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    This product was added to our catalog on Saturday 07 August, 2010.

    Just Before the Battle, Mother Songsheet

    Price:  $0.99

    Just Before the Battle Motherere is one of the most popular sentimental ballads of the War—then and now—in the format from which most folks learned or sang it when it was new. It can be compared with the more upscale product, intended not for the tailcoat pocket or sweatband, but rather the music rack of a parlor piano or harmonium, here

    This ballad sheet was offered by Horace Partridge, who seems to have had Boston’s ballad printing business largely to himself. The quality of his work is very good. On the back cover of a pass book in my collection Partridge describes his business as follows: “Importer and Jobber of German, French, & English FANCY GOODS and TOYS, Fire Works, Clocks, Watches, Jewelry, Plated Ware, Accordeons, Violins, Baskets, Stationery, PUBLISHER OF CHEAP SONGS, &c. &c.” After the Civil War his firm seems to have trended heavily towards sporting goods, a field in which it remained well into the 20th century. 

    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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