Scope and arrangement
The paragraphs below are excerpted from: Edwin Wolf 2nd, American sheets, slip ballads and poetical broadcasts 1850-1870 (Philadelphia: The Library Company, 1963), iii.
A fad in American life produced a shower of song sheets, slip ballads and poetical broadsides. Although such sheets had been printed by enterprising publishers for centuries, it was not until about 1850 that it became big small-business. Then, to meet a growing popular demand sheets, which had once been printed by the score, appeared by the thousands. They were run off in large editions, sold wholesale to dealers and sold retail by hawkers and in stationery shops and book stores. The peak of their popularity was reached during the Civil War the issues and events of which offered fertile seeds for the flowering of poetry, verse and doggerel. Gradually after the war, the rage for song sheets seems to have died down, although they did appear in plainer and cheaper form for years thereafter.
To some extent songs were expected to fill the emotional needs of people during times of tenseness: patriotic songs to march to, ballads of battle to boast of, sentimental songs to while away hours of around campfires or bring tears to Victorian eyes, comic songs to fetch a laugh, bitter satirical songs to relieve feelings, and old favorites just because people liked, and still like, to sing them. As a result thousands of different song sheets were printed. Unlike sheet music designed for the singer or instrumentalist who could read the notes, song sheets were for the thousands to whom the tunes were familiar-one old tune covered a multitude of songs-but the words new.
The broadsides are arranged alphabetically by author, and within each author listing by title. Those lacking authorship are filed at the beginning of the finding aid under "anonymous."