Treasure Trove of American Sheet Music: The Josephine L. Hughes Collection
by Amy W. Boykin
The Captain John Smith Library at Christopher Newport University is now the home of a unique collection of sheet music called the Josephine L. Hughes (JLH) Collection. This collection is made up of over 5,000 pieces of sheet music and over 60 books, and was brought to CNU in 1986 by two professors in the Music Department. One of them, Dr. James Hines, had been researching music and musical activity in the Norfolk area and discovered that a large private collection of sheet music might hold some pieces relevant to a composer of interest, Mr. Charles H. Gilfert Jr. That private collection, the JLH Collection, was thought to be in Charleston, South Carolina, and Dr. Hines determined to have a look. He discovered that although Mrs. Hughes was by then deceased, her two children had put her things away in boxes, and that the collection was not intact—Mrs. Hughes had evidently given some of her collection away prior to her death. The collection was still astounding for its size and depth, and Dr. Hines wondered about the possibility of making it available to scholars by housing it at CNU. Mrs. Hughes's daughter and son agreed, and the collection was rounded up and brought back by car to the university. Later, in 1999, the Music Department asked Smith Library to house the collection and fulfill the dream of making it available for research purposes.
"Dr. Tichnor's Antiseptic March" was published in 1895.
The front cover illustrates the many alleged benefits of the antiseptic.
Mentioned in two prominent bibliographies—A Bibliography of Early Secular American Music, 18th Century1 and Secular Music in America, 1801-1825: A Bibliography2 - the JLH Collection is now carefully arranged in acid-free envelopes and boxes, and kept in alphabetical order by title. The collection is in the process of being inventoried, both to see what it contains and to complete what is known about each piece (composer, date, publisher, and special condition or artwork). Because of the collection's size, this process is slow.
About thirty percent of the collection has been evaluated, and what we know about this portion is amazing. The dates range from 1797 to the 1940s. Sixty percent or over 1,200 pieces are dated before the Civil War. Another twenty-five percent of the collection is pre-World War I. All kinds of music are represented, from the most highbrow and classical works to the popular pieces of the day. Some of the popular pieces are clipped from newspapers and special advertising works, such as "Dr. Tichenor's Antiseptic March." The types of sheet music include vocal arrangements, pieces for the piano or pianoforte, and scores for banjo, guitar, trumpet, or flute.
Left: The back cover of "Champagne Charlie" is quite unusual for a song about a gambler who loves to drink champagne.
Right: "The Old Arm Chair," composed by Henry Russell, considers how wonderful and loving Mother was through reminiscences over her favorite chair.
This collection may be valuable for various kinds of research. Scholars looking for certain composers and their works, or certain types of music, as Dr. Hines was, will find much to use in this collection. Researchers can find a lot of primary material in this collection and study a particular historical period or the marketing and advertisements from a certain era. To illustrate the unusual juxtaposition of music with its sponsors, consider the work called "Champagne Charlie." This piece has a full-page ad on the back cover for baby carriages and perambulators. Other pieces are enhanced with beautiful artwork and/or bright colors. The "Alice Waltz" piece has a cover illustration of Princess Alice in delicate neutrals and pinks, and the flowers in the border are carefully colored. There are several pieces printed entirely in green ink—the music, the illustration, and the ads, if any—including some celebrating the Christmas holiday season.
Many pieces in the collection have unusual stories to tell or were created for special purposes. One such is "The Old Arm Chair" by Eliza Cook, with "music composed and sung by Henry Russell," according to the front page of this score. The picture on the front shows a lady leaning on a chair with faint illustrations of the homeplace and the old water mill on either side. The lyrics describe a wonderful mother who has passed away but left precious memories behind. The old armchair remains as a cherished reminder.
Another title, "Father of the Land We Love," was "written for the American People" by George M. Cohan on the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of George Washington, which would have been in 1932. The cover shows a regally dressed George Washington on his white horse with a map of the United States in the background.
Some pieces in the collection are great fun for their lyrics. "The Horticultural Rag" is a handwritten piece with two verses and a chorus. There are many plays on words within the lyrics, like "the beans are stringing" and "corn on every foot of the garden." Rags are usually rhythmic pieces with distinct syncopation from the late 1800s and early 1900s, and this one appears to fit the pattern.
Left: Called the "Horticultural Rag" or "Agricultural Rag," this handwritten piece describes a very musical vegetable and flower garden.
Right: "Alice Waltz," published in 1851 with multiple pages, is beautifully illustrated with soft pastels depicting Princess Alice of Great Britain.
Advertising was not unusual when it came to publishing music and scores. "Willie We Have Missed You" is written and composed by Stephen C. Foster and may have been published in 1854 (the date that is handwritten on the front cover). The illustration shows the reunion of a husband and wife, with toys strewn on the floor, a top hat and satchel dropped at the couple's feet, and a fire in the fireplace. The unusual aspect of this score is the last page, which has just the first few lines of a Scotch Dance entitled "Benlomond" by J. J. Watson. This may have been an advertisement to encourage the purchase of the entire dance.
"Father of the Land We Love" was composed in 1932
in honor of George Washington's 200th birthday.
Finally, some pieces have additional material that explains or supplements the original score. "Woodman! Spare That Tree" is a ballad by George P. Morris, Esq., with music by Henry Russell. The ornate cover to this piece declares that it is the twelfth edition, and a notation on the first page states that it was entered in the Clerk's office [records] in 1837. This version has been printed with a "touching letter" that describes how Mr. Morris came to find the old oak tree about to be chopped down, how his companion paid the owner ten dollars to leave it untouched, and how the tree stood as long as the owner's daughter lived.
It is easy to dream big dreams for such a varied and extensive collection of materials. The best possible thing for the collection would be to have a full-time staff person to manage the collection, catalog it properly, provide access bibliographies, and promote it widely. Another dream for the collection would be to have it digitized and/or scanned. A searchable online database could be created so that researchers and scholars would have remote access to the collection, and the collection would be spared from unnecessary handling. Some of the musical scores are literally falling apart because of their age and acid content.
Left: "Willie, We Have Missed You" is a Stephen Foster piece that welcomes a father and husband home after a long absence.
Right: "Woodman, Spare That Tree" tells the story of an old oak tree that was saved from the ax.
There is so much more to learn about the JLH collection and about Josephine L. Hughes herself. In addition to contacting her family, there are other things that might shed light on her life. An article published in the 1961 volume of the Bulletin of the New York Public Library was written by Mrs. Hughes and Richard J. Wolfe. The fourteen-page article is called "The Tunes of 'The Bucket'" and traces the tunes associated with this particular poem written by Samuel Woodworth in the early 1880s. Such scholarship and interest in musical topics may have been based on Mrs. Hughes' personal collection.
The JLH Collection is currently located in the Smith Library at Christopher Newport University. Because extensive renovation to the library is planned for the next eighteen months, please contact the author for information or an appointment before visiting. A sample of the collection is online at http://www.cnu.edu/library/hughes.html, with more information and illustrations to be added soon.
Note: The url provided above returned invalid results. Relevant information may be found at http://cnu.libguides.com/archives. - updated 2012-10-11.
1 Oscar George Theodore Sonneck, A Bibliography of Early Secular American Music, 18th Century, Rev. and enl. ed., ed. William Treat Upton (New York: Da Capo Press, 1964).
2 Richard J. Wolfe, Secular Music in America, 1801-1825: A Bibliography (New York: New York Public Library, 1964).
Amy W. Boykin is Assistant Reference Librarian at the Captain John Smith Library of Christopher Newport University. She may be reached at email@example.com.