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.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Remember Eddie Cochran

Remember Eddie Cochran

Eddie Cochran died in 1960 at the age of 21, but his legacy lives on at Remember Eddie Cochran. The site pays tribu… [read review or visit site]

Ephemera Blog

Ephemera Blog

Marty Weil's wide-ranging, in-depth blog on ephemera, including lots of great interviews with ephemera collectors. … [read review or visit site]

Ephemera Society of America

Ephemera Society of America

Great reference on ephemera... includes examples and descriptions of various ephemera categories, selected special … [read review or visit site]

Fillmore and Avalon Collection

Fillmore and Avalon Collection

Wish you'd visited San Francisco in the late 1960s? Get a quick hit with this comprehensive collection of psychedel… [read review or visit site]

Hey babe, check out this database of over 2,900 Bob Dylan ticket stubs and concert posters, assembled with the help… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rastrum Music Stave Staff Music Notes Liner Pen Antique Musical Sheet Music ToolAntiphonal Leaf - 15th Century Manuscript Music Sheet On VellumKaren Carpenter Signed Autograph Sheet Music "we've Only Just Begun" 1970 Mint!1907 Vintage Chicago Cubs On Parade Baseball Sheet Music- Frank Chance(rare)Beatles Original Sheet Music On Northern Songs For No One 1966Beatles Original Sheet Music On Northern Songs Blackbird 1968Kiss Alive Ii - 1977 Alamo Publications Sheet Music Song BookRare 1912 Sheet Music The Titanic's Doom Washington & Hazel Sherman 9 PagesVintage Ornate Brass Lyre Harp Shape Adjustable Sheet Music Stand Classical Guitar - Odd Lot - Segovia. Book. Scales. Sheet Music & 2 Other BooksLot Of 50 Pieces Of Sheet Music Including Andy Gibb Beegees Elton John Lot311Signed Music Sheet, Oasis Champagne Supernova, 100% AuthenticSigned Music Sheet, Arctic Monkeys Riot Van,100% AuthenticQueen News Of The World Very Rare 65 Pg 1978 Songbook Sheet MusicBeatles Original Sheet Music On Northern Csongs I Want You 1969Beatles Original Sheet Music On Lawrence Wright Music Aint She Sweet 1961Lot Of 10 Sheet Music Pieces Black Americana Rock Doo Wop 1950's & 60's G+-mLot Of 50 Pieces Of Sheet Music Including Queen Paul Simon Barry Gibb Lot314Lot Of 50 Pieces Of Sheet Music Including Village People Sgt Peppers More Lot3131902 When Mammy Puts The Little Coons To Bed Sheet Music Black Americana Britney Spears Signed Autograph Sheet Music "stronger" Beatles Original Sheet Music On Northern Songs You Wont See Me 1965Baseball Sheet Music I Want To Go Out To The Ball Game Pub. Sedalia,mo. 1925Lot Of 50 Pieces Of Sheet Music Including Joan Jett Prince Randy Newman Lot312Kiss Rock And Roll Over - 1977 Alamo Publications Sheet Music Song BookKiss Love Gun - 1977 Alamo Publications Sheet Music Song BookBuffy Sainte Marie Signed Autograph Sheet Music "the Universal Soldier" 1965Asian Chinese Jingdezhen Porcelain Guitar Sheet Music Cup Mug Collectible Pepsi Cola Radio Jingle Vintage 1940 "there's A New Song In The Air" Sheet MusicMartha And The Vandellas My Baby Loves Me Gordy Records Sheet Music 66 Great PixThe Chiffons Sheet Music Sweet Talkin Guy & He's So Fine M- 1963 1966Winter And China Sheet Music Tori AmosKiss Destroyer - 1976 Alamo Publications Sheet Music Song BookLot 12 Pcs Vintage Old Sheet Music For Piano & Clarinet Scaramouche Debussy PlusRichard Chamberlain Signed Autograph Sheet Music "theme From Dr. Kildare" 1963Jamberry Nail Wraps - Full Sheet Of Sheet MusicErzgebirge Angel With Sheet Music Stille Nacht (silent Night)Lot Of 150 Plus Pieces Of Old Vintage Sheet Music Assorted ArtistsChristmas Sheet Music Lot: Classics, Film, Broadway, Comedy Songs +new Years EveBaseball Sheet Music Casey At The Bat- 1947-pub. Hollywood,ca. Near-mint!Cary Grant 1948 Movie Bishop's Wife Lost April Sheet Music Dudley Plays The HarpNhl: Ny Rangers Sheet Music; 1940 Victory Song; Vtg, Orig, Vg; Patrick,pix; Nice6 Ship Sheet Music 1911-1915, Just As The Ship Went Down, LusitaniaMusic Composition Soundgarden Guitar Tablature Sheet Music Song Book 1927 Hope Hampton Sheet Music From Operetta "my Golden Girl"-"follow The Sun ToLarge Handbells Lot: Sheet Music (134 Titles), 12 Books/pamphlets ~handbell ~vg+Huge Concertina Sheet Music Book Lot Slovenian Waltzes And Polkas Yankovic Etc."wish You Were Here" Signed Sheet Music Harold Rome, Tom Tryon, Joshua Logan ++Antique Ragtime Sheet Music 1904 - 1928Hayley Mills Johnny Jingo Disney Buena Vista Records Sheet Music Great Photo '62Huge 38 Piece Colorful Christmas Lot Of Sheet MusicThe Eagles Sheet Music Lot Of 4 Song Titles Never Been Used Rock RareElvis Presley Witchcraft Original 1950s Uk Sheet MusicThe Presidents Trio Trumpet Trio With Band Sheet Music1967 Beatles Baby You're A Rich Man - Sheet Music/ Picture. For Music Or ArtFlorida My Florida Sheet Music Dedicated To Schools Of Florida 191510 Colorful 20's Flapper Gals Lot 2 Sheet MusicLot Of 2 Vintage Sheet Music Booklets - Highland Bagpipe Music Volume 1 + 3 Lot Of 3 Vintage Clarinet And Flute Sheet Music Song Books 1940's SoloistLot 4: Jewish Stereotype Hebrew Mocking Ethnic Sheet Music 1919

Recent News: Sheet Music

Source: Google News

Avenge the USSR in This Righteous Retro Arcade Game That Never Was
Popular Mechanics, October 5th

Andy Reitano, Michael Dooley, and Todd Bailey stand around the arcade cabinet, their baby, as the game's hypnotic music pumps out loud in the garage. I step in, I'm ... "I was looking around on Craigslist for old arcade cabinets, and this guy who I was...Read more

Performers get ready for Loveland Art Studio Tour
Loveland Reporter-Herald, October 4th

She plans to do a few performances and show some of her sheet music and soundtracks. "I started ... Another young performer at Artspace Loveland, Jaromir Parik, is just 17 years old and is focusing again on the piano after a few years off. Parik and...Read more

Used bookstores help tell stories along historic Route 66
KSN-TV, October 2nd

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Travelers along historic Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles have no problem finding their fix of fake American Indian jewelry and vintage Elvis posters. But along this path motorists also will discover something once...Read more

25 Fun (and Cheap!) Gifts for Your Boss
Business News Daily, September 30th

You can also find variations of this paperweight with sheet music and blueprints, perfect for music or architecture-obsessed bosses. At ($28.34) ... Shaped like a vintage camera, this is a fun and practical addition to any desk. It can...Read more

Pee-Wee, Ledbetter Syrah, and a Wine and TV Pairing Cheat Sheet
Huffington Post, September 30th

When I spoke with him earlier this month, Chris Pierce (aka Reverend Tall Tree) beautifully likened the artistry of winemaking with music, suggesting that his melodies are as informed by the wine as the wine is inspired by the boldness of music. "In...Read more

Adding 'New' Old Movies to My Classic Movie Guide
Indie Wire (blog), September 30th

Or is it “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life”? Check online and you'll find contradictory references from supposedly reliable sources. In frustration, I turned to eBay and located a piece of sheet music from the song's initial publication in 1910—with an...Read more

Reuniting and remembering
UC Santa Cruz, September 28th

A robust crowd of more than 200 students in UC Santa Cruz's pioneer class (pictured here in this vintage photo) returned to campus on Saturday. Exactly 50 years from the day ... He didn't even have sheet music to distribute. Smith reached into his...Read more

Used bookstores help tell stories along Route 66
The Spokesman Review (registration), September 28th

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Travelers along historic Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles have no problem finding their fix of fake American Indian jewelry and vintage Elvis posters. But along this path motorists also will discover something once declared...Read more