Collecting Second-hand Sheet Music


I have long enjoyed collecting second-hand sheet music (and books). I love going into a second-hand bookshop or charity shop where I know there will be some and rummaging through the piles in the hope of finding something I’m specifically looking for or anything unusual or interesting or anything that might be useful for myself or to use with my pupils.

I don’t mind if it’s old as long as it’s complete and not brittle with age. Sometimes, depending on the price, I find it’s worth buying an old, tatty copy at least as a temporary copy until I can find a better one to replace it with. An example of this is an old copy of ABRSM’s Bach Well-Tempered Clavier Vol. 1 which I’d had for ages. It was in such bad condition that there was no spine or front or back covers and I’d had to stick it back together with sticky tape but I’d kept it not to play from but to consult the fingerings (I have another edition to play from which doesn’t have fingerings so there’s room to write in my own). I was recently browsing in the Global Educational Trust shop in Droitwich (books donated then given away free but with the request of a donation to the charity) where I found a box of sheet music. Most of the items were children’s Christmas musicals with a few recorder books, a couple of trumpet books and an old editon of Clementi’s piano Sonatinas but there was also a very clean, almost new condition version of my WTC. Hooray! I made a donation for it (together with a similar condition volume of Mozart Sonatas) and then recycled my old tatty copy. (It was so dog-eared that it would have been sent for recycling had I donated it to a charity shop.)

Sometimes I have been lucky and found things which are long out of print and are not available, or are only available online if you’re lucky and willing to pay quite a bit plus p+p. An example of this is a lovely green hardback facsimile edition (ie. a copy of the composer’s handwriting) of Bach’s Two-part Inventions And Sinfonias which I found in a large second-hand bookshop in York. Bach’s handwriting is beautiful and in brown ink (incidentally with the upper stave written in soprano clef, rather than treble clef which is normally used for piano music today). I have found duets which I’ve then played with a friend at her summer garden parties eg. an old Festival Edition of Thomas A. Johnson’s Rumba which is quite fun (and old-fashioned) but eminently suitable for an informal afternoon of tea, music and strawberries! [Also see my second blog, on the song c.1790 ‘What Wakes This New Pain…’ – I found this one in a second-hand book shop in Charing Cross Road (it may well have been no. 84!)].

The organisation of second-hand sheet music in shops varies – sometimes there is a member of staff who has enough musical knowledge to sort the scores logically making it easy for the customer to find what they want. However, this is not always possible and it’s necessary to just sort through and see what there is. Even where there is a specialist, it all can easily get mixed up again by customers. Where there isn’t a specialist it’s common to find eg. a flute sonata where the flute and piano parts are shelved and priced separately when they should be sold as one single item. Parts may be missing. Even pages can be missing – I remember going in to a second-hand bookshop where there was quite a lot of sheet music only to find that it was in very poor condition, overpriced and in some cases not even complete.

I also remember looking into a box of sheet music in another second-hand bookshop and saw that it was all foxed [marked with brown spots from age], torn, very old and covered in pencil markings. I assumed it was for recycling so sat on the box to look at something else only to be told off by the owner who was going to put it all out for sale!
I keep a list on my phone of the sheet music I’ve already got, originally typed on a desktop computer then transferred to the phone and updated when I buy something. Especially with a series of books, it can be difficult to remember what I’ve already got. Without this list, I run the risk of either buying something and finding I’ve already got it or not buying something then getting home thinking “Bother! I should have bought that!” and having to go back and get it (or do without).

I also have experience of selling second-hand sheet music and music books on behalf of charities which will be the subject of another blog.