The Sheet Music Art of E. T. Paull: a Retrospective (1894-1915)

E T Paull ragtime sheet music art sheet music covers

Although famed American march composer E.T. Paull did not create these stunning covers, they are strongly associated with the wild and bizarre "descriptive" marches he was known for. And there is one reason for this connection: it was part of his own marketing plan. A plan which made him so successful that he would go on to establish his own music publishing company.

Above: E.T. Paull as he appeared in 1899

Edward Taylor Paull (1858-1924) was in the music business for his whole life with varying success. His first known occupation was as the owner of a piano and organ store, which failed. Luckily, he had a moderately wealthy father who helped him to pay off his outstanding debts, but at his own expense, as he had to sell off some of his own assets to raise the money.

Unfazed by this setback, he later becomes the general manager of the Richmond Music Co., and in 1894, he had his first major success with his Chariot Race March. This composition sold 60,000 copies in its first year, and would later be recorded by John Philip Sousa. In 1926, over thirty years since The Chariot Race was first published, the film Ben Hur would lead to even more sales. (Talk about a windfall...)

In 1896, The Charge of the Light Brigade further set the bar for Paull's unique style, both as a composer and as a marketer. Firstly, he understood the public's taste in music, and although he was best at composing marches, he also dabbled in other styles such as the Waltz and the Fox-Trot, (the latter of which wasn't popular until the 1910s and 20s.) Although many critics have considered his music unmemorable, repetitive, and even at times unoriginal, he was fairly well respected in his day.

Second of all, his full-color covers, (which were an eye-catching rarity at a time when color printing was a complicated and expensive process,) were a tell-all sign that he knew how important packaging was to the appeal of a product to a prospective buyer. He knew that, no matter how good the music was, there wasn't much chance of him making any sales if he couldn't catch their eye with an abundance of color. (Although there is a degree of serendipity to this aspect of his success, as living in Richmond put him within easy access of a high-end lithography firm, A Hoen &Co., who are responsible for all the covers you see here.)

The biggest difference between these and other sheet music covers of that time period is that these covers were printed with a five color process. Most cover art (not just for sheet music, but also magazines and other graphics,) was printed with a two to three color process, and although these limitations were sometimes skillfully disguised by using different combinations and pressures, the five color process added a striking and multi-dimensional layer that lower color processes could never match up to no matter what.

In this article, I'll be chronologically exploring the sheet music covers that graced E. T. Paull's compositions between 1894 and 1915. No more than one sheet music cover per year, in timeline form, and without comment, so you can more directly observe the evolution of E. T. Paull's sheet music covers.

Please leave any comments or observations in the comments section below, and I will respond to each.


1894: The Chariot Race or Ben Hur March

1896: New York and Coney Island Cycle March

1898: America Forever! March

1900: The Dawn of the Century

1901: A Signal from Mars

1903: The Burning of Rome

1904: The Circus Parade

1905: Paul Revere's Ride

1906: Silver Sleigh Bells

1908: The Home Coming March

1909: Lincoln Centennial Grand March

1910: Napoleon's Last Charge

1911: The Carnival King

1912: Ring Out, Wild Bells

1915: Battle of the Nations

Sources: and

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