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Inventory of the American Sheet Music Collection, 1797-1982
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Content
  • Arrangement
  • Note on Access
  • Related Material
  • Bibliographical sources

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: American Sheet Music Collection,
    Date (inclusive): 1797-1982
    Collection number: ephSMC
    Creator: Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery. Prints and Ephemera Division
    Extent: ca. 3814 items
    Repository: The Huntington Library
    San Marino, California 91108
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open to qualified researches by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information please go to the following URL .
    Appended to the collection is a small number (48) of British titles. This portion of the collection is closed and will not be added to in future.


    The Collection has been developed gradually since 1923 through donations of single items and donations and purchases of scrapbook volumes containing sheet music.

    Publication Rights

    In order to quote from, publish, or reproduce any of the manuscripts or visual materials, researchers must obtain formal permission from the office of the Library Director. In most instances, permission is given by the Huntington as owner of the physical property rights only, and researchers must also obtain permission from the holder of the literary rights In some instances, the Huntington owns the literary rights, as well as the physical property rights. Researchers may contact the appropriate curator for further information.
    Permission to reproduce portions (including illustrated covers) or all of item(s) must be requested of the Prints and Ephemera curator.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], American Sheet Music Collection, 1797-1982, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Scope and Content

    The American Sheet Music Collection illustrates the physical and thematic development of sheet music printed in the United States from the late eighteenth century through the early twentieth century. The collection includes over 3814 items, the bulk of which spans the years 1820-1920. Musical genres included are English and American theatre music, comic opera, patriotic songs, Scottish and Irish melodies, "Englished" versions of Italian opera, contemporary topical themes (such as the Civil War, including a small number of Confederate imprints), and modern Broadway music. Subjects and themes covered include sentimental songs, especially courtship and maternal relationships; songs offered in tribute (e.g. to Washington, Lincoln, Bonaparte; Jenny Lind, etc.); and patriotic songs, especially of the Civil War. Major and minor publishers are represented. Cities most prominently featured as publishing centers include Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore; there are also imprints from Cincinnati, Chicago, Milwaukee, San Francisco, St. Louis, and New Orleans. A significant portion of the collection is illustrated which, along with the themes and lyrics of the songs themselves, provides further insight into the attitudes and values of the American people over time.


    The collection consists of individual pieces arranged chronologically by publication date within folders, and then alphabetically by song title. These are stored flat in boxes. A portion of the items have been bound into numbered scrapbooks, reflecting the tastes and musical interests of various compilers.
    Items without a date are arranged alphabetically by song title in a "n.d." (no date) sequence. These are housed in a separate "no date" box.

    Note on Access

    The container list reflects the physical arrangement of the collection. It is arranged chronologically, and then alphabetically within each year. Items should be requested bearing the following scheme in mind:
    • I. cite the information in the date and title columns.
    • II. the date column reflects three different kinds of access.


      • 1) 1898 (single date. This represents a boxed item).
      • 2) 1898: v.18/36 (date followed by colon). This represents an item from the year 1898 that can be located as a bound item. In this case, the item would be contained in scrapbook number 18, and numbered item 36.
      • 3) 1898 + v.18/17 (date followed by plus sign). This represents an item from the year 1898 that can be located as a single piece of sheet music within the chronological boxes and a second copy in scrapbook number 18, item 17.
    When an item on the list is not designated by a specific year, but rather a decade (e.g. "1860's"), its date of publication has been estimated to roughly that ten year period. The item should be requested in the same manner as the others, citing the estimated date.

    Related Material

    Beyond the American Sheet Music Collection which is housed in the Prints and Ephemera Division of the Rare Book Department, sheet music has also been catalogued in numerous locations in the Rare Book Department. Cf: "Collections - Sheet Music" in the Official Catalog. Other catalogued material include: Librettos, Song Books, Song Sheets, and Broadsides.

    Bibliographical sources

    • 1. Dichter, Harry and Elliot Shapiro, Early American Sheet Music: Its Lure and Its Lore, 1768-1889.
    • 2. Krummel, Donald W., Guide for Dating Early Published Music: A Manual of Bibliographical Practices.
    • 3. Sonneck, Oscar George, A Bibliography of Early Secular American Music
    • 4. Wolfe, Richard J., Secular Music in America 1801-1825: A Bibliography;