First Epoch - America's First Popular Music Epoch 1768-1887
The 500


This site is devoted to the scholar and collector of early American popular sheet music. We’re defining popular music as secular, neither religious or purely classical, and are concerned only with what is collectible and begs, for specific reasons, to be conserved, studied and illuminated.

The Rogue's March - Dedicated to the "Ring" (1871)
by M. Woolf, M. Woolf engraving, published Harper's
We’re primarily defining ‘collectible’ in three ways. First, is there fame or importance in title, composer or lyricist?  Secondly, we look for social/historical interest in the musical composition, the theme, the title, the publisher, or, if present, the illustration on the title page. Thirdly, we notice artistic merit in the pictorial illustration or in the fonts used for titling or publisher’s imprint. Fame, social/historical interest and artistic merit come to be the three most prominent delineators for worth. A pretty melody or clever lyric does not alone make a ‘collectible’ item.

What may be legitimately troubling for the composer and musician is that much of what is worthy here is not necessarily musical composition but what the song and publication brought to light, late 18th century and 19th century society. Therefore, the first sheet music to picture a locomotive on the front (1828) would have obvious merit whether or not the song had any.


Conversely, any Stephen Foster song would hold interest whether or not the title page was pictorially illustrated or the melody possessed any virtue. These folio size sheets, roughly 10 ½ inches by 14 inches, are a treasure trove for the cultural anthropologist. They breathe life, with their music and images, into the first 100 plus years of American history.

Our period, beginning in 1768 with the publishing of the first patriotic American sheet music, The Liberty Song, extends to 1887 and the centennial of the Constitution. It antedates the rise of cakewalks and rags and the idioms of published blues and jazz. It also covers the era before most all recorded music, excepting piano rolls and early wax recordings. And so it comes to represent what could be called ‘America’s First Popular Music Epoch’.