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Marching Thru Georgia
by Bob Brooke

 


The song “Marching Thru Georgia,” written by Henry Clay Work in 1865 at the end of the Civil War in 1865, refers to U.S. Army major general William Tecumseh Sherman's "March to the Sea" to capture the Confederate city of Savannah, Georgia, in late 1864. It became widely popular among veteran Union soldiers and appeared in thousands of copies of sheet music.

Back before marvels such as the phonograph and roller organ, families entertained themselves in the evenings after dinner by gathering around the piano for a sing-a-long. This necessitated the publishing of sheet music for hundreds of songs.

Originally people collected sheet music primarily for the music score. Depending on rarity, with a wide range in value, sheet music is easy to collect, having been mass produced for much of the 19th century, but it didn’t reach its peak production until the decade of 1900-1910, when titles such as “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and “Down by the Old Mill Stream” sold up to six million copies.

Most collectors focus on specific areas of sheet music. Titles can be broken down into varying categories, including Civil War and military, ragtime, jazz, Broadway and film scores, and sports songs like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Some collectors focus on notable composers like Irving Berlin, to famous film personalities such as Eddie Cantor, The Marx Brothers and Bing Crosby.

One of the primary collecting categories is famous composers like Irving Berlin, Gershwin, Kern, Porter, because they’re worth more. Then you have the importance of the personality. People think Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee or people like that are of importance. No! Important stars on sheet music would be Mae West and other blonde bombshells like Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, comedy groups like The Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, Wheeler and Woolsey; there aren’t as many of them. Judy Garland is collectible, always has been and always will be.

Some people collect every piece of sheet music with songs about a famous person such as Charles Lindbergh. Songs related to Lingbergh number in the hundreds. These same people collect all the memorabilia related to Lindbergh as well.

Some collectors focus on tunes by a specific singer, such as Al Jolson, Billy Holiday, and Bing Crosby. Many popular singers did their part for the various war efforts and can be found on military sheet music. Eddie Cantor is pictured on the cover “A Wing and a Prayer.”

Military Music
For centuries, armies have marched to tunes played on trumpet and drum. Music kept soldiers in step by the rhythm, and a song's repetitive phrases helped remove focus from their aching feet and tired bones. Politicians used these same military march tunes to motivate those on the home front. Many of these stirring tunes appeared as sheet music, sometimes referred to as "song sheets." Although most families no longer gather around the piano to sing songs, sheet music tunes haven’t been forgotten.

Today, military sheet music provides an intriguing glimpse into American history. Among the events captured in lyric and note were the Revolutionary War battle of Trenton, the Civil War battle of Shiloh, the fall of Richmond, as well as events from World War I and II. Not all the tunes were Georgia written at the time of the event. Johnny Cash recorded Remember the Alamo in 1963. In fact, one way of organizing a collection of military sheet music is by the battle or era.

Sheet Music Covers
Collectors don't need to be able to read music or play a musical instrument appreciate sheet music. Many collectors are interested in the artwork on the covers and focus on the artists who produced sheet music covers. Early music sheets contain some of the finest examples of American lithography. Military dress uniforms provided a rewarding subject for sheet music cover art in brilliant color. The golden age of illustrated covers lasted from 1885 to 1952. Among the artists whose cover illustrations are collectible are Norman Rockwell, James Montgomery Flagg, Albert W. Barbelle and Edward H. Pfeiffer.

Besides by era, other ways to collect sheet music are by composer, song type, or by cover art or artist. Since song sheets might be issued in as many as six different cover versions, depending on who was featured, collectors are also able to collect series.
William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, for instance, appeared on horseback with a rifle on the front cover of a rare 10 x 13-inch copy of sheet music.

While men have frequently been featured on the covers, especially of the earlier military sheet music, a collector can also build a collection around covers depicting women in uniform.

Covers with celebrities are another area where sheet music are another crossover collectible.

Collecting Music Related Items
Collecting related music in other formats and other memorabilia can complement a sheet music collection. For example, singers recorded songs on 33 RPM stereo and mono records and 45 RPM records by such companies as RCA Victor. Military sheet music can also cross over into other collecting areas. The John Rodgers sculpture group “On Picket Duty” inspired a sheet music cover for an 1864 song, produced by F.N. Carter, a Boston lithographer.

What makes a piece of sheet music valuable?
The importance of the composer, the importance of the star and the importance of the category impacts the value. The importance of it is everything, and rarity has the greatest effect on the value, more so than condition.

Novice collectors need to learn the value of a sheet and buy accordingly. The myth that specialized collections cost more just isn’t true. Also, where sheet music is purchased can drastically affect is price. Sheet music from the 1950s has been found for just a few dollars in a box under a table at a yard sale or flea market while pieces from E.T. Paul Publishing from the 1890s to 1910 can be priced from $15 to $30, or more, at a paper and ephemera show.

Where to Find Old Sheet Music
Although sheet music has been around for at least 200 years, most of what can be readily found dates from the late 19th century through the mid-20th. While some tunes such as the Lancers Quick Step may not be well known to today's collectors, other tunes such as When Johnny Comes Marching Home are still sung more than 100 years after their creation.

The completed auction site of eBay can be a good resource for sheet music. They list what has sold and for how much. Arrange the search list by the highest price range first, what sold or was offered for the most amount of money.



Building a Collection
Those considering collecting sheet music should collect something that pertains to their interests. The person who plays in a brass band might collect music by John Philip Sousa, or music about brass bands. There are a lot of people in financial careers from banking and accounting to the tax field. Money is a big category—from titles on the haves and the have nots, being rich, being poor. A gardener might collect sheet music of flower songs. The high status and high value categories are sports, ragtime, jazz, and blues.

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