Conserving the Perry Music Company Collection, Part Two

The owner has graciously turned over much of the Perry part of what exists currently consisting of seven deteriorating cardboard boxes. Sedalia’s superb local historian, Rebecca Imhauser, is perusing some of the Sedaliana portion. There is much more to come.

This month I’ll offer some observations and describe some of what I have accomplished so far. My activity has centered on trying to halt deterioration and carefully sort the documents into categories. About half of these first boxes consisted of sheet music, and of that, half was published by Perry (with a lot of duplicate copies) and half primarily classical music by other publishers.

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Some of the latter consists of multiple copies that may have been for sale in the Perry shop. In all, there were 93 new sheet titles plus the 40 different titles already in the Sedalia Ragtime Archive. Some sheet music discoveries include “Carondelet Waltz” by Austin Waite Perry, published by Lee and Walker (Philadelphia) and A.W. Perry (St. Joseph). There isn’t a copyright date, but it is likely pre-1872 before the Perry’s migrated to Sedalia. Daughter Kate Perry’s name is penciled at the top. It is dedicated to the Civil War USS Carondelet Gunboat officers and crew. I have to wonder if Perry served on that vessel.

There are also nice copies of “The Grave of Hood,” 1879; an “In Dreams I’m A Child Again,” 1880; and “Sweet Lenore,” 1881; all by A.W. Perry, published in Sedalia. Though earlier titles are known, the oldest Phil B. Perry pieces found so far are “Bavarian Band March,” 1884; “Father’s Pet Polka,” 1885; and “Hungarian Band March,” 1885. The earliest piece found by Samuel A. Gregg is a Mandolin composition, “Medley Waltz,” 1898, with Gregg as publisher. Gregg was A.W. Perry’s son-in-law, Kate’s husband, and a prominent string music teacher in Sedalia.

Three boxes contain very fragile documents. For the most part they are letters and music manuscripts from composers either seeking to have Perry publish their work in the magazine or they are seeking to have their work published as sheet music at the owners’ expense. I initially thought they were in chronological order but apparently some one has gone through the stack and the contents are not in sequence. Nevertheless, it is easy to spot the 1930s Depression Era as the documents are nearly burnt to a literal crisp by the acid content of the cheap paper. And writing of the Depression reminds me that the Perry business was acting then as a kind of relief program providing a few dollars for compositions they ran in the magazine and allowing those with some resources to pay for the sheet music and then make a small profit selling it themselves.

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There is a scattering of Andrew “Jack” Perry’s typewritten correspondence, a few actual invoices, and there are often monetary notations in pencil across letters or manuscripts. Space limitations won’t allow for the reproduction of interesting items, however, one particular full page typewritten letter dated July 27, 1915, carefully describes the cost of publishing sheet music and justification for requiring the full payment up front. The Perry letterhead shows 1856 as the advent of the establishment. That was possibly when the young family was living somewhere between Jackson, Tennessee, or in Iowa with Austin often enumerated in his early years as a music teacher.

There is also a bit of Sedalia Joplin Festival history as the original owner was a Board Director in the 1980s.

Much of this collection has suffered severe damage due to moisture, vermin, and cheap acidic paper that has literally burned up over the fifty years of neglect. I will update if some treasures are found and certainly make the log of everything available when completed.

Thank you for the comments and questions from last month’s article.

Larry Melton was a founder of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in 1974 and the Sedalia Ragtime Archive in 1976. He was a Sedalia Chamber of Commerce manager before moving on to Union, Missouri where he is currently helping to conserve the Ragtime collection of the Sedalia Heritage Foundation. Write him at [email protected].

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