Philadelphia, Birthplace of the Shapes and Center of Shape-Note Publishing

The original 1844 edition of The Sacred Harp bore the name and address of a Philadelphia publishing house: T. K. & P. G. Collins. Although B. F. White’s journey from Hamilton, Georgia, to Philadelphia would have been several days long, he published four editions of The Sacred Harp with Collins, both before and after the Civil War. As a resident of Philadelphia, I was curious to find out more about the city’s role in the story of The Sacred Harp. I eventually discovered that Philadelphia had a much deeper connection to shape-note music than I had thought. My research culminated in a November 2016 tour of central Philadelphia publishing sites connected to shape-note music.

Title page of the 1860 edition of The Sacred Harp, which was sold at the “N.E. corner of Sixth and Minor Streets.”

Connelly’s letter of permission for the first four-shape book, The Easy Instructor. From Wikipedia.

Although shape-notes were associated with southern and western music,1 the most successful four- and seven-shape notation systems have their origins in Philadelphia, which was also the place of publication of many bestselling shape-note books. The merchant John Connelly designed the four note shapes used in The Sacred Harp in 1798 and the first edition of The Easy Instructor (1801) was printed in Philadelphia using these shapes. In 1846, Jesse B. Aikin of nearby Chester, Pennsylvania, published The Christian Minstrel, the first book printed in what was to become the most enduring seven-shape notation system. Aikin’s shapes are used in The Christian Harmony: 2010 Edition and some contemporary church hymnals and gospel books. Several Philadelphia-printed shape-note books were enormously popular. By 1879, William Walker’s Southern Harmony had sold about 700,000 copies, followed by The Sacred Harp and The Christian Minstrel, which sold about 250,000 and 194,000 copies, respectively.2 These numbers are particularly impressive, given that the population of the United States was about 45 million at the time and shape note music never caught on in New England.

Although Philadelphia had been a hub of the printing trades since colonial times, most early nineteenth-century shape-note books were produced by small presses serving a regional audience in the South or West. This changed in the 1830s and 1840s, when Aikin pioneered seven-shape notation and several southern and western authors turned to two Philadelphia publishers to deliver fine quality typesetting, stereotyping, printing, and binding, using both four- and seven-note systems. The T. K. & P. G. Collins firm published a number of books by southern authors. In 1838, they produced a stereotyped version of the first edition of The Southern Harmony by William Walker of South Carolina, followed by editions in 1840 and 1847.3 Collins also published four editions of The Sacred Harp (1844, 1850, 1859, 1870), The Hesperian Harp (1848), and The Social Harp (1855), all by Georgian authors. Popular Collins seven-shape books include The Christian Minstrel (1846, revised up to 1865), by Jesse B. Aikin of Pennsylvania, and The Sacred Melodeon (1848), by Amos S. Hayden of Ohio. Walker turned to E. W. Miller’s publishing house for revised 1847 and 1854 editions of The Southern Harmony, and Miller brought out Walker’s Christian Harmony in 1867, with revisions in 1873 and 1901. Both Collins and Miller printed a number of lesser-known shape-note titles as well.4

One difficulty in researching Philadelphia history is that streets were renamed and numbered several times in the nineteenth century. I used the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network’s Interactive Maps Viewer to reconcile old and modern addresses.5 T. K. & P. G. Collins’ factory, where The Sacred Harp was probably printed, was located at 1 Lodge Alley, later renamed and renumbered as 705-707 Jayne Street. Jayne Street has since been renamed Ranstead Street, so the modern address where the Collins factory stood is 705-707 Ranstead Street. The 1860 edition of The Sacred Harp gives the location “N.E. Corner, Sixth and Minor Streets” where the book was for sale. Minor Street between Fifth and Sixth was removed in the 1950s to make way for Independence Mall. Collins’ bookstore would have been almost exactly on the spot where the Liberty Bell is now on display. E. W. Miller’s publishing house was in the Ashmead Building at 1102 & 1104 Sansom Street, formerly called George Street.

Philadelphia singers and friends gather near a location where The Sacred Harp was sold, now the home of the Liberty Bell. Photograph courtesy of Rachel Hall.

705-707 Ranstead Street, once the site of the T. K & P. G. Collins factory and now a loading dock in an alley. Photograph courtesy of Rachel Hall.

View of Ranstead Street from Seventh Street, then and now. The Collins type foundry and printing house signs appear in the old photograph. Most of the nineteenth-century buildings on the left side of the street are still standing. Photograph courtesy of Rachel Hall. Printed image from the Philadelphia Free Library Digital Collections.

Although none of the buildings associated with the Collins and Miller firms survive, there are a number of maps and illustrations that do. An 1872 floor plan and inventory of the Ashmead Building, where Miller rented two floors, was made for insurance purposes and included in the Hexamer General Surveys of Philadelphia.6 We learn that Miller occupied the fourth and fifth floors of the building and employed forty people, of whom twenty-four were women. The Philadelphia Free Library also has an engraving of the Ashmead building.7 Collins’ factory appears in maps,8 an illustration,9 and an 1889 photograph of the 700 block of Ranstead Street, showing a portion of the façade and signage for Collins’ type foundry and printing house.10 More remarkable still, Cornelius T. Hinckley’s 1852 article “A Day’s Ramble Through the Mechanical Department of the ‘Lady’s Book,’” no. V in his “Everyday Actualities” series for the Godey’s Lady’s Book, narrates a visit to the Collins’ brothers’ printing factory (where the Lady’s Book was printed) with numerous engravings of not only the interior and exterior of the building but also the building’s occupants at work.11 I imagine that the Collins brothers treated William Walker and B. F. White to a similar tour.

Courtyard of the Collins factory in 1853. Engraving from Godey’s Lady’s Book, October 1852.

Collins & M’Leester’s Type Foundry. Engraving from Illustrated Philadelphia, 1889.

This documentation of Philadelphia publishing sites, together with what is known about similar shape-note books allows us, to some extent, to reconstruct The Sacred Harp’s journey from manuscript to finished product. Before B. F. White visited the Collins factory in Philadelphia, he and E. J. King would have assembled a manuscript for The Sacred Harp. Although their manuscript didn’t survive, some contemporaneous manuscripts did. Pennsylvania author Samuel Wakefield, composer of “Fatherland” (p. 449 in The Sacred Harp), published his Sacred Choral in 1854. A manuscript copy of it is at the West Overton Museum in Scottdale, Pennsylvania. While this manuscript is entirely handwritten, the copy of Wakefield’s American Repository in the museum has been cut, presumably for the purpose of pasting songs into a new manuscript.12 White and King’s Sacred Harp manuscript probably contained a number of pages of (or page references to) The Southern Harmony. For example, the typography—including line breaks and note stem direction—of “Leander” (p. 71) is almost identical in The Sacred Harp and The Southern Harmony, which suggests that White and King either pasted the Southern Harmony page into The Sacred Harp manuscript or supplied a page reference.

Samuel Wakefield’s manuscript copy of The Sacred Choral. Photograph by Rachel Hall.

Wakefield’s copy of his American Repository (1835) has been cut, presumably for the purpose of pasting songs into another manuscript. Photograph by Rachel Hall.

“Leander,” p. 128 in The Southern Harmony.

“Leander,” p. 71 in The Sacred Harp.

After arriving in Philadelphia, White and King’s manuscript was typeset. The process known as mosaic typesetting was used for all the shape-note music set in Philadelphia that I have examined, with the exception of the first edition of The Easy Instructor, which was engraved. Each component of the page, including note heads, stems, staff lines, clef signs, and other characters, was an individual piece of metal type.13

Although specialized note heads were needed for four- and seven-shape music, standard elements made for round-note music typesetting would have been available for everything else on the page. As Hinckley relates, typeset pages were stereotyped (cast in metal) and multiple pages printed on one large sheet of paper.14

Plan of a music typesetter’s type case containing individual pieces of round-note mosaic type.
Image from The American Printer, p. 118.

Shape-notes, by 1923 “strange-looking” to those outside the South, could be substituted for the round note heads in the type case. Image from Popular Mechanics, September 1923.

Men and boys typesetting and women operating steam-powered printing presses in the Collins factory.
Engraving from Godey’s Lady’s Book, October 1852.

Hinckley’s article in the November 1852 issue of Godey’s described bookbinding and distribution at the Lippincott firm in Philadelphia.15 Large sheets were folded and sewn together. The assembled stack of pages was then pressed and its edges cut. Finally, binding was attached. Books were sold at Lippincott’s bookstore or packed to be shipped elsewhere.16 Although all the shape-note books manufactured in Philadelphia were advertised to be sold locally, they clearly had a more specific regional audience. Four-shape books like The Sacred Harp were most popular in the South. Hayden’s Sacred Melodeon seems to have been more popular in the West, while The Christian Harmony was marketed in the South.

Folding and sewing was women’s work. Engravings from Godey’s Lady’s Book, November 1852.

The Lippincott bookbinding shop. Engraving from Godey’s Lady’s Book, November 1852.

The Lippincott book warehouse and salesroom.
Engravings from Godey’s Lady’s Book, November 1852.

Hinckley’s account makes clear that factory jobs were gender-specific, as was typical at the time: women operated the large printing presses, folded the sheets, and sewed them together, while men performed heavy labor such as pressing and packing books and skilled work such as typesetting. I was surprised by the sheer number of women employed in printing (about two dozen in each factory). Referring to the Collins factory, Hinckley remarks, “We cannot say whether the attraction is in the beautiful working of the machinery, or in the faces of the bevy of industrious working girls who attend there.”17 Although his sentiments are quite dated, the images of women at work are striking, though I can’t help but think about how uncomfortable their dresses must have been in the summer heat.

In addition to publishing books, individuals at the Collins firm contributed directly or indirectly to southern shape-note music. As related in volume 3, no. 2 of the Newsletter, Elphrey Heritage, the composer of “Warning” (p. 213b) and “The Savior’s Call” (p. 489), was T. K. & P. G. Collins’ bookkeeper.18 He contributed songs to additional books published by Collins: The Hesperian Harp, The Christian Harmony, The Social Harp, The Christian Minstrel, Harmonia Ecclesiae, The Sacred Melodeon, and The Timbrel of Zion.

Tillinghast K. Collins Jr.’s The Timbrel of Zion (1853) made a lasting contribution to southern shape-note music. The Timbrel was the first book printed in the “modern” seven-shape style of the Deason-Parris (“Alabama”) and 2010 revisions of The Christian Harmony. The Timbrel combined Aikin’s shapes with standard staff and key signatures, which Aikin had omitted. It featured old English and New England music, “reformed harmony” tunes in the style of Lowell Mason, and folk hymn arrangements, mostly drawn from Hayden’s Sacred Melodeon. Walker appears to have pasted several dozen pages from Collins’ book into his Christian Harmony manuscript. In fact, aside from The Southern Harmony, the Timbrel is the greatest source of tunes in Walker’s Christian Harmony.19

Title page of the 1857 edition. The 1860 edition omits Augusta and Charleston, perhaps due to the impending war. Photograph courtesy of Wade Kotter.

The Timbrel of Zion had a small effect on The Sacred Harp. When J. S. James compiled his edition of The Sacred Harp in 1911, he pasted or copied at least two songs from the Timbrel into his manuscript: “Green Street” (p. 198) and “Beyond the Starry Skies” (p. 512 in the James book). As these songs are not in The Christian Harmony, James most likely found them in the Timbrel. James also mentioned the Timbrel a number of times in his commentaries—“cheese notes”—on individual songs, demonstrating that he had access to a copy. The New Sacred Harp (1884), published in seven shapes by B. F. White Jr. and J. L. White, contains numerous arrangements of songs that exactly match those in the Timbrel. Its authors chose the Timbrel arrangements of familiar songs like “Mear” and “Lenox” (pp. 49b and 40) over the original versions in their father’s The Sacred Harp and older books.

“Devotion,” showing the historical alterations to individual notes. The alto part mainly comes from Hayden’s Introduction to Sacred Music (yellow); changes were made in The Timbrel of Zion (pink) and the 1911 (blue) and 1966 (green) editions of The Sacred Harp. The last three notes of the treble originate in the 1844 Sacred Harp (purple). All other notes are from Johnson’s original setting (uncolored).

The Philadelphia connection also indirectly accounts for at least two of the alto parts in The Sacred Harp: those for “Devotion” and “Leander” (pp. 48t and 71). Amos Sutton Hayden of Ohio included precursors of these altos in his four-shape Introduction to Sacred Music (1835) and seven-shape Sacred Melodeon (1848). The latter book was a Collins publication and source for some of the songs in The Timbrel of Zion. When Walker added altos to three-part songs that he had published in The Southern Harmony, he sometimes turned to arrangements in other books rather than write his own parts. The altos he added to “Devotion” and “Leander” in The Christian Harmony match those in the Timbrel. Although attributed to S. M. Denson, the altos in 48t and 71 match those in The Christian Harmony and presumably came into the 1911 Sacred Harp through that book.

Thus, the “Philadelphia connection” accounts for a few songs—and a few stray notes—in The Sacred Harp, slightly more songs in The New Sacred Harp, and a large number of songs in The Christian Harmony. I conclude this article, as I did the tour, with the skilled Philadelphia artisans who literally “shaped” shape-note music: type founders and setters. The J. M. Armstrong Company continued to design and typeset shape-note books, including hymnals and gospel songbooks, well into the twentieth century.20 Theirs, at 710 Sansom Street, is the one building connected to Philadelphia’s central role in shape-note music publishing that survives.

J. M. Armstrong, Music Typographers, 710 Sansom Street, then and now. Engraving from Historical and Commercial Philadelphia, p. 171. Photograph courtesy of Rachel Hall.


I am grateful to Jesse Polhemus, Robert Vaughn, and Wade Kotter, who assisted with my research on The Timbrel of Zion.

  1. In the nineteenth century, “western” referred to the region west of the Appalachians, including western Pennsylvania. []
  2. Aldine S. Kieffer, “A Brief History of Patent Notes,” The Musical Million 10, no. 9 (1879): 136–37. []
  3. For an overview of the publishing history of The Southern Harmony, see Harry Eskew, “William Walker’s Southern Harmony: Its Basic Editions,” Latin American Music Review 7, no. 2 (1986): 137–48. []
  4. Both firms changed names several times. “Collins” refers to “T. K. & P. G. Collins,” “S. C. Collins,” “T. K. Collins, Jr.” and “Collins Printing House,” while “Miller” refers to “E. W. Miller,” “Miller & Burlock,” “E. W. Miller’s Bible and Publishing House,” and “Edward W. Miller Company.” []
  5. “Interactive Maps Viewer,” Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network, accessed August 26, 2017, . []
  6. Ernest Hexamer, Hexamer General Surveys, Volume 7, Plate 612 (1872). Free Library of Philadelphia Map Collection, []
  7. “Henry B. Ashmead, Book and Job Printer, Sansom Street above Eleventh.” [graphic] Free Library of Philadelphia Digital Collections, []
  8. See, in particular, Hexamer & Locher, Maps of the City of Philadelphia, 1858–1860, Plate 14 (1860). Free Library of Philadelphia Map Collection, []
  9. American Publishing and Engraving Co., Illustrated Philadelphia: Its Wealth and Industries (New York: American Publishing and Engraving Co., 1889). Internet Archive, []
  10. “The Item and The Call, North 7th Street” [albumen print] (1889). Free Library of Philadelphia Digital Collections, []
  11. Cornelius T. Hinckley, “Everyday Actualities, no. V: A Day’s Ramble Through the Mechanical Department of the ‘Lady’s Book,’” Godey’s Lady’s Book 45, October 1852, 307–15, []
  12. I’ve never seen a manuscript with pasted pages, but such manuscripts exist. See Wade Kotter, August 6, 2015 (7:18 PM), comment on Robert Vaughan, “Preparing to print a Sacred Harp, early 1900s,” Fasola-discussions (Google group), August 5, 2015 (8:42 AM),!msg/fasola-discussions/3qofTRHM3qw/Z5wRzsKNBwAJ. []
  13. For further description of music typography and images of type, see Thomas MacKellar, The American Printer: A Manual of Typography (Philadelphia: MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, 1887), 114–19 and George Barnard, “Music Notes Defy Mechanical Typesetting,” Popular Mechanics, September 1923, 433–34, []
  14. Hinckley, “A Ramble,” 307–13. []
  15. Although Lippincott did not publish any major shape-note titles, they did publish William Walker’s children’s book Fruits and Flowers (1873). []
  16. Cornelius T. Hinckley, “Everyday Actualities, no. VI: A Day at the Bookbindery of Lippincott, Grambo, & Co.,” Godey’s Lady’s Book 45, November 1852, 403–12, []
  17. Hinckley, “A Ramble,” 311. []
  18. Jesse P. Karlsberg and Christopher Sawula, “Elphrey Heritage: Northern Contributor to the Nineteenth-century Sacred Harp,” Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter 3, no. 2 (November 12, 2014), []
  19. The Timbrel of Zion was squarely aimed at the southern and western market. Its cover and title page advertise that the book was sold in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, western Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. Newspaper accounts from the Carolinas show that the Timbrel continued to be used there into the early twentieth century, sometimes alongside The Southern Harmony or The Christian Harmony. For example, the Gaffney Ledger reports of a singing in 1917, “Among the books were the old Timbrel of Zion, which was the book used by the fathers and grandfathers of most of those who were present.” See “All Day Singing Largely Attended,” Gaffney Ledger, September 18, 1917, 1. Gaffney is a small town in South Carolina about twenty miles from Spartanburg. On The Timbrel of Zion as a key source for William Walker, see John Hollingsworth, et al., eds., The Christian Harmony: 2010 Revised Edition, second printing, with attributions by Robert Kelley and Rachel Hall (Bishop, GA: Christian Harmony Music Company, 2016 [2010]). []
  20. The typesetter is rarely given credit, but after looking at a number of books where J. M. Armstrong is identified, I believe it is possible that the Armstrong company typeset not only all the shape-note books published in Philadelphia after 1850 or so, but also, together with their branch in Cincinnati, the majority of shape-note books printed and published elsewhere into the early twentieth century. See Historical and Commercial Philadelphia Handsomely Illustrated: With Supplement of the World’s Columbian Exposition (New York: Parsons, 1892), 171, []

About Rachel Wells Hall

Rachel first sang from The Sacred Harp with her mother in 1980s Cincinnati and returned to singing in Philadelphia in 2009. She is a member of the Shenandoah Harmony music committee and associate professor of mathematics at St. Joseph's University.
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