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
Ephemera Society of America
Fillmore and Avalon Collection
Clubs & Associations
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Sheet Music
Source: Google News
Artful gift ideas: Pettibon pajamas, Barbara Kruger stamps and moreLos Angeles Times, December 12th
The typically monthly Silver Lake Art/Craft & Vintage fair -- which feels like a neighborhood block party with Kettle Korn snacks and a gaggle of food trucks at Micheltorena Elementary School -- is putting on a double-header this month. Stalls...Read more
1985 - Ian Stewart (Rolling Stones) - Heart attack (47)VVN Music, December 11th
2002 - Les Paul announced he would be donating 2,000 records and pieces of sheet music along with other memorabilia for an exhibit in his hometown of Waukesha, WI. 2003 - Mick Jagger was knighted by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace...Read more
Dupree Johnson Charged With 142 Felony Counts After Cop Sees His ...Huffington Post (satire), December 11th
Posting a few selfies helped a south Florida man end up in a jail cell. A sheriff in Palm Beach County, Fla., recently came across the Instagram page of Dupree Johnson, 19. Noting that Johnson had a rap sheet that included grand theft, burglary, and...Read more
Paramount's treasure chestOzaukee Press, December 11th
For decades, music collectors have scoured antique shops, used-record stores, basements and attics, hunting for vintage Paramount 78-rpm records and other memorabilia produced in the early 1900s by the Port Washington-based Wisconsin Chair Co. Short of...Read more
Songwriter mulls what's 'really important'St. Albert Gazette, December 10th
It was a huge hit, winning her the Juno. That is no small feat especially considering Smith is dyslexic and finds it impossible to read sheet music. The original tunes were written in Smith's vintage organic style. “At the time I was listening to '30s...Read more
Get Your Christmas OnBaltimore Magazine, December 10th
Locally known as stocking-stuffer specialists, the Annapolis Country Store carries old-fashioned, small items for children and adults, from harmonicas and slide whistles to Mason Pearson hairbrushes and home fragrances. atmosphere with glass...Read more
Playin' the swing shift with Chops Big BandSan Francisco Chronicle, December 9th
Page 1 of 1. The 18 musicians carting their instruments and sheet music into Oakland's Terrace Room had spent the day in offices and cubicles and classrooms. Their music stands are set against a large mural backdrop featuring vintage images of Oakland...Read more
Hampshire teen brings new life to old musicChicago Daily Herald, December 5th
Daniel has several mentors in the ragtime community, including 86-year-old Johnny Maddox, who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The two are pen pals and share a passion for collecting old sheet music. "There is always is a younger generation, ...Read more