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Business is Humming

We have occasionally discussed the category at the Book Fair called “Proofs”, where we sell the proof copies, or galleys, or advance reader’s copies of new books. Once upon a time there was a difference between a proof and a galley, but now just about all of them are referred to as ARCs . In any case, these are the copies of new books which are sent out early for the use of reviewers and book buyers for bookstores or chain stores. The covers are flimsy and may not have the final art on them, and sometimes the pages are unnumbered or the illustrations are not included. They exist to give somebody a general idea of what the final book will be like but can be sent out early.

Last year, we got a collection of DVDs which were much the same sort of thing. They weren’t fancy, most of them: just plain discs in plain cases, saying that this was the first episode of a new series coming up next year. (I had not heard of most of these programs but in some cases I hadn’t even heard of the network they were airing on.)

The phenomenon doesn’t stop there. A collection of sheet music just came in, what I call a Piano Bench Collection. That’s the music that’s gathered in the piano bench for generations until someone decides the piano is taking up too much room in a house where all the inhabitants download their songs off the net anyhow.

You can tell these collections because they transcend the generations. Carrie Jacobs Bond is represented in all her 19th century glory right next to “Wichita Lineman”, with Glen Campbell on the cover and a sappy love song written by no less than Milton Berle. There were song lyric magazines produced for soldiers overseas during World War II, John Thompson piano instruction books, and a love song from a Marx Brothers movie. (I used to feel sorry for the love songs that got trapped in Marx Brothers movies, where nobody listens to them, and then Woody Allen made a movie based on one of them. So there are second chances in life.)

There was also a goodly stack of “Advance Artist’s Copy” sheet music, under assorted names. New songs were pitched to music stores, department stores, and even recording artists in these unimposing formats: no cover with colorful picture, no ads on the back for other songs. It was a time when ten or twelve artists might record the same song the same month: the benevolent song publisher was giving artists and stores a chance to get that song out just before or at the same time the brightly colored sheet music hit the market. If a big enough star showed interest in the song, the cover of the sheet music could be changed before printing.

(Once upon a time, sheet music played a vital role in the entertainment industry. Songs were judged not by the number of records sold but by how many copies of the sheet music were bought. Singers were judged by how often their picture appeared on the sheet music, and printing was cheap enough that the same song might be printed with a dozen different portraits in that little “As Sung by” cartouche on the cover.)

These were also the copies used in stores by the Song Demonstrators, or Song Pluggers, who would perform the number for customers in Carson’s or Field’s or so on (especially in the days before the radio did this job for free.)

Are these worth more money than the big, shiny public publications of the same song? It depends on the song, the composer, and how desperate the case was. A piece of music by Duke Ellington from the years when he was well-established, so the publisher knew enough to print LOTS of copies of the advance music, is worth something. But a song by Edward “Duke” Ellington when he’d made two records and no one knew who he was is worth putting in the safe deposit box. MOST of these advance sheets fit into our category of “Collectible, Just Not Valuable”, along with that love song by Milton Berle, and the Marx Brothers love song (which is NOT the one Woody Allen picked up on.)

Oh, and there was, as there always is, one copy of “Little Drummer Boy”: just to remind you that Labor Day is coming up.

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