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COLLECTION Identifier: TCS 90

Harvard Theatre Collection of sheet music by topic


Includes printed sheet music, many with illustrated covers, organized by topic.


  • 1800-1950

Language of Materials

Collection in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material. Collection is open for research.


8 linear feet (25 boxes)

Consists of popular sheet music, many with illustrated covers, on a variety of topics, including popular political and entertainment figures, historical and contemporary events, new inventions, everyday objects, and international interests. Some of the sheet music in this collection are related to minstrel shows, which were popular entertainments caricaturing Black people as racist stereotypes, commonly featuring white actors in blackface; as well as racist stock characters such as Jim Crow. Other materials may include stereotypical content and exoticism about other cultures, such as the Middle East. There may also be materials concerning entertainers with disabilities (for example, people with dwarfism) or those who appeared to have disabilities, who performed in circuses, carnivals, and other popular forms of entertainment. Terms used to describe related materials include some terminology from the the time of creation, based on language on the sheet music, including "dunce" and "fool."

Biographical / Historical

The Harvard Theatre Collection was founded in 1901 through the efforts of Professor George Pierce Baker, and collects documentary materials pertaining to the history of the performing arts, including theatre, dance and ballet, and opera and musical theatre, among other areas. The popular entertainment materials have been collected through donations and purchases throughout the history of the Harvard Theatre Collection.

This collection was compiled by Harvard Theatre Collection staff and arranged according to topic. Popular sheet music in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century included songs from music halls and other entertainments, as well as parlour music, and frequently had illustrated covers.


This collection was arranged alphabetically by topic by Harvard Theatre Collection staff at an unknown date. The order has been retained but some of our topical terms have been changed in order to better meet modern standards. Therefore some items may appear out of alphabetical order.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Unknown source, unknown date.

Processing Information

Processed by Annalisa Moretti, based on earlier available description, 2020.

Processing note

In creating this finding aid, some of Harvard Theatre Collection’s description has been updated to reflect more modern usage, particularly in the case of racist and ableist language. Due to the remote redescription process in 2020, some terms that are potentially racist or ableist remain in the description; these will be updated when the exact contents of the material can be assessed in person. New terms were arrived at by research using resources such as the Disability Language Style Guide ( No actual titles of materials have been edited or censored.

Harvard Theatre Collection. Harvard Theatre Collection of Sheet Music by Topic, 1800-1950 (TCS 90): Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard University.
August 2020
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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