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

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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

'Fargo' comes to TV starring Billy Bob Thornton as psycho with sense of humour
Calgary Herald, April 15th

Speaking with a reporter in New York last week, the 58-year-old Thornton is jauntily clad in pants with broad black-and-navy stripes, T-shirt, leather jacket, boots and knit fingerless gloves. He is friendly, easygoing and charismatic with his soft...Read more

Coachella Day Three: Nipples and Ass
Noisey (blog), April 14th

As the Style Editor at Noisey, every single music gathering is an opportunity to do a style round up—here's one I did for Coachella 2013. Actually last year I also made a whole video about what people ... He lowered a circular, silk-sheet covered bed...Read more

Fargo sees Martin Freeman star with Billy Thornton in TV remake
Daily Mail, April 14th

Speaking with a reporter in New York last week, the 58-year-old Billy Bob is jauntily clad in pants with broad black-and-navy stripes, T-shirt, leather jacket, boots and knit fingerless gloves. He is friendly, easygoing and charismatic with his ... He...Read more

Store that supplied gear to music legends closing
Modesto Bee, April 12th

Lipham describes how he asked Don Felder, former guitarist for The Eagles, to prove it was him on the phone last week by describing the first two guitars he bought from Lipham and the color of his old Volkswagen Beetle. It was green. For 59 years...Read more

Estate Sale Roundup: April 11-13: We're upcycling dreams this week.
Austin Chronicle, April 11th

Dining room/living room: two sets fireplace tools; tan leather loveseat, chair, and ottoman; antique Victorian sofa; antique Mexican child's fainting chaise w/carved angels; oval glass table; triangular Italian music box table; drop-leaf side table...Read more

Ramona Calendar of Events
Ramona Sentinel, April 10th

RAMONA LIBRARY, 1275 Main St. Bilingual Zumba at 9:30 a.m., Bouncing Baby Storytime at 10:30 a.m., Teen Music Shop at 3 p.m., Teen Action Council at 3 p.m., Family Craft at 3:15 p.m. More: 760-788-5270. TOWN HALL BRIDGE CLUB, 10 a.m., ... STITCHED...Read more

The Courier news briefs, April 10-19
hngnews.com, April 9th

videos and DVDs; and vintage sheet music and classic music for singers. Donations will be accepted at the annex on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Proceeds from the sale go to library programs such as the children's summer program, guest speakers...Read more