The subject of first editions in sheet music is practically virgin territory.
No authoritative research has come to our attention with the exception of Foster Hall's extensive check-up on the Stephen C. Foster editions, Joseph Muller's Bibliography of the STAR SPANGLED BANNER, up to 1864, and O. G. Sonneck's Report on the STAR SPANGLED BANNER, HAIL COLUMBIA, AMERICA and YANKEE DOODLE.
We were fortunately able to examine some of the copyright deposits in the Library of Congress, Washington, D. C., to establish first editions. Some particularly valuable information has come from private collectors who specialize in certain outstanding American songs, and various institutions have been very co-operative with all data in their possession.
The most important discovery made is the first edition of I WISH I WAS IN DIXIE'S LAND. See illustration. This confirms the fact that early music publishers issued their best editions first, and settles the priority of edition of copies printed from hand engraved music plates, rather than from Music Type. As the engraved plates sometimes wore out, the publishers re-set their big selling "hits" in Music Type, and printed from stereotype, with the exception of the Foster songs, which were re-engraved again and again, thus accounting for variations in the music. Commencing with the 1860's, many publishers issued all copies from Music Type, so if a song is unknown in engraved music plate form, the answer is obvious. To-day Music Type is rarely used for any purpose whatsoever.
The "figure 2½ in 5 pointed star" is important. The 2½ stands for 250 in the music publishing trade, and the dealer's discount was figured from this. The 2½, or whatever the figure may be, sometimes identifies a first edition, as prices were occasionally raised to 3 and even 3½, meaning 300 and 350. (A first edition was not necessarily priced at 2½.) The number of points in the star or ornament is given for descriptive purposes only.
We have listed the earliest edition known to us of every item in this book, unless otherwise noted.