| December 2004

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    Jolly Thresherman
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    The jolly Thresherman Music by ARTHUR SOLLIVAN

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In the years following the Civil War, sheet music was published in America in record volumes. Though sheet music was commonly published in the U.S. throughout the 1800s, improved printing technology in the post-war years allowed the industry to blossom.

In this 1880 piece, 'The Jolly Thresherman,' the music represents a commercial for the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company of Mansfield, Ohio. Commercial interests were frequently represented in sheet music of that era, but generally in the form of advertising printed on otherwise blank pages. Published in 1864, 'American Petroleum' was among the earliest pieces written to promote a specific company. The Emerson Drug Company's approach was more typical of promotional sheet music: The company promoted its product, Bromo-Seltzer, on sheet music cover pages, and even left space for participating merchants' advertisements.

Sheet music may have been the first real entertainment medium to enter the American household, speculates Rick Reublin in an essay on, noting that in the 1800s, neither radio nor television existed. The commercial opportunity was huge: Millions of pieces were printed, each piece was kept and reused multiple times, and various pieces were commonly displayed almost as home decor.

Today, vintage sheet music is a collectible category unto itself. Although classified as printed ephemera, many pieces dating to the 19th century often survive in surprisingly good condition: Those that were printed from engraved plates were printed on paper often made from rags rather than wood pulp, and paper used in that process tended to be thicker than ordinary. With the exception of rare pieces, collectible sheet music is typically available for under $5 per piece.

For more information: J

The sheet music at right was originally published as a black-and-white piece. Just for fun, we've colored it, and that version may be viewed on our website:


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