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Mrs. Shippen sheet music collection

 Collection 0345-SCPA

Due to the limited information concerning the origins of this particular collection of items, it is our responsibility to inform readers of the uncertain identity of the original owner of these bound folios, “Mrs. Shippen.” According to accessible vital records, there were eight women on the east coast of the newly independent United States who would have gone by the name, “Mrs. Shippen,” at the time of these publications (early to middle 19th century). All eight eligible Mrs. Shippens were married to descendants of the British-born Edward Shippen (1639-1712), who immigrated to America in 1668, eventually establishing a home with his family in Philadelphia. Shippen was a successful merchant and eventually a powerful political figure as the first elected mayor of Philadelphia in 1702. This collection consists of one of these Mrs. Shippens’ sheet music: early 19th-century publications from England and Ireland, consisting of mostly piano compositions, along with several arrangements for voice, harp, and flute.


  • Majority of material found within 1811-1825
  • ca. 1803-1827

Use and Access to Collection

There are no restricted files in this collection.

Duplication and Copyright Information

Copyright was not transferred with this gift. However, the scores are, theoretically, now within public domain. Scholars must be advised, though, that for select titles copyright renewal or other rights transfer might have occurred since publication. The onus is on the researcher to determine permissible rights for any purpose beyond research.


1.5 Linear Feet

5 Items

Scope and Contents

The Mrs. Shippen Sheet Music Collection covers the period from ca. 1803-1827; the bulk of the materials date from 1810-1825. The collection consists of five bound folios of English and Irish sheet music; some pieces are organized as part of a larger series of publications, and some are in random groupings of single publications. The bulk of the publications are the products of London: Chappell & Co., London: Goulding, D’Almaine, Potter & Co., and Dublin: I. Willis.

Historical Note

The early 19th century, in both America and Europe, saw the sheet music industry’s sudden boom in productivity and popularity. Various factors affected this increase in sheet music demand, which stemmed from the growth of parlor music, or music performed in the private homes of the middle and upper class. The economic prosperity following the Revolutionary War strengthened the middle class, enabling more families to enjoy luxuries that had once been available only to the wealthiest households. One of the more popular additions to the middle-class home was the pianoforte, which provided entertainment and musical education (a skill connoting a well-rounded citizen) for both children and adults. Women, in this case Mrs. Shippen, were particularly encouraged to take up a musical instrument for the purpose of entertaining guests, family members, as well as to display their husband’s wealth and social standing.

Although the exact identity of “Mrs. Shippen” is not certain, it is likely that the original owner of these bound folios was part of the prominent Shippen family around Philadelphia in the early 19th century. The Shippens were part of a wealthy family that enjoyed these new luxuries; with the family’s powerful connections in Philadelphia, the Shippens’ children would have likely had a music teacher as part of their education. Early 19th-century sheet music is generally composed for musical amateurs, and marketed toward these middle/upper-class families by associating it with famous composers and performers. The songs will often display ornately illustrated titles that may include anything from the arranger associated with the publication, to the original composer (W. A. Mozart, G. F. Handel, etc.), the opera that the melody is from, and they may even identify the celebrated singer that first premiered the piece. Names of famous composers and musicians would have drawn those who desired the experience of seeing a live performance (a relatively expensive affair) and created an opportunity for the amateur musician to participate in the contemporary music scene.

Seven of the eight eligible Mrs. Shippens are descendants of Edward Shippen’s grandson, Edward Shippen III (1703-1781). The eighth Mrs. Shippen descends from Edward III’s brother, William Shippen Sr. (1712-1801). Although there are eight possibilities for the identity of this “Mrs. Shippen,” every one of them lived either in Philadelphia or a surrounding suburb for most of their lives. The English publications in this collection could indicate a trans-Atlantic voyage that any one of the Mrs. Shippen families may have taken to Europe (as was common for wealthier families of the time).


This collection is organized into a single series

  1. Sheet Music Folios

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

This collection was donated in June 2002 by Nancy Serwer in the course of placing the papers of her late husband, Professor Howard Serwer, at Special Collections in Performing Arts. The collection was originally purchased by Dr. Serwer for reasons not communicated to the curator. While there is limited evidence that Dr. Serwer intended to investigate the materials, his principal area of research was the music and life of German-born English composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). We are unaware of any familial connection between the Serwers and the Shippens.

Related Materials

Howard Serwer papers, Special Collections in Performing Arts, University of Maryland Libraries.

Mrs. Shippen sheet music collection
Evangeline Athanasiou
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Library Details

Part of the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library

University of Maryland Libraries
8270 Alumni Drive
College Park MD 20742 United States