Public domain sheet music collection, 1895-1923 (bulk, 1903-1923)

Processed by Sonoma County Library staff; machine-readable finding aid created by Geoffrey Skinner.
Published by the Sonoma County Library
Published Dec. 20, 2019
Sonoma County Library
6135 State Farm Drive
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Phone: 707 545-0831

Public domain sheet music collection, 1895-1923 (bulk, 1903-1923)

Sonoma County Library

Overview of the Collection

Title: Public domain sheet music collection
Date (inclusive): 1895-1923
Date (bulk): (bulk, 1903-1923)
Identification: SPC.00020
Compiler: Skinner, Geoffrey, 1963-
Physical Description: 1 linear foot 1 file storage boxes
Language of Material: Materials are in English.
Repository: Sonoma County Library Archives
c/o Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library, Sonoma County Library
725 Third Street
Santa Rosa, CA,
Abstract: Collection contains 350 examples of popular sheet music published prior to 1924. All but a few items are piano-vocal scores, a small number are piano only.

Popular Sheet music in the Late 19th and early 20th Century

In the 19th century, the music industry was dominated by sheet music publishers. In the United States, the sheet music industry rose in tandem with blackface minstrelsy. The group of New York City-based music publishers, songwriters and composers dominating the industry was known as "Tin Pan Alley". In the mid-19th century, copyright control of melodies was not as strict, and publishers would often print their own versions of the songs popular at the time. With stronger copyright protection laws late in the century, songwriters, composers, lyricists, and publishers started working together for their mutual financial benefit. New York City publishers concentrated on vocal music. The biggest music houses established themselves in New York City, but small local publishers – often connected with commercial printers or music stores – continued to flourish throughout the country. An extraordinary number of East European immigrants became the music publishers and songwriters on Tin Pan Alley-- the most famous being Irving Berlin. Songwriters who became established producers of successful songs were hired to be on the staff of the music houses.
The late-19th century saw a massive explosion of parlor music, with ownership of, and skill at playing the piano becoming de rigueur for the middle-class family. In the late-19th century, if a middle-class family wanted to hear a popular new song or piece, they would buy the sheet music and then perform the song or piece in an amateur fashion in their home. But in the early 20th century the phonograph and recorded music grew greatly in importance. This, joined by the growth in popularity of radio broadcasting from the 1920s on, lessened the importance of the sheet music publishers. The record industry eventually replaced the sheet music publishers as the music industry's largest force. (Source: Wikipedia, accessed June 4, 2019: Sheet music-- 19th century)

Scope and Contents

Examples of popular sheet music published prior to 1924. Items are arranged by accession number.

Access Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection.

Topical Terms

Popular music--United States--19th century
Popular music--United States--20th century
Sheet music--United States--19th century--Specimans
Sheet music--United States--20th century--Specimans

Genre and Format Terms

Sheet music
Archival materials

Important Information for Users of the Collection

Conditions Governing Access:

Access Information

This collection is partially processed. Please contact the Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library for access; for contact info and current hours, see

Conditions of Use

Collection does not circulate and may be photocopied or photographed by arrangement only.

Publication Rights

Property rights reside with the Sonoma County Library. The Sonoma County Library has made this collection available and believes that the collection is in the Public Domain under the laws of the United States, but a determination was not made as to its copyright status under the copyright laws of other countries. The Collection may not be in the Public Domain under the laws of other countries. Preferred credit line is: Courtesy, the Sonoma County Library. Please see additional reproduction and reuse information at
[Identification of item], Public domain sheet music collection, 1895-1923. SPC.00020, Sonoma County Library Archives, Sonoma County Library, Santa Rosa, CA.
Items selected from the Central Santa Rosa Library's former Sheet Music vertical file and Song File collections; and from donations made to the Friends of the Santa Rosa Libraries, 2011-2018