Department of Special Collections
William Penn Keffer Collection of Sheet Music,
ca. 1790-1895

Content and design by John Bewley

Focus on Philadelphia

Philadelphia was founded by William Penn in 1682 as the chief town in his colony of Pennsylvania. The town grew rapidly into a city and by 1774 it was the second largest English-speaking city in the world, exceeded only by London in this capacity. It became a political center of the American colonies, serving as the seat of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1789 and as the federal capital during the years 1778 to 1788, and again from 1790 to 1800.

In the late eighteenth century Philadelphia was also the cultural capital of the United States. It held this distinction until around 1820 when New York surpassed it in this regard. The first public music concert in Philadelphia was presented on January 25, 1757 in the Assembly Room in Lodge Alley. The demand for concerts of secular, sacred, and theatrical music grew during the second half of the century and the refinement of musical taste in the city was fostered by talented, amateur musicians, such as Francis Hopkinson and Benjamin Franklin.

The level and quality of musical production in Philadelphia was provided a boost in the last decade of the eighteenth century by the arrival of professionally trained, immigrant musicians. Chief among these were Alexander Reinagle, Raynor Taylor, and Benjamin Carr. These three musicians set new standards for excellence in composition and performance in the young republic and were joined in their efforts by other immigrant musicians, including Henri Capron, John Christopher Moller, George Gillingham, and George Schetky.

The business of music publishing began in response to the need of composers to distribute their works. Composer Alexander Reinagle worked closely with fellow Scotch immigrant John Aitken, a metalsmith by trade, to publish the first engraved sheet music in Philadelphia in 1787. Between 1787 and 1793 Aitken remained the only publisher of sheet music in the United States. It was not long before Aitken faced competition from other immigrant musicians who entered the field of publishing. John Christopher Moller and Henri Capron collaborated in a publishing firm during 1793 and 1794. When Moller left for New York in 1794, George Willig took over the business and continued to operate his music publishing firm until 1856 when he sold the business to Lee & Walker. Benjamin Carr also entered the music publishing business in 1794. Another prominent figure in Philadelphia music publishing was George E. Blake who began publishing in 1803. For the first quarter of the nineteenth century Blake and Willig were the most prolific music publishers in Philadelphia and possibly the United States.

The practice of using illustrations on sheet music in the United States dates back to John Aitken's 1789 edition of Alexander Reinagle's The Federal March. Early uses of illustrations tended to be limited to small figures, sometimes incorporated into caption or ornamental titles. The use of larger, full-page illustrations remained limited until the process of lithography was adopted in the United States. (For three examples of early full-page illustrations in the collection, see the illustration of the Frigate Constellation shelling a Tripolitan fort on Benjamin Carr's 1804 or 1805 edition of The Siege of Tripoli, the illustration of Philadelphia's Centre Square Water Works used for George E. Blake's 1807 edition of Blake's Collection of Duetts for Two Flutes, Clarinets, or Violins, the 1809 publication of Peter Weldon's The Battle of Baylen, and George E. Blake's 1820 edition of A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs, No. 1). The first lithographically illustrated sheet music title page was done by the Boston firm of John and William Pendleton in 1826.

The use of lithographed illustrations on sheet music grew during the following decades and Philadelphia artists were noted for their achievements in this field. Lithography was invented around 1796 in Bavaria by Alois Senefelder. The first lithograph produced in the United States was the work of Philadelphia's Otis Bass in 1818, but it was not until 1828 that the first commercial lithography firm was established in Philadelphia by William B. Lucas. Within months of starting his firm Lucas was joined by David Kennedy and the firm of Kennedy and Lucas continued operation until 1833.

The second lithography firm established in the city was that of Pendleton, Kearney & Childs in 1829. Colonel Cephas G. Childs was responsible for hiring two of the most talented of Philadelphia's lithographic artists, Albert Newsam and Peter S. Duval. Newsam is noted for his production of portraits and Duval, brought to the United States by Childs in 1831, can be considered to be Philadelphiašs first professionally trained lithographer. Duval took over Childs' firm in 1834 and under his leadership the firm became the most prominent lithography firm in Philadelphia. His competitors included firms run by Thomas S. Sinclair, Max and Louis Rosenthal, and Thomas S. Wagner and James McGuigan.

During the 1840s lithographers in Philadelphia were in the forefront of efforts to perfect methods of producing color lithographs. There are numerous examples of their work in chromolithography in the collection. In addition to his work in color lithography, Duval was also among the first lithographers to experiment with photolithography beginning in 1857. The illustrations contained in the Keffer Collection of Sheet Music provide a substantial record of the history of lithography in Philadelphia.

Table of Contents
Collection History
Guide to Searching the Collection
Statistical Summary of the Collection
Topics Represented in the Collection
Related Resources
Special Topic: Philadelphia

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