Originally published on historia.ainurin.net (May 25, 2007)
Sheet music published in the early 1900's has wonderful graphics. The covers range from modern, colourful and stylized art deco to faintly yellowing pastels and filigree fonts from the art nouveau period. Sometimes they feature cartoon characters or rough ethnic stereotypes, sometimes photographs of famous performers. Beautiful women are the most common subject, but there are a lot of other interesting images as well: political propaganda, ideal landscapes, flowers, humorous situations, satirical comments on trends, etc.
I have collected links to some of the best sheet music archives here for our browsing convenience.
UCLA Music Library: APAM
Archive of Popular American Music (my favourite)
Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University:
19th and early 20th century American sheet music
Perfessor Bill Edward's ragtime collection (with midi files)
Brown University Library Digital Collection:
African-American Sheet Music 1820-1920
(This is an odd one. Many of the covers are very racist and many of the songs are so-called "coon songs" performed by white minstrel singers in blackface. But some of the items in the collection have been created by African-American musicians, for example St. Louis Blues by W. C. Handy. Often black artists also performed minstrel songs in blackface for white audiences. It's hard to find a fitting description for this collection.)
The E. Azalia Hackley Collection
- was created in 1943 by a gift of material to the Detroit Public Library from the Detroit Musicians Association, a branch of the National Association of Negro Musicians. The Hackley was the first archive to document the contributions of Blacks to the performing arts.
The University of Chicago's library has a sheet music directory for those who hunger for more.