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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The Classical Music NetworkConcertoNet, November 25th
most of them new but some vintage, of opera, ballet, concerts and documentaries. As one would expect, there is a lot of intriguing material. When one opens the case the booklet seems to be missing. But if you look closely, the sheet with the back...Read more
Baig's best picks of tech that stood out in 2015USA TODAY, November 25th
NEW YORK—The year in tech is winding down and consumers have a lot to be thankful for. Smartphones got better, new software added dazzle to traditional computing systems, and there were advances in voice search, live broadcasting, wearable tech, and ...Read more
Culture maven, actor, critic John Bridges diesAsheville Citizen-Times, November 24th
Bridges leaves behind not just a cultural legacy, but a large music, literary and art collection that he donated to Pack Memorial Library. Friends of Pack Library will hold a sale of hundreds of his vintage vinyl records, tapes, books, programs, sheet...Read more
Explore Your Passions at a Special-Collection LibraryBusiness Jet Traveler, November 23rd
There is something for every interest with more than seven million manuscripts, 400,000 books and 130,000 pieces of sheet music. Sonoma County Wine Library (Healdsburg, California). It's no surprise that the Sonoma County library system houses one of...Read more
Creative wrapping tips to make your gifts look their bestnwitimes.com, November 23rd
Build up a store of vintage wrapping paper and ribbon, picking them up throughout the year at thrift shops. Thinking outside the gift box: in a pinch, wrap items in sheet music, fabric pieces, or colorful newspaper comics. Raffia makes for a nostalgic...Read more
How to find Black Friday deals in IndianapolisIndianapolis Star, November 23rd
Vintage Motifs: Irvington home decor shop offering 10 percent of lighting and a first-time clearance sale, beginning10 a.m., 5612 E. Washington St., www.vintagemotifs.com. Ella Mae's .... Homespun: Modern Handmade: Bring in new, packaged twin bed and...Read more
Review: Adele, '25'NPR, November 23rd
As anyone who's seen her in concert can attest, Adele Adkins is one of the most self-aware pop acts ever. Nearly every time she sings, the 27-year-old Londoner accesses the kind of acutely tangible pain that sometimes claims the lives of superstars who ...Read more
Developer won't raze historic Rittenhouse Coffee ShopPhilly.com, November 20th
Nashville-based Southern Land Co. will withdraw its application to the Philadelphia Historical Commission to demolish the 1855-vintage Rittenhouse Coffee Shop building at 1904 Sansom St., the company said in a statement Friday. But its applications to...Read more