Thomas A. Edison's gramophone company acquired this collection over the years for the purposes of producing recorded music with Edison personally evaluating much of it. After Edison's death, the collection was purchased by Henry Ford whose heirs transferred it to the University of Michigan.
From this collection, Primary Source Microfilm is publishing the Pre-Civil War scores. Included in the collection is everything from rare first editions of Stephen Foster to railroad ballads. Nearly every aspect of American life and history is represented in its songs: race, gender, politics, famous historical figures, immigration and ethnicity, regions of the United States, wars and depressions, advertising, industry and sports.
With roughly 15,000 antebellum items, The Edison Collection is one of the largest single collection of antebellum sheet music in the United States.
The titles and lyrics are of natural interest to musicologists, but interest also extends into the scholarship of American history and American studies. The era before mass media sheet music played on the piano was a main form of entertainment for the middle and working classes. Sheet music compositions can help locate and chronicle changing patterns of manners, mores and customs. The Edison Collection provides historians and American studies scholars with the opportunity to examine and evaluate what was a centerpiece of American life--the lyrics and scores of the music that was the principal form of family entertainment.
The Edison Collection is accompanied by a detailed guide prepared by the University of Michigan.