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Vintage & Antique Sheet Music & Song Books

You don’t have to be a musician to enjoy collecting vintage sheet music. From the late 19th century through the early part of the 20th century, sheet music was widely distributed. That’s because no way to record music had yet been invented. Tin Pan Alley songwriters made most of their money from selling the scores of their songs to amateur piano players.

How many different categories of sheet music are there?

An enormous amount of vintage sheet music is to be found in antique stores today. That means you can use practically any criteria you like as a theme for your music sheet collection. Criteria that hobbyists use to organize their antique vintage sheet music collections include:

  • Performers: Collectors may focus on collecting all the songs performed by a particular artist. Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Fannie Brice, and Eddie Cantor were all music performers whose signature songs sold many copies. Vintage sheet music will be even more highly prized if the original artist autographed the musical composition.
  • Composers: Alternatively, collectors may decide to orient their vintage sheet music archives around popular music composers. Original copies of Scott Joplin’s works are highly sought after, as are other Black Americana musical pieces. Scores of Irving Berlin’s songs or tunes by Rogers and Hammerstein are also hot items.
  • Illustrations: Sheet music antiques are often beautifully illustrated. Through the 1920s, most of these illustrations were lithographs, but after the 1920s, published music compositions were most often decorated with original photographs.
What’s the difference between sheet music and songbooks?

“Sheet music” specifically refers to the scores of individual songs that are arranged for the voice and the piano. As their name suggests, they were published on a single piece of paper. Music scores were occasionally published as well for novelty instruments like the guitar, the accordion, or the ukulele.

Songbooks, on the other hand, are bound arrangements of music pieces. Tunes in any particular book of tunes may be organized by performer, by composer, by publisher, or by the special occasion they celebrate. Christmas tune books, for example, are a perennial favorite.

How can someone get started collecting sheet music?

How do you get started building a collection of vintage music? Typically, people gravitate to music with titles that have some relevance to their own lives. When somebody buys sheet music for the first time, the song’s title may have to do with his or her profession. A landscaper may go for songs about flowers and trees. If you’re a doctor, you may find the sheet music for King Oliver’s original cover of “St James Infirmary” irresistible. When you find yourself haunting antiques shops or typing “vintage sheet music” into your browser, you know you’ve got the habit.

As you’re building up your collection, keep in mind that first printings are generally more treasured than reprints. First printings associated with famous performers are particularly prized.

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