The publication of folio-size sheets of American popular music dates to the late 18th century, but the practice didn't pick up steam until the 1830s, '40s, and '50s. That's when upright pianos first began to find their way into the parlors and salons of U.S. homes. Artists who produced sheet music covers early in their careers before going on to acclaim for their oil paintings include Fitz Henry Lane, Winslow Homer, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

The Civil War was a productive period for popular music compositions and also for beautifully lithographed title pages, most of them published in the North. There are also many Confederate music publications to collect—the war-based and illustrated pieces are generally of most interest. Though paper quality in the South was generally poor, all Southern sheet music is hard to find and desirable.

But the truly widespread popularity of sheet music in the United States in the late-19th and early-20th centuries coincided with the proliferation of domestically produced pianos after the Civil War. Up to that point, piano-making had been a labor-intensive craft practiced only by highly skilled workers. Instituting mass-production techniques, U.S. manufacturers transformed this artisan enterprise into a business. By the end of the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of pianos a year were produced, and every single one of them required many more times its number in printed sheet music.

The hub of sheet-music publishing was in New York City on West 28th Street between 5th Avenue and Broadway, a stretch that became known as Tin Pan Alley. For a while, the publishers grouped there were essentially printing money—one 1892 hit, “After the Ball” sold two-million copies in its first year alone. “Sidewalks of New York” was published in 1894, “The Band Played on” in 1895, and “Hello! Ma Baby” in 1899.

Vintage sheet music is fascinating to collectors not only for its range of subjects, but for its entertaining cover graphics, featuring everything from pastoral landscapes to city street scenes. As such, they are snapshots, albeit romanticized ones, of life at the turn of the 20th century.

Other people collect sheet music less for the imagery on their covers as the songwriters associated with a particular tune. Scott Joplin compositions such as “Maple Leaf Rag” are popular, as are those by George M. Cohan (“Give My Regards To Broadway”), Irving Berlin (“Alexander’s Ragtime Band”), and George Gershwin (“Swanee”).

Then, just as the piano had created a demand for sheet music, two inventions, followed by the Depression, brought the glory years of the medium to an end. The first was the introduction of the phonograph, especially the Victrola, which was all the rage in the early 1920s. By the end of that decade, though, radios meant people could get their entertainment without lifting a finger, let alone having to gather around the family piano to sing along to sheet music.


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Recent News: Sheet Music

Source: Google News

Diego Costa's vintage performance leads Chelsea to Wembley glory
ESPN FC (blog), March 1st

No defender has ever seen their names on the team sheet without grimacing in recognition of what would await them. ... If he wasn't a footballer, he would be the man who played music through the speakers of his phone on the quiet carriage of a train...Read more

Jodie Byrne and Sam Alford get fairytale wedding in romantic lakeside ceremony
Daily Mail, February 24th

A guitarist played sheet music while the guests mingled in the relaxed atmosphere with Jodie revealing the day was everything they'd dreamed of. 'We wanted it to be a great garden party and it was everything we could have imagined and more,' she said...Read more

World-renowned alumna plays as role model for young women composers
Golden Gate Xpress, February 24th

“This was written by an old boyfriend of mine from my old heterosexual days,” Armer said with characteristic amiability. ... Classical composer, Elinor Armer, writes down a few notes on sheet music while she plays piano in Berkeley Sunday, Feb. 22...Read more

Pizza and Threesomes
Huffington Post, February 23rd

Sun and Room is an affectionate and painfully honest look into those college years you might want to forget. It explores transitional friendships and nights that come with freshman year and often go without reflection. Written by Danny Mitarotondo and...Read more

Beowulf Boritt - Part 1: An Inside Look At Manhattan Concert Productions' PARADE
Broadway World, February 18th

What I based it on for RAGTIME was old sheet music, actually - you know, the tops of old sheet music has fairly elaborate illustration on it; for instance, patriotic songs have illustrations with a big shield and an eagle and all kinds of stuff. So, I...Read more

Sheet Music Plus Library Now Offers More Than 1 Million Titles
PR Web (press release), February 4th

Sheet Music Plus is home to the world's largest sheet music selection, exceeding more than 1 million titles. Instrument, choral, pop, Christian, Jazz and vintage sheet music are among the million titles, coming from more than 1,000 global publishers...Read more

Sheet music, songs inspire picture stories
The Ellsworth American, November 21st

ELLSWORTH — Artist Jessica Harris has used vintage sheet music as her canvas to capture scenes of nature, both fierce and whimsical, for several years. Her work has been the focus of “Artfully Orchestrated: Illustrations on Vintage Sheet Music” this...Read more

40 DIY Projects to Create with Vintage Sheet Music
Crafting A Green World, July 17th

40 DIY Projects to Create with Vintage Sheet Music Do you love vintage sheet music? We're sharing 40 DIY projects that you can create with your favorite recycled paper! As a musician, my favorite recycled paper is sheet music. If you're a consistent...Read more