In the News

Illustration by Newell Convers Wyeth Fetches $1.325 Million at Bonhams

New York - The top-selling lot at the American Art sale at Bonhams was a... read more

Thomas Hart Benton’s “Discussion” Sells for Over $1 Million at Leslie Hindman

Leslie Hindman Auctioneers is thrilled to have brought a significant collection of American... read more

Hold History in Your Hands at the 58th London International Antiquarian Book Fair

From May 28th to 30th the halls of Olympia will once again present an... read more

Swann Galleries Announces Fall 2015 Auction: The Art of Maya Angelou

New York—On Tuesday, September 15, 2015, Swann Galleries’ African-American Fine Art department will offer... read more

Gabriel García Márquez Symposium Marks Opening of Author’s Archive

AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin’s LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies... read more

“Grabhorn Press: 1920-1965 and Beyond” at the Grolier Club

The Grabhorn Press was one of the foremost American producers of finely-printed books from... read more

Artists’ books: the book as a work of art Published

From Mallarméto the Piece of Paper Press via Cubism, Futurism, Dada, Fluxus and conceptual... read more

Drawing from 1906 Special Edition of The War of the Worlds Sold for $32,500 at Heritage Auctions

BEVERLY HILLS—A groundbreaking pencil and ink drawing of a brain-like alien and its awful... read more

Follow us on TwitterLike us on Facebook
Auction Guide
Advertise with Us
2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
Special Report

Composing a Collection

Take away the rock stars, and music offers unexpected variety and opportunity for collectors By Joel Silver Joel Silver is Curator of Rare Books at the Lilly Library.

With the tremendous popularity of music of all kinds over the centuries, and the large amount of printed and manuscript music that has been produced, there are many possibilities for collectors who want to get started in this field. Collectors approaching music for the first time may be both surprised and bewildered by the breadth and depth of what is available. Like other areas of the performing arts, the primary works themselves can be endlessly supplemented by a vast array of ephemera, autographs, and pictorial material.

A mid-eighteenth-century scribal manuscript of Handel’s Messiah, in a contemporary binding. Courtesy of the Lilly Library.
Ornate red morocco binding of Handel’s Messiah (see previous image). Courtesy of the Lilly Library.

Most of us first encountered music books in the form of sheet music, school songbooks, or instrumental pieces, but the earliest music was produced in manuscript form, and manuscript music predates printed music by many centuries. Though music from the earliest era is usually unobtainable, there are still opportunities for collectors to acquire later medieval manuscript music as it appeared in psalters, missals, and other service books. Complete medieval manuscripts of any kind are generally too expensive for most collectors, but many manuscripts have been (and even continue to be) broken up, and the individual leaves can sometimes be found for a few hundred dollars, which may well be within a collector’s reach.

As is the case in any area of collecting, a collector’s own interests should be the primary factor in deciding how to form a collection, but the availability and price of potential acquisitions form the practical daily backdrop to any collecting pursuit. In the field of music, as in other fields, the market has been shaped by what has survived, how collectors and scholars of the past and present have viewed these objects, and how the availability of material today has been affected by what has gone into institutional libraries, and has thus been removed from the market.

Beethoven’s Symphonie no. 5, printed miniature score for full orchestra, with handwritten notes by conductor Fritz Busch. Courtesy of the Lilly Library.
The 1608 second edition of A plaine and easie introdvction to practicall mvsicke: set downe in forme of a dialogue diuided into three parts. The first teacheth to sing, with all things necessarie for the knowledge of pricktsong … Courtesy of the Lilly Library.

In this respect, antiquarian music is not very different from any other book-collecting field—if it’s famous, and you’re interested in first editions, it’s likely to be popular among collectors and expensive to acquire. This hasn’t, however, always been the case in music collecting. Book collectors are often looking back to a more glowing past, but you don’t have to look too far to find a golden past in music collecting. In 1934, John Carter edited New Paths in Book Collecting (London: Constable), an influential and interesting anthology of essays by various authors, on collecting fields that were not within the then-current collecting mainstream. The untrodden fields discussed in the book included, among others, such now heavily collected subjects as detective fiction, American first editions of the period 1900-1933, and English book illustrations from 1880-1900. The book also included an article by bibliographer, librarian, and collector, C. B. Oldman, on “Musical First Editions,” which was described as being the first effort of its kind in English. Oldman included a great deal of information on the first editions of some of the works of major composers, and he pointed potential collectors toward many of the standard reference works and bibliographies in the field. He was also careful to say that there was still a great deal to be done in the field of music bibliography, and this is still the case today. Oldman concluded his essay with some timely advice to collectors:

“At its present stage, musical bibliography may be one of the most tantalising, but it is also one of the most fascinating of hobbies. Enough is known to make a start possible, but not enough to take away the joy of discovery. And the collector need not fear that his hobby will make undue demands upon his purse. Musical first editions are still ridiculously cheap. Very few cost more than a few pounds and many can still be picked up for a few shillings. But the market is becoming more and more organised—it is no longer possible to find first editions of Handel in the sixpenny tub, which was where I discovered a few years ago the only first editions of Handel that I possess—and before long the speculative buyers will come rushing in and prices will begin to soar. For the collector of moderate means there is no time like the present. If he waits too long he will find that another ‘new path’ has already been closed to him.”

Page 1 | 2 | 3 | Next
comments powered by Disqus