Musical Gems: Instrument Trade Catalogs at Hagley

Saturday, August 4, 2012

In the Spring of 2012, Hagley’s Imprints Department received a spate of inquiries from three different people, all looking for information about musical instruments.  As a reference librarian, I hadn’t had the opportunity to research that topic in the past.  I knew we had information on scientific instruments, but I didn’t think that we would have that much information on musical instruments in our collection.  Hagley’s collection of trade catalogs proved me wrong once again, as the range of topics runs deep and wide.  I was excited to see the materials that these three people had requested as I pulled them from the shelves.

The first request was from a person who bought a vintage guitar and wanted to see a trade catalog from the instrument maker from that era. He called our reference desk, and we were able to provide a scan for him of a catalog (below), circa 1898, that is now available in the Hagley Digital Archives.

<i>Gibson Guitars, Banjos, Mandolins, Ukuleles, Electric Instruments, Strings.</i> Kalamazoo, Michigan, [1936?]The next inquiry came from someone who was doing a research paper on mandolin orchestras at the turn of the century. Mandolin orchestras were very popular in the early twentieth century, as many cities, towns and schools had one. The researcher came into the library, and was amazed by our holdings. By requesting fifteen different trade catalogs, she was able to find enough material to write her paper.

One of the catalogs she used was from another Philadelphia company, H. H. Weyman, circa 1890. The catalog titled Retail Headquarters for Fine Musical Instruments is now available in the Hagley Digital Archives.

Catalog from Slingerland Banjo and Drum Company of Chicago, Illinois, circa 1940The third person requested a more contemporary catalog (right), circa 1940, from the Slingerland Banjo and Drum Company of Chicago, Illinois. The cover features a snazzy-looking picture of Gene Krupa, the “King of Swing.” Again, we were able to offer remote reference service via email.

These three requests for three different purposes in a short amount of time started to make me wonder how many musical instrument trade catalogs were actually in our library catalog. There are twenty-three items listed under the subject heading of Musical instruments—Catalogs, but there are others in the collection for individual instruments, such as thirty-three items under Piano—Catalogs. There are additional catalogs for brass instruments, stringed instruments, guitars, banjos, and even one accordion catalog! I’m sure that there are more hidden gems to be mined by future explorers of our unique resources in the Imprints Department.

Linda Gross is reference librarian in the Imprints Department at Hagley Museum and Library.