Thursday, August 11th, 2016...6:12 pm

Quite a card: Raymond S. Wilkins’ sheet music artist card files

Jump to Comments

Isn’t it always the way, that once one begins opening boxes, all kinds of surprising things appear. This was certainly the case with our recent Hidden Collections grant, to survey all of our historical sheet music collections. Our sheet music had for years been shelved in an end-of-Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark-warehouse-y kind of situation, awaiting the time and the money to do it justice. Once we began to sort and accession the collections, this being Houghton, of course we have discovered all manner of wonders.

One of my favorite discoveries was the gifts of Raymond Sanger Wilkins, Harvard class of 1912. Wilkins went on to graduate from Harvard law school, and serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1944-1970, the last fourteen years as Chief Justice. Hearing this one might imagine that he led a rather austere life, but Wilkins loved music: played several instruments, conducted and composed, and served as trustee of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New England Conservatory of Music (among others). Throughout the 1960s, he donated his personal collections of music to Houghton, which included a large collection of operetta and musical vocal scores, and … over 30,000 scores of sheet music. He kept his own card files (though by no means complete), with lyricist and arranger cards, and most importantly for our purposes, artist, and engraver/lithographer files.

Sheet Music 576 Cover

Sheet Music 576 cover, illustrated by John Brandard; from the Wilkins sheet music gift

While the art of sheet music has been simmering slowly toward a boil of scholarly interest, finding details about its artists and manufacture continues challenging. Houghton is a library with a deep interest in printing and graphic arts, so any time we find files like this, we sit up and take notice. But how to make the information accessible to a wider public? I’ve experimented with one method here: made pdfs of the “artist” file cards, and run them through a character recognition process. Some of the cards are hand-written, and therefore cannot be searched without opening the pdf and browsing, but most are typed and can be searched. It is my hope that these card files will help those researching specific artists to find associated sheet music titles, until that time when we have cataloged all of the music individually.

"Artist" cards for John Brandard

Wilkins “Artist” cards (MS Thr 1501) for John Brandard: note the Norma march on card 2

So let’s see how this works. Artists’ last names from A-I can be found here, and those from J-Z can be found here. Once you have located a title, if you cannot find a score online, you can now look into some of our newly accessioned sheet music collections (listed in the blog linked above), or search HOLLIS for bound volumes including your title, or separately cataloged scores. Thank you, Justice Wilkins!

[Thanks to Andrea Cawelti, Ward Music Cataloger, for contributing this post.]

Comments are closed.