.
From the smile to the twinkle of the eyes,
everything must illustrate the subject's personality.

The woman on this cabinet card photograph
is framed by the character of her fashionable hair style,
the beauty of her elegant gown,
and the attraction of her favored accessory,
a valve trombone.

This woman affects a similar pose
with a lovely white dress,
a thoughtful gaze,
and graceful arms
artfully arranged
upon her tuba.

This third young lady
presents an almost classical Grecian visage.
The sepia tone can not hide
her bright eyes. Blue? Green?
Her gown's voluminous puffed shoulders
give dramatic effect
to her choice of a chic prop,
a slide trombone.

These three women
form an interesting musical trio
of three different low brass instruments.
I do not know their names
but I am certain that they once
knew each other very well,
and that there was an occasion when
they went together
to the same photographer's studio
to have their portraits taken.

The photography studio for the portraits
of all three ladies was:
Meynen & Co.
1204 Walnut St.

Only the photo of the valve trombonist
has a backstamp with more information.

Meynen & Co.
Franz Meynen
Artists and Photographers
Studio  1204 Walnut St.

The Skylight is on the Ground Floor.

Franz Meynen was born in Germany in 1840 and emigrated to the United States in about 1874. in 1875 at age 35, he married Amelia Medicus, age 18 ½ of Philadelphia. They were still together for the 1900 census and at that time recorded six children.  Franz Meynen took an active part in Philadelphia's German-American community and interestingly was noted as a member of the Männerchor or German Men's Choir in 1879.

His work in Philadelphia was not initially as a photographer but as an artist. Many early photographers advertised themselves in this way, but Meynen trained in Germany as a sculptor. I think his  background in 3-dimensional art shows in the way the three women are posed.  Especially the tubist whose instrument's size might otherwise obstruct the view of the musician's feminine charm.

The address of Meynen & Co. at 1204 Walnut St. is a good clue for dating the photographs. In the Philadelphia city directory, Meynen's home address was at 601 Marshall, and from 1890 to 1894, his photography studio was at 540 Franklin Street, not far from Philadelphia's waterfront dockyards on the Delaware River.

But in 1895 the city directory listed Meynen & Co. at 1240 Walnut St., a site closer to Philadelphia's city hall and business center. It was also just a short walk to the famous Academy of Music, the oldest opera house in the United States. This location for a photography studio surely attracted not just the attention of Philadelphia's high society but also the patronage of performers in the entertainment world who visited this center of American culture. Given the style of the women's hair and dress, top knots and puffy sleeves were big fads in the 1890's, and this change in Meynen's studio address, I think these women posed for his camera around 1895-97.

Who they are I can not say. But in this era the number of female tuba and trombone players in America was very small. The women's white dresses suggest school graduation pictures, and in 1895 Philadelphia did have a National Conservatory of Music at North Broad St. which accepted women and promoted its Ladies Orchestra class. But it advertised it as open just to string players, not low brass.

In the Philadelphia newspapers of the 1890s it was not uncommon to see theatre playbills with performances by ladies bands, which would seem an obvious place to find trombones and tuba, but those groups generally dressed in quasi-military attire suitable for marching, at least across a theater stage. These ladies are dressed too nice for that kind of ensemble. Try emptying a spit valve wearing a full length evening gown. 

In my photograph collection, the center of music for women in 19th century America was not Philadelphia, but Boston. I suspect that this trio were part of a Boston Ladies orchestra that came to play select performances in Philadelphia. In 1896 one such "ladies orchestra", actually just 12 to 18 musicians with a handful of strings, a few winds and percussion, accompanied a panto of Cinderella at the Arch Street Theatre. That's only a 12 minute walk from Meyene's studio. It's possible that these musicians were members of that ensemble, as sometimes one or two low brass were included to help fill the sound in large halls, but this still needs more research before I can confirm that supposition.

What intrigues me most about these elegant low brass ladies is a tiny but important detail in all three photos. Each woman wears a wedding band on the ring finger of her left hand. Marriage in the 1890s usually ended the professional career of female musicians. I do not have an explanation as to how these married women managed to perform.

In August 1915 Franz Meynen died as age 75. His obituary appeared in the journal, The Bulletin of Photography. It noted that his career began in his native Cologne, Germany where he produced portrait busts of the composer Franz Liszt and Pope Pius IX. He also contributed a centerpiece sculpture of the Archangel Michael to the north portal of the Cologne Cathedral or Kölner Dom.

Bulletin of Photography, Vol. 17, No. 420
August 25, 1915

Kölner Dom, north portal
Source: Wikimedia

The figure is just between the two doors of the portal and show St. Michael slaying a dragon/devil. According to the Cologne Cathedral website, Franz Meynen's original sculpture was altered shortly after it was first installed. It was partly destroyed during WW2 and restored in 1970 to something more like its original design. 

Archangel Michael
in the north portal of the Cologne Cathedral

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where beauty has no match.

Self Portrait with Flute

10 November 2017

Every good portrait photo has a focus point.
Usually it is the subject's face,
specifically the eyes.
Where do they gaze?
Directly into the camera lens?
Off sides but downward for a look of humility?
Level to show assurance?
Upwards for aspiration?
Each arrangement conveys
a different attitude and meaning.
This man clearly intended a romantic ideal.
His eyes are focused on some distant mountain.
His high forehead, flowing long hair,
add to his mystical appearance.
But it is his blackwood and ivory flute
that captures our attention.
This man appears to be a musical artist.
But he was also a portrait artist
and a photographer.

His cabinet card photo was taken by  

Prof. Ehrlich    New York.

This is one of the most remarkable photos
in my collection because it is
a rare self-portrait made
by the photographer himself.
How do I know?
Because Professor Ehrlich
included a picture of himself
engraved in the photo's backstamp.

Prof. Ehrlich's
Photograph Gallery
Art Studio

Portraits in Oil,
Pastel, Watercolors
and Crayon.
Photographs Beautifully Colored

No. 160 East 66th Street
bet. Lexington & 3rd Ave.
New York

Duplicates can be had
at any time.

The photo's backstamp was embellished with fine engravings of Prof. Ehrlich's profile in the upper right corner, his 3 story walk-up studio gallery, seven medallions of his awards for portraits in different media, and his camera seemingly prancing on its tripod.

One medallion awarded for Portraits has a year, 1885. But his first name or even initials were not included. That was resolved by discovering his engraved portraits in the archives of the New York Public Library. The first picture is of the same profile used on the backstamp.

Prof. D. Ehrlich, Portrait Artist
Source: NYPL

The second portrait has a caption Prof. D. Ehrlich. 
That initial D was an important clue in finding him in the census records.

Prof. D. Ehrlich, Portrait Artist
Source: NYPL

His full name was David Ehrlich, born in Austria on June 16, 1848. He emigrated to the United States in April 1878, residing in the Manhattan borough of New York City. This was recorded on his petition for US citizenship filed in NY on September 12, 1906 after he had been in New York nearly 30 years. He listed his occupation as Artist and his address as No. 7 East 116th Street.

In the 1900 Census Ehrlich lived at 136 E. 70th St. His wife's name was Rosa, age 36 and they had five children aged 21 to 6: Oscar, Martin, Jennie, Jacob, and Laura. His occupation was Artist & Photographer. His birthplace was listed as Austrian Poland. Rosa was born in England but of Polish parents. However they had been married for only 11 years and she had only three children. Therefore the older brothers, Oscar and Martin, came from an earlier marriage.

In the 1880 census David Ehrlich, recorded as age 30, though actually 32, occupation Artist, and lived at No. 184 E. 76th St. with his first wife, Jennie, age 19. Oscar Ehrlich was then only age 3/12. Jennie was born in Germany and David's birthplace was recorded as Vienna. Their neighborhood had a large number of people who came from Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg, and Lübeck.

During this age of American expansion, German immigration made New York the third largest city of German speakers after Berlin and Vienna. Manhattan's Lower East Side became known as Little Germany. The New Yorker Volkszeitung was a German language newspaper which published in 1895 an advertisement for Prof. Ehrlich's studio at 160 East 66. Strasse. He offered a dozen ivory finished cabinet cards for only $1.25. Note the clever shoes from E. Fischer just below.

New Yorker Volkszeitung
20 July 1895

Two years later, Ehrlich ran a similar advert in The World, calling himself the King of Photographers while reducing his price to just 75¢ for a dozen. Like the Volkszeitung ad, this woodcut shows him wearing a colorful wide cowboy style hat. With his long hair, he strikes as image of a daring western cowboy not unlike Buffalo Bill Cody whose Great Wild West Show was a popular touring circus spectacle in the 1890s. 

New York World
27 July 1897

A number of photographers printed pictures of their establishments on their photos. It made good marketing sense to show your attractive exterior to people living in a bustling urban maze like New York. The house number is prominently displayed on a rooftop sign along with a banner that reads PORTRAITS, and two more signs. Window light was particularly important for early photographers and it's likely that Ehrlich's studio was on the top floor. However contemporary maps show that 160 East 66th St. also had a rare back garden view too.

Today the house has survived Manhattan's skyscraper development but has been remodeled by removing the steps to the main floor and filling in the ground floor. In 2015 it was listed for sale at $11.9 million. You can find a description and slideshow of the interior rooms at this link.

160 East 66th St., New York City
Source: Google Steet View

It's difficult to know how successful Prof. Ehrlich was as a photographer, but enough of his work has survived to be fairly common on eBay photo sales. I've bought examples that have the identical backstamp with his profile. Here is one of a young woman who gazes just to the side of the camera lens. Ehrlich has artfully tilted her head to give her face a flattering light.

The economy of the United States suffered a major depression in the summer of 1893. By the winter of 1893-94 New York City's charity organizations made a combined effort to provide assistance to the city's poor. Each newspaper took on a different need. The New York Herald had a clothing drive. The New York Tribune did coal and food. And New York World, published by Joseph Pulitzer, ran the World's Bread Fund. In February 1894, the Henry Irving Dramatic League presented its contribution to the fund, a three act drama entitled "Enlisted for the War." Tickets to the show included a coupon for one dozen cabinet photographs from Prof. Ehrlich's studio on East 66th St. It's possible that the woman's cabinet photo above was one of these promotions.

New York World
23 February 1894

In addition to that offer Prof. Ehrlich also gave out souvenir photos at a production of Cinderella by Carl Marwig's juvenile company. Every woman attending the benefit received a photo of two pretty children, laden with good things to eat.

New York World
23 February 1894

Just this week as I was preparing this story, I found a copy of this same souvenir photo. A small sad-eyed boy, age about 2, holds a loaf of Challah bread and a smoked turkey. Around his neck are several links of sausage and at his feet are two eggs and another loaf of bread. The caption reads:

Just coming from the “World's Bread Fund”
Original and Copyrighted '94
by Prof. D. Ehrlich

In February 1894, Rosa and David Ehrlich's youngest son, Jacob had just turned two. Their next oldest child was daughter Jennie, age 5. Rather than picking up random street urchins, I suspect Ehrlich used his own children to make these melodramatic photographs, and that this small boy is in fact Jacob Ehrlich, born January 1892. It is no coincidence that on the wall behind the child is a framed portrait. It is the photo used to make the engraving of Prof. D. Ehrlich, Portrait Artist and Photographer. Based on this likeness, I believe his self portrait with flute dates from 1892 to 1894.


Now for some flute lessons.

Like many other woodwind instruments the flute underwent significant improvements during the 19th century. New materials and mechanisms altered the simple flute design of the baroque era into an instrument with louder tone and an ability to play more notes faster. This was due to the innovations in woodwind keywork. The man who takes most of the credit for this was Theobald Boehm (1794-1881) a Bavarian flute virtuoso and celebrated inventor of what is called the modern concert flute. Boehm applied new methods of scientific measurement to understand the acoustics of the flute. His use of silver and gold instead of wood made the sound of the flute more brilliant, but it was his innovative key system that gave flutists' fingers better facility to play faster and with more chromatic notes.  He introduced his first Boehm system flute in 1851 at the London Exhibition, but it took many decades before was adopted by flute players. Over time his key system attracted the notice of other woodwind makers and is now used for oboes and clarinets.

The Library of Congress has a fine portrait photo of Theobald Boehm which resembles Ehrlich's photo. You will notice that Boehm's flute is made of African blackwood including the headjoint. This photo appears in Boehm's book on flute design where he is described as age 60 so it was prpbably taken around 1854-55.

Theobald Boehm, 1794-1881
Source: LOC
A second photo from the LOC collection shows Theobald Boehm and Antoine Sacchetti, an Italian flute virtuoso, posing with two silver flutes. Sacchetti's career took him to St. Petersburg, Russia where he became a noted performer and teacher. Boehm appears a bit older so this photo probably dates from the 1860s.

Antoine Sacchetti and Theobald Boehm
Source: LOC

However the flute David Ehrlich is holding is not a Boehm flute. It is another system designed by Heinrich Friedrich Meyer (1814–1897) who was from Hannover in Lower Saxony, Germany. Elephant ivory was a material often used for the headjoint  because it was considered more durable and stable. It was also very easily turned on a lathe.

Unlike Boehm's metal flutes which were cylindrical, Meyer's flutes used the same reverse conical bore as the simple baroque flute. It also had open tone holes with just 11 keys. The Library of Congress has the wonderful Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection of over 1700 flutes and flute iconography which provided several examples of a  Meyerflöte. I have arranged one next to Ehrlich's flute to show how the keys match up.

On Murray Street near Broadway, not too far from Prof. Ehrlich's studio, was  C. A. Zoebisch & Sons, Importers and Wholesale Dealers in Musical Instruments. They made a point of advertising both Superior Boehm and Genuine Meyer flutes.

1898 New York City directory
Advertisement for C. A. Zoebisch & Sons
Importers and Wholesale Dealers in Musical Instruments


New York Tribune
15 September 1901

David Ehrlich labeled himself an artist beginning with the 1880 census. The New York city directory likewise listed his occupation as artist from 1884 to 1891. His Manhattan studio at 160 E. 66th Street first advertised in newspapers in 1882 but only for portraits in oil, pastel, water colors, and crayon. Photography came later, added sometime around 1890 at the E. 60th St. studio which continued until at least 1897. After that year he stopped advertising and by 1901 he had a new address at 157 East 75th Street where he advertised lessons in oil painting, pastel, crayon, and photography. Just two ad boxes above is Flute Instruction (Boehm system) given by an expert flutist at the same address. This marks his change from the fine arts to musical arts.

- -

New York Times
04 October 1912

In the new century, photography was turning popular tastes away from fine art portraits, and now even studio photographers had competition from new inexpensive film cameras that let anyone take a good picture. David Ehrlich moved away from artist/photographer to flute teacher. In the 1910 census only he and his second eldest son, Martin, were recorded as a family unit. By 1912 he had a new address at 519 West 138th St. where he offered flute instruction, moderate rates, pamphlets mailed free. 

It's likely that as Europe went to war in 1914 and then as America joined the allied effort in 1917, Austrian-Americans like Prof. Ehrlich were at pains to avoid any connection with the enemy.
_ _

Although I don't know if Ehrlich worked as a professional musician in New York, I can't say he didn't either. Orchestras and band rosters from this era are very rare and often incomplete in regards to substitutes or transient musicians. Certainly there would have been lots of musical work in New York's theaters for a skilled flutist.

And it's not impossible that Prof. Ehrlich was personally acquainted with the German flute masters Theobald Boehm or Heinrich Friedrich Meyer. It does seem very likely that as a resident of the biggest cultural city in America and a self-promoting portrait artist, Ehrlich made efforts to meet all the flute players of New York and any who passed through on tour.

But I believe the flute was initially only an avocation for Ehrlich, not a profession. His emphasis on fine art portraiture in his early career makes no mention of music until 1901 when he was age 53. I think the pamphlet mentioned in this last advert may have been the start of a more ambitious project.

In 1922, Dayton C. Miller (1866 – 1941), a physicist, astronomer, acoustician, and accomplished amateur flutist, revised Theobald Boehm's 1871 book, The Flute and Flute Playing. In the appendix bibliography was a reference to The History of the Flute, by D. Ehrlich, New York, 107 pages, published in 1921. When Mr. Miller's flute collection was donated to the Library of Congress, it included two flutes identified as coming from David Ehrlich, though not the flute on his photograph. 

The Flute and Flute Playing, by Theobald Boehm, 1871
revised by Dayton C. Miller, 1922

Professor David Ehrlich, portrait artist, photographer, and flutist
died in Manhattan on April 3, 1926.
He was not quite 78 years old.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where sometimes you get to see the photographer.

Xylophon Kinder part 3

03 November 2017

Her gaze has that faraway daydream quality
of a sensitive teenager lost in thought.
Perhaps her reverie is linked to the two instruments
lying on a fuzzy sheepskin in front of her.
A rotary valve trumpet and
the wooden bars of a trapezoidal xylophone.

Her name is written on the back of the postcard:
Elmira Rohl
Piston in Xylophon Virtuosin

Elmira is another example of Xylophon Kinder that I have featured in the last two months. Readers can review this musical fad for the European Xylophone in Xylophon Kinder Part 1 and Part 2. For reasons that still remain a mystery to me, many talented small children were promoted as professional Xylophon virtuosos who performed in the cafes, theatres, and music halls of the German and the Austrian-Hungarian Empires. Some were solo acts, others played with sibilings, and several were members of a larger musical ensemble led by their father. Many like Elmira Rohl played multiple instruments. Her trumpet or Piston was not an uncommon solo instrument fro young women either.

But their chosen instrument for a postcard souvenir was not the more common solo instruments like violin or piano, but a percussion instrument, the xylophone. And not the familiar modern xylophone with bass notes on the left and treble on the right. This unusual instrument was the Xylophon, also known under its folk name, the Strohfiedel or Straw Fiddle. Its wooden bars are arranged parallel to the player with the bass notes closest and the treble notes farthest away, and small lightweight hammers are used instead of mallets. It was usually associated with the music of the Tyrolean region of the Alps but was adopted by musicians from many regions of Central European. The bars were woven together with twine and rested on straw rope so they are often displayed casually draped over a chair or table. 


This young woman is dressed in typical folk costume of the Tirol
with a flat hat and ornately embroidered blouse.
Her name is Liesl Rechl.
Her xylophon has four columns of bars
which I believe make it a fully chromatic instrument.
This postcard was mailed from Hannover, Germany
on 19 September 1909.


Here is another young pre-teen girl
with the faraway look.
She is
Lucie Friemel

She wears a rather unflattering shift dress
with white bow and white shoes and stockings
while standing on another ubiquitous photographer's sheepskin.
She sent this postcard herself, signing the back.
The postmark location is unclear but the date was 16 July 1919.

Her instrument was the Xylophon
which was partly displayed on the second postcard
while she hold the hammer sticks.
Strewn on the floor beneath the xylophon table
is a collection of posters of her musical program.

Perles de Cristal
Overture Dichter
Guillaume Tell
2nd Rhapsodie Liszt
 This was some serious music
that required great skill to play well.
If she performed alone
the music was probably adapted
from piano arrangements.


This last attractive Xylophon Virtuosin
has another understandably romantic gaze
as she is a more mature young woman
of perhaps age 16 or even 20.
Her name is Wilhelmine Kreuzig
and she is posed over her xylophon
placed on what is clearly a combination
folding case and table for the instrument.

Her postcard was posted on 12 November 1908
from Kiel, the major German port on the the North Sea

This concludes (for now) my series
on this unusual instrument.
But as I have discovered on YouTube
it is not entirely forgotten
but is still regularly played
by German-Austrian bands.
 The piece most often performed is the
Souvenir de Cirque Renz,
aka Zirkus Renz,
by Gustave Peter (1833 – 1919),
a xylophone performer and composer
who is remembered today
only for this single popular tune
which I'm sure every
Xylophon Kinder played a thousand times.

 I found three versions of
this Strohfiedel hit.
The first
is played by OktoberfestDrummer
the assistance of another Xylophon Kinder in a way. The performance was at an Oktoberfest
in Helen, Georgia of all places.




This second version of Zirkus Renz
is from the Valina Polka Band
at an Oktoberfest in Galveston, Texas.
Could any of the young xylophon girls 
have matched the exuberance of this Texas gal?



This last version of Zirkus Renz
shows us the frightening future of music.
Technically it is a modern xylophone
but I'm sure it would be easy enough
to rotate the player's programing 90 degrees.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more tricks and treats.

The Band Reunion

28 October 2017

It's a worry all right.
Seems like I'm forgetting somethin'.
I think I got my music in order.
My baton is polished
and so's my shoes long as I don't step into nothin'.
I wish mama hadn't fussed
with these pants of Uncle Joe's.
They feel kind of scratchy.

It's a fine day
and looks like we got a good turnout.
That boy looks a bit skittish
but then it's his first time leading at the front.
He'll be okay once we get under way.
I remember my first parade back before the war.
Got so turned about
I went left down Main
while the band went right.

Startled Mr. Nixon's horse with my baton
and nearly got run over.

Say Henry, when you think they's gonna start playing?
It sure took 'em long enough to get lined up.
Hold on, is that fellow up there on the roof
gonna take our picture?

Now the first tune up is the Thunderer
and I'm playing the second part. I think.
Then we flip to the Yankee Girl,
then the Marceline, then when we stop
Victor plays his Euphonium solo,
then we do that new song, and then...?
Guess I'll just follow Mr. Charles.

Oh, Betsy don't they look swell?
Did you ever see such shiny instruments?
Isn't that your cousin over there?
He plays the clarionet don't he?
I don't know if I can see James and Will.
What do you suppose they're late again?

You fellas remember two years ago?
Rained the night before
and turned Main Street into a frog pond.
I was soaked through
from my hat to my socks.
My drum head was so limp
it sounded like I was beating on an ol' rug.

The parade was about to start.
The photographer steadied his camera and clicked the shutter.

AUG. 28, 1908

Albany is a village in Green County, Wisconsin. It's population in 2010 was a touch over 1,000 and a century earlier in 1910 it could boast of 669 citizens. Like many small towns in America at this time Albany had a town band. At one time it had two bands and an orchestra. Music was part of every civic activity. Bands accompanied fairs, dances, games, and often produced their own special concerts to raise money for new instruments or uniforms..

A few days later.the Albany Band Reunion got a mention in the Janesville Daily Gazette. 

Janesville WI Daily Gazette
2 September 1908

Fully three thousand people attended the band reunion here last Friday. Six bands were present and rendered some fine music. J. Jacob Figl of New Glarus was again chosen president, Henry Schwartz of Brodhead was elected vice president, and E. E. Atherton of Albany was elected secretary. The next reunion will be held at Brodhead. A ball game was played between Footville and Monroe in which Monroe was defeated.

The band is in formation in front of the G. W. Roberts & Son Drugstore which also sold paint, glass,school books, and stationary. George W. Roberts was a physician and with his son ran a business that dealt in a wide variety of useful household products. I suspect the younger Roberts might have been the photographer too, as both pharmaceuticals and photography required a knowledge of chemistry, and a drugstore would be a typical place to sell photo postcards.

In 1908 a small town like Albany probably did not have many large stores, so I decided to see if I could find it using Google Street View. The town is divided by the Sugar River and the east and west side are linked by a single main street. The business district on the east side is on Water St. parallel to the river, and on its corner with Main St. is the remains of G. W. Roberts & Son Drugstore. The building has been remuddled over the decades since 1908 but if you look close three brickwork arches survive as does the door step block. The second floor windows also match in number and position.



Hidden among the 78 musicians
of the Albany Band Reunion
is one musician who stands out.
Towards the center behind the drum rank
is an African-American cornet player.

He might be a member of the band
from Monroe, or Footville,
or New Glarus, or Brodhead, or even Albany.
All the towns were within 15-20 miles from each other,
so it's likely that all the bandsmen knew each other.
Most were farmers, tradesmen, mechanics, or students
in their daily occupation and every so often
gathered together to play band music.
The inclusion of this man in the photo is a rare example
of a black musician playing with white musicians
during an era when segregation was the rule,
even in a northern state like Wisconsin.

In an old Wisconsin state digest
I found a brief mention of Albany's Saxhorn Band
which served in a Wisconsin regiment of the Union Army in 1863.
As this was only 45 years later, it seems probable
that in Albany there was still a strong sentiment
of support for the Union and a condemnation of slavery.
But how this black musician came to be in Wisconsin
is a question whose answer will have to remain an enigma.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone loves a parade.


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