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American Song Sheets, Slip Ballads and Poetical Broadsides Collection, 1850-1870

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Contains 5,462 lyric sheets, also known as slip ballads, published in the nineteenth century and offered for sale by stationers, street-corner vendors, and by catalog through the mail. The collection is fully described in Edwin Wolf’s bibliography, American Song Sheets, Slip Ballads, and Political Broadsides (Philadelphia: Library Company of Philadelphia, 1963). The bibliography contains descriptive entries for each song sheet, gives a brief history of the genre, and illustrates 21 graphic borders and 304 specific headpiece illustrations that were used repeatedly by the publishers. All of the entries in the Wolf bibliography; descriptive records for song sheets added to the Library Company's collection after the publication of the bibliography; digital images of approximately 1,000 song sheets; and all of the border and headpiece illustrations are available as part of this digital collection.

Records for each song consist of the title, text of the first line, the number of lines or verses, and the tune or air to which the song was meant to be sung. Also included is information about the author, singer, composer, publisher, and venue, any graphic components, and the sheet size. Variants of the same song--noted as such because of their different borders, headpieces, and publication information--are subdivided by letters and listed under the song’s main entry, as publishers sometimes printed and reprinted particular songs, changing only the graphic designs or color of the paper. Wolf's designations for border and headpiece designs also appear in the bibliographic entries.

The songs were issued on a variety of white and tinted papers, and were often illustrated by images including portraits of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington; Civil War generals, battle scenes and maps; state seals and flags; cannons and eagles; and views of cities. Generally featured as headpieces, the illustrations are wood cuts, wood and metal engravings, and lithographs, which were printed in black and white and with colors.

In assembling the collection, Wolf added to a core group received from John A. McAllister (1822-1896) by acquiring song sheets (mostly by exchange of duplicates) from the New-York Historical Society, the Houghton Library of Harvard University, Providence Public Library, the John Work Garrett Library at Johns Hopkins University, and the collectors Lester A. Levy of Baltimore and Seymour Moss of Philadelphia. One hundred and twenty-two new titles and 124 varients were added to the song sheet collection after Wolf’s book appeared; these titles were added to the existing system by inserting them within the alphabetical order and assigning each a unique sub-number.

Forty-seven newspaper carriers' addresses in this collection are described in greater detail in the Library Company's on-line catalog WolfPAC.

Creators: McAllister, John A. (John Allister), 1822-1896, collector
Wolf, Edwin, 1911-1991, compiler
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Date: 1850-1870