Beginning in the 1800s, publishers printed the lyrics to popular songs on small sheets of paper called handbills, also known as broadsides, ballad sheets, or simply song sheets. They are often illustrated with charming images. These sheets are usually five to six inches wide and eight to nine inches tall, easily held in one hand (hence “handbill”).
T. C. Boyd illustrated, printed, and published the two song sheets from our collection seen here (left and below). We have over 75 song sheets in our archives donated by Frederick R. Sherman; he also donated sheet music, playbills, and publications related to the music industry. Songs in the collection cover a range of subjects: the Civil War, women, children, the life of a miner, and The California Gold Rush. Considered ephemera (printed or written material, designed for a specific purpose or a single use, that was not intended to be retained), they are a rich source of information about nineteenth century American culture and society. Some attribute the song to a performer; for example, The Bounty Jumper – As sung by Charley Rhoades. Rhoades was best known for his song Days of ’49 and as one of the best banjoists of the era.
Theodore Chauncey Boyd (1828-1902) was born in Brooklyn and died in San Francisco. He worked as an engraver and watercolorists in New York City. He married Elizabeth A. MacLachlane on May 23, 1851. Their first daughter, Grace Stuart Boyd, was born in Brooklyn, but died in San Francisco in January, 1855. While this places Boyd in the city by late 1854, the first listing for him in any San Francisco City Directory is in the 1857 edition.
From 1859 to1861, his business is advertised in San Francisco City Directories as “Established Here In 1854” and located at 80 Montgomery Street, between California and Pine (in 1860) and 310 Montgomery Street, also between California and Pine (in 1861). The ads also note another feature: “I Make My Own Drawings.” The illustrations below are signed by Boyd.
The popularity of these song sheets is demonstrated by the size of Boyd inventory: “10,000 Songs for Sale.” Most were sold, but many were freely distributed at large, local gatherings to advertise the other products and services offered by the printer. The bottom of The Bounty Jumper song sheet notes: “Boyd’s Novel Exchange – Terms, 10 Tickets for 50 cents, making the cost of reading 5 cts. a Novel.”
The listing at the bottom of Young Gal from Sonoma is different; here Boyd refers to his business as a “Circulating Library” for the first time. Popular in England and the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, circulating libraries were typically operated in stores that sold books and newspapers. They were commercial enterprises that rented books to customers. Boyd’s circulating library offered a discount to avid readers: “50 cents for the first book, 10 cts. afterwards.”
Our manuscript collection includes a letter from Boyd’s second daughter, Flora Stuart Boyd, to The Society of California Pioneers. She describes her father’s redesign of San Francisco’s official seal, work for which he received 100 dollars.
The links below, to The Bodliean Library and Duke University’s American Song Sheet Collection respectively, provide access to many more examples of song sheets, including some printed and illustrated by Boyd. These charming, rare pieces of ephemera provide unique insight into a wide range of historic and cultural topics.
Patricia L. Keats, Director of Library and Archives.