Welcome to SheetMusicCovers.org!
We set this website up to show off the lost cover art of the sheet music published in America, over the period 1800-1929. Here are albums of images of these covers, set up by year in a large gallery of pictures.
Before there were records, not to mention tapes, cassettes, or streams, music was distributed as encoded sheets of paper. Amazing to think about, eh. What you got was a printed puzzle, one that you had to understand and decode before anyone could hear the sounds it carried. Not to mention that someone near you had to know how to read the codes, and control their lungs and lips and fingers to sing a song or play an instrument.
Humans have been writing these music code sheets for at least a couple of thousand years. Over time they have developed a compact orthography, and a set of symbols, that required very little to be written in any local language. What they did not have was a way to tell you what kind of music it was encoded on that page, and by whom, and where and when it was created. OK, you could put that all in further codes on the page, but it were better if you put it on a quick cribsheet. Maybe put that cribsheet in front of the music pages. Maybe, just maybe, you could make the cribsheet so attractive, as well as so informative, that people would buy the music just to get this “cover.” And this was done.
Sheet music was printed in quantity; a popular song might sell a million copies or more. Over the years the majority of those copies have disappeared–worn out, framed on the wall, used for bedding, eaten by mice, or just plain stuck in forgotten stacks in barns. But that still leaves lots of copies, most of them hidden from view.
We thought it would be a good thing if we brought these lost pieces of art out onto the Internet, where people could see them and enjoy them. Here they are! Everything on this website is in the public domain in the United States, and mostly in other parts of the world as well. If it’s in the public domain, the public (that’s you) can copy them, use them as inspiration, or as pieces in a collage, or just print out your own versions for your wall.
Go take a look. There are thumbnails to take you to the gallery of images. The images are grouped together by years, and then by individual years (when we have enough in a year to make it worthwhile).
Just click here to go the start page,
or you can go directly to a specific period by clicking
here for 1800-1849
here for 1850-1889
here for 1890-1899
here for 1900-1904
here for 1905-1909
here for 1910-1914
here for 1915-1919
here for 1920-1924 (1924 coming in 2020)
here for 1925-1929 (starting 2021).
The individual years are in sub-albums for each of these albums. You can click on one of the thumbnails you see to go directly to that cover, or you can start at the beginning of the year and work your way through.
Within each year or group, the images are in alphabetical order by the first word of the title. (The articles A, An, and The, are ignored when alphabetizing, except in the few cases where there’s only one other word in the title; thus “The Alchemist” is sorted as if its title began with “The”.) In a few cases we show more than one copy of the cover print image, and that’s because there is some key difference between the two copies.
You can go from one image to the next by clicking an arrow at the edge of the screen, or the left or right third of the current image, or an arrow above the image itself, or sometimes all three. It all depends on what you’re using to look at the image with. If you’re using a touchscreen or a mobile phone, you can swipe the image to the left or right to see the next image or the previous one.
Here are some screen shots which show the main controls. [Coming.]
Some of the sheet music images have searchable metadata giving the names of the artists, composers, lyricists, performers who are credited with making a piece of music popular, publishers, and publisher locations. Eventually all the covers will have that information attached. (In the interim you can still search for individual names, as they are included in the filenames. The filenames are displayed near the images, with location depending on your viewing mode and the size of your screen and whether desktop or mobile.)
The images presented here come from a variety of sources. Many of them were scanned or photographed from original printed copies by the volunteers who put this website together. Others are or were offered for sale, on eBay or other sites. We’ve tried to give Source: credit for all of these, and in the case of sale offerings the Source data will always try to include a clickable link that will take you back to their sales site. (If you buy something from them, we get a small finder’s fee, all of which is donated to an educational charity.)
Our earliest covers date from the 1830’s, but we expect to continue to push the dates back in time as we go on. The most recent ones are currently from 1923, but as time goes on and later publication years enter the public domain in the U.S., we will add galleries for those years. See us in 2020 for covers from 1924!