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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Finding nirvana with vintage Pyrex
Press Herald, October 22nd

Place the dough sheet on the prepared baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the surface of the dough with water. Sprinkle with black pepper, salt and seeds of your choice. Prick here and there with a fork to prevent the dough from bubbling...Read more

Retail Tip Sheet: Women's clothing store among new openings in downtown ...
Bellingham Herald, October 21st

Beard considers herself a bit of a treasure hunter, bringing vintage and contemporary clothing into her store. She's also offers group pricing: The price is the same for all the sweaters in the store, for example. ... The Wild Bird Chalet is having a...Read more

Macabre auction includes vampire-slaying kit, human skull, demon mask, October 20th

The assorted dark matter includes preserved insects, human skulls and foot bones, daguerreotype death portraits, vintage and ornate weapons, and other curiosities. Some of the more mundane items include a baby grand piano, and antique sheet music from ...Read more

The Sweet Spot offers a sweet deal with silent auction of Lakewood High School ...
Sun News -, October 20th

Customers are invited to view the art, then fill out the sheet next to the pieces on which they want to bid. The silent ... Costume, dancewear and bake sale: Speaking of Beck Center, the Dance Alliance of Beck Center will have a costume, dancewear and...Read more

Open Thread || October 19, 2014
White House Dossier, October 19th

The Pope has decided that the Sistine Chapel is an appropriate venue for corporate events — renting the chapel out — for a corporate evening of food and drink and music — to Porsche Tours. .... You don't want to get me started on vintage nostalgia...Read more

Tune in tonight: On Lifetime, it's King for a day
Kankakee Daily Journal, October 17th

As long as television exists, two things will most probably remain true: Lifetime will produce movies about women wronged seeking revenge, and TV networks of every stripe will adapt Stephen King novels into movies and miniseries. "Big Driver" (7 p.m...Read more

'Hayloft Sweethearts' invoked by local musicians
Port Townsend Leader, October 15th

When Vickie, Townsend's wife and longtime music partner, found the sheet music to “Have I Told You Lately…” at a local rummage sale, the Townsends began to seek out Scotty Wiseman's songs in earnest. They found a vintage songbook from the 1940s ...Read more

Weekly Roundup of eBay Vintage Home Finds
Huffington Post, October 13th

Don't miss the 1950s Coca-Cola bistro chairs, the 1910s wood and gilt bronze candle sconces, the Charles Schneider Art Deco vase, the Paul McCobb stool and the antique sheet music cabinet. DISCLOSURE: Editorial selections are made by Zuburbia with ...Read more