Richard J. Howe Mechanical Musical Instrument Literature Collection

October 19, 2015
Jerry L McBride

The Stanford University Archive of Recorded Sound has acquired the Richard J. Howe Mechanical Musical Instrument Literature Collection consisting of over 225 linear feet of publications and documents comprising more than 14,000 items. With this significant acquisition, Stanford Libraries will make available important primary source documents for research to support the newly launched Player Piano Project. The collection will be housed at the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound, a leading music archive with over 400,000 items in its permanent collection. 

The collection contains a significant number of rare brochures and trade catalogs dating from 1854-1992 published by the companies which manufactured piano players and player pianos, organs, music boxes, nickelodeons, phonographs, and other mechanical music machines. Of particular importance is a definitive collection of the literature pertaining to the three major types of reproducing piano systems: Ampico, Duo-Art, and Welte-Mignon, containing more than 90 percent of the items published on these three systems in the United States, plus a substantial amount of literature on reproducing pianos from England and Germany. Nearly every major company in the mechanical music business is represented including piano players and player pianos by the Baldwin Piano Co., Chickering & Sons, Steinway, Wilcox & White Co.; organs by Estey, Mason and Hamlin, Story and Clark, Wurlitzer; phonographs and jukeboxes by Wurlitzer and RCA Victor; music boxes by Jacot & Sons, Lyon & Healy, Mermod Freres; nickelodeons by the Berry-Wood Piano Player Co., the Marquette Piano Co., Nelson-Wiggen Piano Co.; and orchestrions by E. Boecker Organ & Orchestrion Co., Ludwig Hupfeld, Limonaire Freres; and many others.

The literature is very wide ranging in its format including trade magazines, technical manuals, promotional brochures, broadsides, letters, commercial documents, price lists, novelty items, Victorian-era trade cards and post cards, postal covers, and original advertisements. All of these publications and documents depict a vibrant music industry that flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries and provides insight into musical performance, musical life and society that still influences our culture today.

Through a generous gesture of inter-institutional cooperation the collection was transferred from the University of Maryland, College Park, where it has been preserved since 1996 to support the Player Piano Project. A finding aid will be prepared for the collection to facilitate research and announcements will be made to let people know when the collection will be available for use. For information on related collections at Stanford Libraries visit the Player Piano Project web page.