“The Anti-Bloomer Polka”: Just one of 100,000

January 20, 2000
  • umichnews@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—”In the 19th century, as now, popular culture picked up on whatever issue was in the news, and in 1851 the issue of bloomers for women was a hot one,” says Peggy Daub, head of the University of Michigan’s Special Collections Library. “Our collection of sheet music includes two musical numbers in favor of bloomers and one against them.”

An illustrated sheet music cover from the 1850s, one of the pieces in the Thomas A. Edison Collection of American Sheet Music.

U-M’s Thomas A. Edison Collection of American Sheet Music, comprising 100,000 pieces that represent what was happening in U.S. society at the time, is currently being cataloged by Library staff in preparation for microfilming. The cataloging process is concentrating on sorting and indexing the earliest 15,000 pieces in the collection, devoted to music of the pre-Civil War period.

Although there are other libraries around the country that boast outstanding collections of American music, none are as strong as Michigan’s in 19th century holdings.

The U-M collection encompasses American sheet music from the late 1790s to about 1924, including sheet music for well-known songs like “Auld Lang Syne” and “Coming Through the Rye.” Originally assembled by Thomas Alva Edison around 1896 to support his gramophone company, the collection was packed and shipped in 1921 to Henry Ford for inclusion with the Edison Laboratory in Greenfield Village. Ford’s wife gave it to a niece, and for years the collection was stored in the Grand Trunk Railroad depot in Swartz Creek, Mich. In 1964, Bly Corning, a Flint area manufacturer and collector of sheet music, bought the collection which at the time weighed a total of 17 tons. In 1989, U-M’s School of Music purchased the bulk of the collection thanks to an anonymous donor. The collection filled a semi-tractor trailer to the height of 5 feet when it was delivered in Ann Arbor.

Consistently ranked among the top five academic music research libraries in the country, the U-M Library maintains an extensive collection of books, scores, periodicals, microfilm, manuscripts, and recordings. It is renowned especially for its holdings of American music, early editions of works by the sons of J.S. Bach and works by women composers, largely of the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as Japanese music.

Peggy Daub