Historic Sheet Music Collection at Central Library

Sheet music, as a type of music, refers to single songs, published for singing and playing on the piano, as was the custom for many years in living rooms all across the country. At Central Library, we have a collection of these, donations from Portlanders in years past. Arranged in boxes by year of publication, all are listed in the Library Online Catalog, by song title, and also by the title of the box with the publication year. The songs from 1800-1850 all fit in one container, but as the years progress, there is a box for each year, up to the early 70's with songs by the Carpenters and other singers of that time.

Here are two samples from vastly different eras: "A Life on the Ocean Wave," published in 1840 by the District Court of New York, and "Tuck Me to Sleep in My Old Tucky Home," published by the Irvin Berlin Music Company in New York in 1921.

Sheet Music of "A Life on the Ocean Wave" published in 1940Sheet music of the song "Tuck Me to Sleep in My Old Tucky Home" published in 1921How are these song sheets used at the present time? We get questions about songs popular in a particular decade for school reports, musicians who need particular old songs, and for people looking for popular songs that are in the public domain. The artwork on the cover of historic sheet music is also of interest, for the illustrations and typefaces characteristic of the era of publication.

The Historic Sheet Music is a reference collection at Central Library available through the reference staff at the Humanities South Reference Desk (art and Music) on the 3rd Floor. But if you would prefer to have music that you can check out and take home, we can look up whatever song you are looking for by title in the Online Catalog. For American songs by decade, there are collections of music scores for popular music by decade, singer, and type of music. If you have any questions about the Historic Sheet Music Collection, please give a call to Information Services at Central Library: 503.988.5234.

How do you search for song titles in the Library Catalog? Use "quotes" around the song title; if there are too many titles in the search results, use MODIFY SEARCH to select MUSIC SCORES or CD.