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

Musical couple's renovated bungalow sports an English accent
STLtoday.com, April 20th

An antique inlaid music cabinet from Hermann, Mo., stores piano sheet music. The painted brick fireplace on the opposite wall balances the room. Furnishings have a formal English look but are comfortable; wood shutters cover the lower half of the windows...Read more

Birthday Bash celebrates Norman Clyde, a Sierra original
The Sheet, April 19th

To commemorate and celebrate all aspects of Clyde's legacy, the Eastern California Museum is hosting the first annual Norman Clyde Birthday Bash on Saturday April 19, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a day of bluegrass music by local favorites, Idle Hands...Read more

Vinyl trend has music fan spinning
Stockton Record, April 18th

Before radio and records were invented in the early 20th century, people purchased sheet music and entertained one another at home. Despite dire predictions, sheet music ... Vintage recordings by musical pioneers are reissued. Little Richard's debut...Read more

Display your collections proudly
Calgary Sun, April 17th

Not only will you have a one-of-a-kind piece of art, but also you'll be able to show off your collections. I'd love to see a reclaimed dining tabletop covered with vintage stamps, music sheets or postcards and then topped with a new sheet of glass for...Read more

Ben Greenberg of the Men Will Teach You Guitar
Noisey (blog), April 17th

Because back before Ben Greenberg was Ben of the Men, he was my teacher at the National Guitar Workshop, a summer camp tucked away in the woods of Connecticut where pimple-faced music nerds such as myself spent the sunny months of July and August...Read more

Reflecting on the Mustang's Impact in Car Culture in the Past 50 Years
Complex.com, April 17th

To this day, I can't fathom how the trouble-making 17-year-old me didn't get killed for pushing my luck doing lackluster burnouts and power slides in that car. I'm almost certain it was responsible for a few bad test grades, because I was too busy...Read more

REIT Rocket Man Launches New York City Trust
Commercial Observer, April 17th

That the 53 year old entrepreneur has successfully completed five full-cycle liquidity events enabling hundreds of thousands to build wealth in commercial real estate funds is not a matter of luck. (American Realty Capital Healthcare Trust ... Of...Read more

Record Store Day 2014- Glide's Essential 30 Record Store Day Exclusives
Glide Magazine, April 15th

With liner notes written by DEVO Co-founder Gerald V. Casale specifically for this release (which also includes a reproduced early DEVO press bio sheet from 1976), this record will be the perfect compliment for hardcore DEVO collectors, music fans and...Read more