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    Product 22 of 45
    This product was added to our catalog on Friday 26 February, 2010.

    Fifty Cents a Day

    Price:  $0.75

    The Letter From internal evidence this ballad would seem to have been written in1861 or perhaps the first half of 1862—but, in the absence of a publisher’s imprint the location of its printing is unknown. The quality of the printing is surprisingly high suggesting that, rather than being a product of the cheap-print ballad industry, it may have been commissioned by the disgruntled poet from a job printer near camp. Wherever it was written its sentiments were well-nigh universal—here, in black and white, is the conversion from enthusiastic volunteer to griping soldier every recruit experienced. The difficulties with elected officers early volunteer companies experienced; the shock of military discipline; and the boredom of camp life are well delineated. This ballad (sung or shown) can teach the public a wonderful lesson on the less-than-heroic aspects of Civil War soldiering.

    The principal use of ballad sheets was, of course, to learn and/or sing songs from; then as now, not everyone had a good memory. Ballad sheets allowed purchasers to either learn a song in the privacy of their own chambers (or tent) and then spring it on the rest of the crowd at an after-dinner social gathering, the oyster rooms, or around the camp-fire; or to just sing the song with sheet in hand to help a defective memory (in the Irish tradition, when a singer gets stuck in the middle of a song, we say "there's a hole in the ballad"!).

    But these sheets also had an important secondary use: they were cheap decor. While especially true of illustrated ballads (like this one), even sheets with nothing but words were pasted or pinned up in public and private rooms as mirthful or improving decoration. Mr. M'Dermott has seen ballad sheets pasted inside trunk lids, books, instrument cases, portfolios and such; doubtless they were stuck up in winter quarters, and they might well have been pasted inside the odd knapsack. Other locations for this item, folded up, are in the corner of a knapsack, stuck into the sweatband of your cap or hat, or in the wallet. They have served as impromptu letter paper when nothing better was to hand, and can again. While these ballad sheets are quintessential ephemera—cheap when bought, and not likely to survive very long—Mr. M'Dermott has been lucky enough over the years to see two examples of what mid-19C purchasers did to keep their prized clutch of ballads handy: one sheaf was pinned with a straight pin along the long side; another had been sewn together with thread, like a side-sewn pamphlet: a  home-made "song book."


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