Ah, ragtime... Those catchy piano tunes that evoke the image of ice cream trucks and silent movies have by this time become little more than a cute novelty. And while the music is no longer mainstream, it has left us with an impressive legacy. Not the least of which is the colorful and wacky body of art that graces antique stores and sheet music collections the world over.
In this article, we will be exploring the top ten ragtime sheet music covers created between the years 1899 and 1915. Some of them are colorful, some of them are creative, and some of them are downright eccentric, but all are fun to look at.
10.) Another Rag (1911): In an era when ragtime was heard everywhere, and sheet music and records were in such broad circulation, what else could have been brought to the obscenely profuse ragtime repertoire that hasn't already been done? By 1911, the answer, quite frankly, was nothing. But this sheet music cover was a creative way of circumventing the fact that there was an overabundance of ragtime. The explosive and colorful hand-lettering, rather than saying "ho hum... another rag... what else is new..." communicates, "You like ragtime!!?? Well, then here's another one you're absolutely going to love!!!!!!"
9.) That Beautiful Rag (1909): The well-drawn dancing figure in the middle of the image is one thing I really love about this cover, because I appreciate good illustration in any way, shape, or form, but it's not the only thing to love about it.
The composition, which includes the fantastic use of color, shape, and hand-lettering, make this one a real eye-catcher.
8.) Anti Rag-Time Girl (1913): The composition on this cover is very well-thought-out, and directly communicates the simplicity of this girl's lifestyle. In no uncertain terms, we know she won't have anything to do with Ragtime, (or anything else modern, for that matter.) Our eye is immediately drawn to her face, which is further highlighted by the bright orange rectangle behind. She is definitely the focal point. But then, we see the white flowers trailing from her face at the bottom, and as our eye follows them, we see where she lives. Just a simple country farmhouse.
I guess this girl really doesn't like ragtime, then, does she? She doesn't know what she is missing...
7.) Ragtime Land (1909): This cover is bold in so many ways. The use of bright yellow throughout, the ornamentation, and the decorative hand lettering all pack a visual punch, and the cut out photograph in the middle adds a final splash to an already stunning sheet music cover.
6.) Black and White Rag (1908): With a title like that, you pretty much expect a black and white cover, so that's a given. But what is particularly intriguing about this cover is the use of hand lettering, as well as the diagonal split, separating the color scheme on one side from the complete opposite color scheme on the other. Also, notice that the word "and," is split right through the middle, so the separation between black on white and white on black is not so rigidly partial that everything has to be grouped on one side or another. It's a simple design element that adds a critical degree of visual interest.
5.) Maple Leaf Rag (1899): Respected graphic artist Dard Hunter would definitely have approved of the stylized use of simple shapes and minimal colors in this cover, which are so redolent of his own work. A very fine design befitting one of the most important contributions to the genre.
4.) Calico Rag (1914): Just because C. Coles Phillips is most famous for the Fadeaway technique doesn't necessarily mean there weren't other artists to jump on that bandwagon. This cover is no exception, but while Phillips's use of Fadeaways were limited to a single color, here we see the use of a pattern instead.
3.) The Ragtime Pipe of Pan (1915): I've been having a hard time figuring out whether this was actually published in 1915 or if its a reissue from a later time period, but whatever the case might be, it's still a wonderful design. The simple use of type juxtaposed against the bold and heavily stylized figures in the middle make this cover look very much ahead of its time. If it actually were a reissue, maybe it was created in the 1940s, because that's what it looks like to me from a stylistic standpoint.
2.) Temptation Rag (1909): This wild style of drawing is a bit unconventional for that time period, as it appears to strongly evoke the Expressionism movement, which didn't begin until three years later. So that likewise makes this cover ahead of its time.
Besides this, I find the use of color and hand-lettering to be likewise effective.
1.) Everybody's Rag (1909): The vast majority of sheet music covers from this time period were artistic, so it's highly unusual and unexpected to see a cover consisting mainly of photography. This departure from the norm is an effective visual representation of the title and subtitle, as it further emphasizes the idea of it being everybody's rag by showing average people as they really look. No artistic beautification, no style, no nuance. This rag is for everybody, and an artistically executed cover would have taken away from this deliberately average designation.
That's it for this list. Which ragtime sheet music covers do you like the best? Are there any you wish I had included? As always, please let me know in the comments, and we can have a nice chat.
Till next time!