It’s a Winner!

by Rachel Hertzberg, Bryn Mawr Student and Wyck’s Summer 2018 Collections Intern

In the 19th century, the piano-forte became the most fashionable form of home entertainment. Gathering in the parlor to listen to music represented the cohesion and closeness of the Victorian family unit. Wyck has a stack of piano sheet music that belonged to Jane Bowne Haines II and her brother Diedrich Jansen Haines in the 1880s and 90s. The variety of music, including Scottish folk songs, selections from the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, and waltzes by Chopin, indicates the family’s broad range of interests. A book meant to teach children the basics of piano playing, suggests that this was a pastime for the whole family. We can see the penciled-in notes regarding tempo and other technical details; these objects were made to be used, and they were clearly well-loved. Researchers will also appreciate the gorgeous cover art on many of these music books.


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One Wyck music book with a connection to an odd piece of history is “An Old Wife’s Love,” published in 1886 by the company Sep. Winner & Son. This book contains the song “A Wife’s Love Song,” which describes a woman’s grief at being separated from her husband. Septimus Winner was an extremely popular Philadelphia composer and music publisher, prolific for over fifty years. He wrote songs such as “The Mockingbird” and “What is Home Without a Mother?” which became nearly ubiquitous in American homes. His popularity came with its share of controversy. During the Civil War, Winner wrote the song “Give Us Back Our Old Commander: Little Mac, the People’s Pride” in response to the removal of General George McClellan by President Lincoln. McClellan’s strategic failures on the battlefield earned him the president’s disapproval, but he retained considerable support among the public, even mounting his own presidential campaign two years later. Winner’s 1902 New York Times obituary describes the effect of his pro-McClellan song:

Fifty thousand copies were quickly sold in Washington and a few days afterward 100,000 soldiers sang the song while marching along the Rappahannock on their way to Fredericksburg, when disastrous defeat overtook them. ‘Give Us Back Our Old Commander’ could be heard at night from one end of the Union lines to the other, and at Chancellorsville, where [General Joseph] Hooker displayed his inability to cope successfully with Lee, it was sung with renewed vigor.

But at this point the commotion created by the song reached the climax when the War Department issued an order suppressing its sale and prohibiting the singing of it. The Government, however, did not stop at this, for Julia Mortimer, one of the greatest of American singers, who was then filling an engagement at Ford’s Theatre, was informed that imprisonment awaited her if she persisted in making the objectionable song a part of her role. Actors in Baltimore were enjoined by the Government from singing it in theatres.

About this time an agent of the Government waited on Mr. Winner, who conducted a music store at Eighth and Spring Garden Streets, and informed him that further publication of the song would not be tolerated by the Government, and a refusal to comply with the demand meant imprisonment in Fort Lafayette. No additional copies of ‘Give Us Back Our Old Commander’ were placed on the market. To Mr. Winner there was nothing treasonable in this musical thought, so pleasing to the ear and so characteristic in expression, and it was not intended there should be.

Despite the accusations of treason (some sources claim Winner was arrested, while his obituary makes it seem like he was just given a warning), Winner continued to run many successful business ventures, and by 1886, when “A Wife’s Love Song” was published, he was running a music publishing firm with his son J. Gibson Winner. Winner moved around considerably during this period. As mentioned in the obituary, he operated from several addresses on and around Spring Garden Street throughout the 1870s and 1880s, including 545 North 8th Street.  Also found at Wyck is the front cover of “Royal March,” composed by Winner in 1876.


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