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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Pink Floyd: The Endless River
PopMatters, November 26th

But Pink Floyd's brilliance has almost always been (loudly) amplified by the amazing balance of words and music, with the band's powerful lyrics being the only real match for their epic rock and roll sounds. These facts make Pink Floyd's 2014 release...Read more

Lana Del Rey Gets Intimate In Her Undies For Maxim Magazine (PHOTOS)
Global Grind, November 25th

LDR covers the men's magazine with her hair in vintage waves and mouth slightly agape, wearing what we can only assume to be a delicate lace top. Inside the issue, she strips down to nothing but a pair of white underwear, which matches the white sheet ...Read more

Holiday Gift Essentials 2014: Triple Graces Shades Affordable Hollywood Chic
Monsters and Critics.com, November 24th

It's fun to have a wardrobe of looks that you can switch up depending on your mood, and no one offers a more current affordable selection than Triple Graces, a line seen on Hollywood types, music stars and celebrities at every award show or music...Read more

Sheet music, songs inspire picture stories
The 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

Party to an exclusive Zombie Kids mix
Red Bull, November 21st

Since meeting in a vintage clothing store in Madrid, DJs and producers Cumhur Jay and Edgar Candel Kerri have toured the world's dancefloors together as The Zombie Kids, mixing electronica and punk, dubstep and alt-metal. ... We want to have a solid...Read more

Upcoming home and garden events: holiday home tours and gift markets galore
NOLA.com, November 20th

Arts Market of New Orleans -- Nov. 29, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Palmer Park at S. Carrollton and S. Claiborne avenues -- The market features local art work, crafts, food, music and children's activities. Free. ... Vendors include American Prep, Commune Vintage...Read more

How the Wu-Tang Clan Overcame Bad Blood on Comeback LP 'A Better ...
RollingStone.com, November 20th

In early 2013, RZA began work on new Wu-Tang songs, doubling down on his organic approach to production: Instead of sampling old R&B songs, as he had on early Wu-Tang records, he would make his own vintage-flavored tracks from scratch...Read more

40 DIY Projects to Create with Vintage Sheet Music
Crafting 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