Saturday, January 14, 2012

Saturday's postcard: A barrel organ in Amsterdam

(Warning: This post features a tangent into 1970s European prog rock. Who said postcards were boring?)

Today's postcard is an undated, unused postcard produced by Kruger. The multiple-language caption on the reverse side states:

Barrel - Organ
L'Orgue de Barbarie

A barrel organ is described by Wikipedia as "a mechanical musical instrument consisting of bellows and one or more ranks of pipes housed in a case, usually of wood, and often highly decorated. The basic principle is the same as a traditional pipe organ, but rather than being played by an organist, the barrel organ is activated either by a person turning a crank, or by clockwork driven by weights or springs."

The following text appears on the front of this barrel organ:


G. Perlee Draaiorgels in Amsterdam still exists and has a Dutch-language website. With the help of Google, I translated some information and history:
  • The company dates to 1875 and still has organs throughout Amsterdam.
  • The founders were Leon Warnies1 and Gijs Perlee.
  • Names of some of the company's organs (assuming the translation is correct) include The Arab, The Hindenburg, The Pod, The Puntkap, The White, The Flamingos2, The Three Wigs, The Trembling and The Rummage.
On Flickr, a user named "Canadian Pacific" has posted a photo and a 15-second video clip of "The Arab," which now resides in a museum.

Getting back to the postcard, I'm not sure what's up with the folks to the left of the barrel organ. It looks like a staged scene to me. But I'm not exactly sure what is being staged. Are the two girls giving something to the men? Thoughts?

1. According to this genealogy message board, Leon Warnies was born in the Netherlands in 1835, moved to Paris in 1840, moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1872, and returned to Amsterdam in 1875 with his wife "with the intention of showing off their newly-modified Street organs."
2. OK, this is fun: On "See See the Sun," a 1973 album released by the Dutch progressive rock band Kayak, the song "Mammoth" features G. Perlee's "Flamingo" barrel organ. Per Wikipedia, "The organ, The Flamingo, was too big to get through the studio entrance. Therefore the melody was recorded outside. Being a manually operated organ, the pace varied all the time, making it very hard to fit the piece into the rest of the song."

The opening lyrics of the song are: "Yes I feel like a mammoth today, Like I'm going to die."

And, best of all, there is a video for 1973's "Mammoth." I am offering a full money-back guarantee that this the most awesome YouTube clip you will watch today!


  1. Ever see a monkey in a little suit with a cup taking coins from people who have enjoyed the music and monkey antics? These guys must push the organ around and take gifts of money from people who have been entertained. Still happens all the time in subways and on street corners in big cities.

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