Illustrated Song Sheets from the Music Library collections

In 2014, whilst staff at the Central Music Library were preparing for the move of the Library from no. 9 to no. 7 George IV Bridge, they uncovered a box of Victorian and Edwardian illustrated song sheets. This unexpected find had been carefully stored and tucked away on the Annexe shelves. Further investigation has found the collection to contain works by many of the major lithographic artists of the genre.

The Shop-Girl Valse, c1895

The Shop-Girl Valse, illustration by W. George c1895

The majority of the music scores date from the mid-Victorian era when both colour lithography and music sheets were at their peak in innovation and output.  The Victorian era had a burgeoning live entertainment industry, with packed music halls and populist performers such as George Leyborne and Arthur Lloyd. As the music hall scene became more accessible to the wider middle classes and with the emergence of the piano in the parlours of respectable Victorian homes the demand for music sheets increased.

Demand was coupled with advances in colour lithography which made it possible to create for the first time, elaborate and quite technically advanced illustrations.

Girofle Girofla, illustration by Alfred Concanen, 1874

Girofle Girofla, illustration by Alfred Concanen, 1874

The Music Library collection contains illustrations by such well-known lithographic artists as Alfred Conanen, John Brandard, HG Banks, HC Maguire and Thomas Packer amongst others, displaying a variety of styles and subjects. The song sheet illustrations also chart developments within colour lithography with the move towards the use of machines at the end of the nineteenth century, and the advent of the use of photography and typography within song sheet cover production.

Me-ow One Step, illustration by T. Ray, c1919

Me-ow One Step, illustration by T. Ray, c1919

The song sheet collection provides a visual history of Victorian and Edwardian life and a fascinating insight into the world of music hall entertainment.

Come and see a selection of the song sheets on display in the Mezzanine, Central Library (2- 29 September 2016) and or browse them online in a special Capital Collections exhibition.

If you’d like to find out more about the Illustrated Song Sheet Collection contact 0131 242 8050 or email central.music.library@edinburgh.gov.uk.

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