Top 5 Sheet Music Covers of 1920

I've never been one to let a golden opportunity pass me by, and with it being nearly two weeks into the new year -- and a new decade -- I thought I'd share my top five sheet music covers of a century ago as a way of commemorating the start of the 2020s.

I may have other art of 1920 to share this month, but such art has not been easy to locate, so I've decided to share sheet music covers for now. However, the sheet music I was able to find is so incredibly beautiful that I think this will make for one of the most visually pleasing Gallery entries.

So, let's dive right in!

5.) Ziegfeld Follies of 1920: To be honest, part of why I chose this image is because there are so many gorgeous young women in it, (and, like many young men, I have a fondness for them,) but, from an artistic standpoint, the color scheme is very well-done. I've noticed that, whenever a limited color palette is used, it does tend to bring out the most masterful uses of color, since it's a matter of making the most out of the least. In this case, there are only two: green and black, (hardly colors you would associate with femininity, unless, of course, we're talking about the Wicked Witch of the West.) Yet, despite these limitations, the artist pulls this off quite nicely. Another thing I like about this one is the composition. The women's faces are all arranged in such a way as draws your eye towards the important verbal information it's trying to convey, such as, for example, the title and composer, but it also makes up the main part of the image.

4.) There's a Vacant Chair at Home Sweet Home: The thing I like most about this cover is the typography, which pretty much makes up the main part of the image. This cover apparently had to give a lot more information to advertise itself than just a simple title and composer, yet it maintains a visual hierarchy that distinguishes the most important information from the least. Uses of capitalization, italics, etc., not only makes for a logical hierarchy, but it also keeps things visually pleasing. And, speaking of being visually pleasing, I also like how the artist included some silhouetted human figures at the bottom to balance out the composition.

3.) Humming: The simplicity of this design is what I like best about it, but what I mostly think is so unique about this cover is how visually ahead of its time it is. I understand that the design is supposed to be Art Deco, so in that sense it's not so unusual, but there's something about it that looks like it's from the 1950s. I guess it's the playfully bold typography and the Candyland-esque use of red dots that to my mind evokes the sugary aesthetic of the local malt shop. Now all we need is a jukebox, a few cents to put in it, and maybe also a partner with whom to dance to Elvis Presley.

2.) Broken Moon: As I mentioned earlier, it takes a lot of ingenuity to be able to use a limited color palette effectively, but this one really takes the cake. If you take a second look, you'll notice that there's only red with varying shades of blue. Some of the blues are being used in place of black, and are darkened accordingly, as in the typography, while some of the reds are lightened to where they look almost orange. Yet, these limitations are so well-mastered that it looks to be a full-color image. But even better than the color palette is the use of line throughout. The deliberate, well-planned nature of the line work easily evokes the jazz age, as many illustrators of the time period drew this way.

Before I reveal my top pick, here are three honorable mentions:

And now here's number one:

1.) "Coral Sea": The use of a limited color palette is obvious here, so I won't get into too much detail about that. What I like most about this image is that mostly pastel colors are used, giving an impressionistic, watercolor-like feel. Even the darker colors, as in the water, are not too dark, so they mesh nicely with the lighter colors. I also very much appreciate the broad, somewhat imprecise, brush technique, which adds to the impressionistic effect I just described. The idea here is not to be too bold, but to instead evoke a dream-like appearance, almost as if we're dreaming of swimming with mermaids in a tropical sea.

Do you agree with this list? What sheet music covers of 1920 do you like the best? Please let us know in the comments, so we can have a chat.

Talk to you soon...



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  • Sebastian on

    Michael – Thanks for sharing! I’m always looking for online resources for this kind of thing, and I’ll have to check your link out one of these days.
    John – Thanks for the tip. :) I was really just using that as an approximation, but my point was that Humming looks like it could easily have been made over 30 years later. I don’t know what the 1915-25 era would be considered, but I might coin the term “Pre-Art Deco” if there isn’t already a commonly used term… Would have to look into it.
    These are great comments! Keep them coming. :)

  • Michael Ward on

    These are good, but not the only choices. Try some from here: https://www.sheetmusiccovers.org/piwigo/index.php?/category/25
    Some are astonishing; some appalling; some brilliant. —Mike

  • John Bickler on

    Not to be argumentative (really!) but to my way of thinking, “Humming” pre-dates the Art Deco era by about 5 years. Possibly we need a designation for the 1915 – 1925 era ?


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