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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Pan dulce reminds moms of cherished past, sweet presentPress Herald, December 21st
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5 Reasons You May Want to Save Your Old Apple DevicesWall St. Cheat Sheet, December 20th
While this is not an incredibly high price for a vintage Apple product, considering that the original price of the watch was zero, $199 or $99 is a pretty impressive increase in value. ... While sales of Apple's iPod line have been steadily falling...Read more
Couple's world wide road trip hits MississippiJackson Clarion Ledger, December 19th
Elisabeth and Fred Smits, Dutch natives now living in New Zealand, stopped in Jackson recently at the mid-point of a year-long trek across the U.S. in their '57 Mercedes. The trip is one leg of a five-year journey across the globe. Joe Ellis/The...Read more
Spare Times for Dec. 19-25New York Times, December 19th
Dickinson's musical identity, which included piano performances, the collection of sheet music and concerts outings, will be detailed. Monday and Thursday from noon to 8 p.m.; Tuesday, ... 15) More than 80 black-and-white photographs and vintage...Read more
Video Game Dug Up from Landfill Ends Up in the SmithsonianTech Times, December 18th
The vintage cartridges were excavated by archaeologists near Alamogordo, which is 320 kms southeast of Albuquerque in New Mexico. It is not known who dumped the video games, ... The E.T. cartridge joins an extensive collection at Smithsonian, which...Read more
10cc to Take "Sheet Music" on the Road in FebruaryVVN Music, December 11th
10cc is preparing to take their classic album Sheet Music on the road in early 2015. The group will perform the album in its entirety on a tour of the U.K. with dates throughout February (and a couple in May). Sheet Music was the group's second album...Read more
Sheet music, songs inspire picture storiesThe 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 MusicCrafting 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