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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Leg Work: New Source columnist Shoshana Hoose tackles issues of bicycling ...Press Herald, March 29th
And then there are the yard sales. I can't bike by them without checking out the merchandise. I've made some great finds over the years – everything from vintage Broadway sheet music to a coffee mug with a whale handle. I even bought a piano on a bike...Read more
Things to do in and around GreenwichGreenwich Time, March 28th
give an encore performance of 1914-1918 Readings, Songs and a PowerPoint Presentation of vintage sheet music illustrating the story of America's response to and eventual entrance into World War I. Ticketholders snowed out on March 1 will be honored...Read more
Preview calendar: March 27 to April 2, 2015The Daily Freeman, March 27th
The Ulster Chamber Music Series will present the Borealis Wind Quintet on Sunday, March 29, at 3 p.m. at the Church of the Holy Cross, 30 Pine Grove Ave., Kingston. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for ..... Tens of thousands of vintage and historic...Read more
Pulp fictionWaterloo Cedar Falls Courier, March 27th
The sign “Big Ass Papermaking: hangs above a door, the affectionate name workshop students gave her process of making 8- by 12-feet paper sheets that require climbing into the vat. She makes her own pulp from Kozo, the fiber ... “I put on some really...Read more
March 26, 2015 - 8 Days A WeekThe Corvallis Advocate, March 26th
Next time I'm there I plan to request “Caravan,” and then if he doesn't know it or have the sheet music handy, I plan to hum as many bars of it as is necessary to jog his memory. ... Rockabilly and soul mixed together for a bit of vintage-sounding...Read more
Sustainable furniture: All style, no guiltNJ.com, March 25th
Environment Furniture's Fasano dining chair — framed in walnut and upholstered in vintage cotton canvas (pictured) or linen — makes recycled look refined. Environment Furniture, environmentfurniture.com, $495. 2. See recycled paper in a new light at...Read more
Items for SaleSanJuanIslander.com, March 16th
Garage Sale: Safeharbor Storage, 1953 Egg Lake Rd., Unit #85 Saturday March 28 from 9 am to 1 pm Rain or Shine 11ft Livingston w/trailer, furniture, nice REI Mummy Bag, Bicycle, books, some childrens, some tools, much misc...Read more
Spare Times Listings for March 6-12New York Times, March 5th
Dickinson's musical identity encompassed piano performances, the collection of sheet music and concert outings, and those experiences are detailed here. From noon to 6 p.m., 111 Amsterdam Avenue, at 65th Street, 917-275-6975, nypl.org/lpa; free...Read more