Selling Second-hand Sheet Music For Charity


I have been responsible for selling sheet music for charities – a charity shop and a local concert club.

All sorts of things were donated, some in almost new condition, some in awful condition with all pages covered in pencil and pen marks and were really tatty.

Donations often included lots of tutor books and other books for beginners, scale books and exam pieces (often several decades old). Unfortunately the ones in really terrible condition had to go straight to recycling, although I did mend and put out for sale what I could. Sometimes music theory books were donated with all the answers filled in! Also donated were very old piano pieces with old English fingering (+ for the thumb, and fingers numbered 1 to 4, 1 being the index finger and 4 the little finger).

While volunteering for the charity shop, a very large, generous donation of music items came in which I kept back to sell during Three Choirs Festival week when the shop always attracted vastly more customers than usual. I was sorting out and pricing these music items when I noticed a signature – in green – in an ordinary-looking score of Vaughan Williams’ Job. Usually, any signatures are of former owners, sometimes as far back as the 19th century, or sometimes stamped signatures in purple. In this case, I did a double take – “That looks as though it says R. Vaughan Williams!” I then looked again – the signature was that of the composer, scrawled but legible. Wow!

Just as I was thinking  “How do I know this is genuinely V W’s signature?” there was a ring at the shop back door bell and there was a gentleman donating music books and scores. By pure coincidence, it was the same man who’d donated the score! He told me that he had worked for the Three Choirs Festival some years back and had got the score signed when VW visited the Festival.
Now I’d got a provenance (hooray!), I had to price the score, which without the signature was worth very little. Having done an online search and found one or two other Vaughan Williams scores for sale, I decided on a price, allowing for a bit of leeway for haggling.
Towards the end of the Three Choirs week, I went into the shop and found that the score had sold and that another customer had been disappointed that it had been bought.

When I was volunteering, a lot of the sheet music I dealt with had what looked like a signature (customers occasionally pointed it out to me) but was actually just a stamp of the signature, in purple ink.

Sometimes customers would grumble at what I’d thought were reasonable prices – we were trying to make as much money for the charity as possible and so had to strike a balance between pricing something really cheaply so that it would sell and setting a price that was fair to the donor and was relative to the new price of the item, bearing in mind the condition / edition.

Often, people came into the shop looking for something and we didn’t have it but sometimes people were delighted by what they found in the shop – one lady came in looking for a fairly rare and long out of print piece of piano music which she’d lent to someone and never had back. It wasn’t on the shelf so  I went into the backroom to find a pen and paper to note down her details in case the music came in, looked through a pile of music which had been out for sale too long and was on its way to another branch and, lo and behold, there was the music the lady was looking for! She was absolutely delighted!

(On another occasion a lady came in, on a day trip from Wales, looking for a particular Welsh bible – and found it and bought it! She too was very happy – she’d been looking for it for ages, she told us.)

Looking after the stall for the concert club was similar – people donated music books, scores and sheet music and it was sold by donation with all the money from selling them going to the club.

One evening, a large volume of old songs was donated but it was in very poor condition and I and a fellow committee member were debating whether to just put it for recycling. In the end, we decided we’d put it out for sale on the basis that 50p was better than nothing. Later the same evening, a customer asked if we’d got any sheet music suitable for making a decoupage table. I showed her the book of songs and she bought it – for £2! Just the thing!

Quite often, the musicians who came to give the evening concerts enjoyed rummaging through the stall, some of them bought quite a lot and then came back later for more!

We occasionally had a stall in town when there was a festival on. We set up stall with the sheet music and spent the day encouraging passers-by to buy. Some of them did and were pleased to find music which they wanted, either for themselves or for children / grandchildren etc, telling us a bit about themselves at the same time.

I enjoyed sorting out the donations, especially if there was anything unusual or special (eg. a large expensive hardback score of Bach’s Mass In B Minor). I was always very pleased to find donated items which were of as-new (or nearly) condition as these could just be priced and put straight out for sale.

Some second-hand bookshops and some charity shops stock sheet music. Here are some charity shops  in Worcestershire which usually sell second-hand sheet music:

St Richard’s Hospice Snowdrops Bookshop
13-14 St Swithin’s Street (upstairs), usually a good selection of sheet music and some in excellent condition too (also second-hand books on a range of subjects including music).

Great Malvern
Books For Amnesty 3 Edith Walk, Great Malvern has several drawers of sheet music, also a very good selection of second-hand books on a range of subjects

Oxfam Bookshop 18-22 Church Street has sheet music, books on music and other subjects